Washington state regulators are seeking $364,000 in fines from school bus carrier First Student, after finding more than 600 safety and procedural violations in the past two years, dozens of which persisted for years after company officials were warned of the infractions. That's according to a Seattle Times report.
First Student serves Seattle and other districts in Washington.
According to the complaint from the state's Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC), the company repeatedly failed to screen drivers for drugs and alcohol, cleared employees to drive before their drug and alcohol screenings were received, cleared drivers before they’d completed an application for employment or provided a history of their driving records, provided false information on driver records, and allowed at least two vehicles to continue running even when seats weren’t securely attached.
Despite the listed offenses, First Student sent School Bus Fleet a statement in response to the report, saying no violations were identified in the audit with respect to the safety or maintenance of any school bus operated by First Student. The company also said the report was only for charter and extracurricular trip operations, not day-to-day operations to get students to and from school.
"Some of the issues stemmed from the layoff of drivers in 2020 and early 2021 during the COVID pandemic as a result of school closures, and the completion of updated paperwork/qualification procedures as drivers returned to work," said Scott Gulbransen, senior director of communications for First Student. "We continue to work diligently with the WUTC to immediately address these findings to ensure our policies and procedures are reviewed and in compliance."
The fine amount First Student could pay depends on the outcome of a hearing next month. According to The Seattle Times, the WUTC sought the highest penalty amount under the law. The commission also downgraded the company’s safety rating from “satisfactory” to “conditional.” If that rating is approved by the federal government and becomes permanent, the company will lose its ability to enter into bus-chartering contracts with school districts in Washington state.
According to The Seattle Times, First Student is one of two companies bidding on a three-year contract with Seattle Public Schools. The current contract is worth about $40 million a year.