TORRANCE, Calif. — For many school bus fleets, the 2000-01 school year was ushered in with the discomforting news that as many as 300,000 vehicles, including 46,000 buses, had faulty antilock brake systems (ABS). First word of the defective ABS units came in an Aug. 30 letter sent by Thomas Built Buses to its customers. The letter warned that buses manufactured between March 1998 and August 2000 and equipped with Bendix ABS EC-17 electronic control units had a defect that could result in an “inability to stop the vehicle. . . .” Other school bus manufacturers, including Blue Bird Corp. and International Truck and Engine Corp., also notified customers of the defective brake unit and provided instructions on how to inspect vehicles for problems. Bob Peters, transportation director at Liverpool (N.Y.) Central School District, said news of the defective ABS units reached him in waves. “When I first heard of the recall, it was only Thomas buses,” he said. It turned out that none of his Thomas buses had the defective Bendix unit. Later, he discovered that Blue Bird buses were also affected. “As it turned out, 28 of my Blue Bird buses had the Bendix system,” he said. “Real fast work by my Blue Bird distributor and my mechanics had the control units changed or the proper inspection performed before the buses went out on the road.” For its part, Bendix released a letter from its president, Sandra Beach Lin, describing the problem and assuring customers that replacement electronic control units would be available by mid-October. Bendix has established a toll-free call center for anyone requesting more information about the recall. The call center operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. (EST) and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. (EST). The phone number is 800/478-1793.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Karen Finkel, executive director of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA), resigned her post on Sept. 29. Finkel had spent 19 years in the position. NSTA President Terry Thomas said Finkel informed the association’s board of directors of her decision in July and had been working to solidify member service programs and to create a seamless transition to new leadership. “Karen leaves some pretty big shoes to fill,” Thomas said. “Fortunately, and as a direct result of nearly two decades of hard work, she leaves the NSTA in a great position to grow even stronger while she moves on to tackle new challenges.” The NSTA, which represents the school bus contractor segment of the pupil transportation industry, was founded in 1964. It provides its members with a unified voice on the state and federal levels.
BELGRADE, Mont. — An editorial cartoon published in the Billings Gazette on Sept. 14 questions the safety of school buses in the wake of the recent Bendix brake system recall. The cartoon depicts a school bus rolling down the highway with a load of frightened students. The bus has two stop arms, each reading “CAN’T STOP,” and, lettered on its side, is “NO SEAT BELTS, EITHER.” Inside the bus, one of the children is saying, “First, no brakes. Next thing they’ll tell us we’re riding on Firestones.” Douglas Kellie, transportation supervisor at Belgrade (Mont.) Public Schools, was outraged at the cartoon. “I feel this shows a gross lack of respect for the hard-working people that make up our school bus fleets,” he said. “To even hint that a school bus would be operated in an unsafe manner with known defective parts is disgraceful.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has named Dr. Sue Bailey as its new administrator. From 1998 until this summer, Bailey, 57, served as assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, overseeing the military health system for the Pentagon. According to The New York Times, Bailey is a graduate of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her residence in psychiatry and neurology at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The newspaper also reported that Bailey hired a mechanic to install a seat belt on a bus for her toddler son in the early 1970s. “I was interested way before anybody else seemed to be interested in how to make yourself safe in a vehicle,” she told The Times. Bailey’s term could end in January, after the new President takes office.