By Ben Simmoneau
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Every day, thousands of kids across the Delaware Valley get on a school bus. But do you know how safe that vehicle really is?
In New Jersey, nearly half the buses fail their state inspections. And as alarming as that may sound, the CBS 3 I-Team found some bus operators have even higher failure rates.
Of course, the concern is that a mechanical problem could lead to an accident. So now, in an effort to be as transparent as possible, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission is posting school bus inspection results online.
“Those buses should be prepared for our inspection,” said New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission Chief Administrator Raymond Martinez. “By the way, those twice-yearly inspections, they’re announced, they’re scheduled.”
At Garden State Transport in Southampton, 51.9 percent of the buses failed inspection in 2012; the number was 64 percent in 2011. Both failure rates were above the state average of 47 percent.
In Medford, 83 percent of the buses failed in both 2011 and 2012. District officials said they could not provide a clear explanation.
“Quite honestly, I’d like to know that myself,” said Medford Director of Operations Joe Biluck. “I don’t have a definitive explanation for that rate.”
Biluck did say, however, that he believes the state inspectors may be getting tougher on bus operators.
“What I’m seeing is a more rigid application of the inspection process,” he said.
The failure rate was a stunning 89.9 percent last year at Integrity Transportation in Galloway Township, Atlantic County. The year before 92 percent of the buses failed.
“I’m not interested. We’re in the middle of it right now,” said Integrity owner Joe Duncan when the I-Team stopped by to ask him for an interview.
Inspectors were on site at the time conducting Integrity’s first round of inspections in 2013.
The failure rate “seems pretty high – year after year – 89 percent, 92 percent,” said I-Team reporter Ben Simmoneau to Duncan.
“Well, a light bulb fails a bus,” he replied. “If a light bulb is out, that’s a failure.”
It’s true. Minor items can fail a bus in the state’s 180-point inspection. But Integrity buses also failed for stop and warning lights that didn’t work, a crossing arm – which protects kids – that didn’t open, rotting floors and even a missing handle on an emergency door.
“I’m not aware of that,” Duncan said of the handle.
“I will tell you that is a serious violation and something should not occur with any school buses transporting students,” said Martinez, the MVC Chief. “That is not a minor violation.”
Integrity carries students from several districts including Galloway Township.
“That’s why I don’t let my daughter get on a school bus,” said Ernie Tarsitano, who lives in Galloway. “I pick her up and drop her off every day.”
“At what point do you say, maybe we shouldn’t be doing business with these folks?” Simmoneau asked Galloway Superintendent Annette Giaquinto about Integrity.
“That is already under discussion by our board of education,” she said. “The failure rate improvement needs to really continue and get better.”
But she added that it’s not easy to find a new bus operator and it can often be too costly for districts on tight budgets.
We just learned the results of Integrity’s first inspection of 2013. The failure rate is still high, at 79 percent.
New Jersey officials say most repairs are made quickly, and the buses are put back on the road.
As for Pennsylvania, school buses are also inspected twice a year: once by state police and once by private mechanics. But the reports are kept on paper, so it’s difficult for parents to check on their child’s bus.