While the outcome of the investigation is still pending, Bermuda Real can report that the bus engulfed in flames on March 7th, also caught on fire with another set of private school students on board in February.
You may recall that we reported that the vehicle in question was taken out of service the day before the second fire that occurred in Warwick, and was put back on the road for the eastbound school bus run from Dockyard the very next morning.
Since then, we have been informed that another driver encountered a similar ordeal on the same bus, while carrying Bermuda Institute students from school in February to St David’s.
Informed sources told Bermuda Real the incident occurred on Collector’s Hill, when the driver noticed smoke billowing with sparks near the left tyre at the rear end of the vehicle. The bus operator shut the engine off and evacuated the students immediately. Fortunately, no one was injured, and the fire was extinguished.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one driver said they were not surprised to hear of the second fire near the rubber tree in Warwick involving the same bus.
“The current state of the fleet is horrible, we really need a whole new fleet. The buses we have now are in poor condition. Some of them really need to come off the road period!
“We bring them in, they’re re-fuelled and sent right back out with no real maintenance. That’s not enough!” And on any given day this bus operator said: “You can have 20 to 30 drivers sitting around doing nothing because they have no bus to drive when they show up for work.”
To make matters worse, the driver said: “Bus operators take the brunt of the flack from members of the public who express their frustrations because of daily bus cancellations. There’s a lot of disgruntled people who have no problem letting us know how they feel.”
Another bus operator said: “The abuse we take from the public is ridiculous.” This driver also questioned how much money is being wasted by having bus operators report to work to find they have no bus to operate. “They end up getting paid to sit around doing nothing while they wait!”
But their main concern is safety. Many expressed concern that nothing will get done until someone is seriously injured.
One driver said: “There’s too many buses in a hazardous condition.”
On March 17th, the Department of Public Transportation (DPT) issued a statement on ‘Servicing Bermuda with an Ageing Bus Fleet’, following “a significant number of difficulties that led to some service cancellations”.
A spokesman said: “The DPT wished to make it clear that the entire service faces the possibility of service cancellation and there are no particular runs preferred for cancellation over others.”
He also pointed out “that the fleet size has shrunk from 123 buses in 2007 to 105 buses today”. “The weighted average age of the fleet is 10 years, while the industry standard is less than seven years.
“The fleet operates 365 days a year, 7 days a week and 18 hours a day. As the buses get older, they become more unreliable and breakdown more frequently. The causes of these breakdowns are varied. They include oil leaks, air system failures, problems with the seats, bells not working, steering issues etc.”
The day that statement was released there were ten buses out of service in need of engine rebuilds or new transmissions. It was noted that “these parts have been ordered”, and “as soon as these parts arrive this work will begin”.
“The last new buses were purchased in 2014 before that 2009. The DPT is hoping to purchase new buses this year but will not see them until the end of the year and early next year,” said the spokesman.
With problems plaguing the public transportation service now, many operators scuffed at the fleet’s capabilities leading up to the peak tourism season. Several operators stated outright that there’s no way the current fleet will be able to handle the cruise ship season, nevermind the America’s Cup race series without further difficulties.
After the second fire on March 7th, another driver said: “Lives are in danger but since this involved private school students something might get done – so sad! When we tell them the bus is over heating they tell us to shut it down for a few minutes and let it cool off! And there will be no new buses before the America’s Cup, or the cruise ship season.”
You may recall that $3.4 million was earmarked in the new Budget to carry out “critical repairs” to the bus and ferry fleets in the lead up to and during the prestigious race series. How this will pan out with an ageing fleet and bus cancellations daily remains to be seen.