A malfunction of the braking system was found to be the “root cause of the fire” that engulfed a school bus in flames while transporting students in Warwick last month.

Transport Minister Michael Fahy revealed the findings of the investigation at a news conference yesterday. While noting that it’s important that bus users, and the public at large, “feel that the public bus system is a safe form of mass transportation”, he said the Department of Public Transportation (DPT) has embarked on “enhanced strategies” with improved oversight to prevent further incidents.

“The report has said that the brake springs were stretched which caused the brake shoe to stay in contact with the wheel drum,” said Sen Fahy. “This malfunction resulted in abnormal contact within the wheel drum, which caused enough heat to ignite nearby residual combustible materials.

“Fire retardant systems did work in insulating the bus interior from immediate fire intrusion, which allowed passengers and the driver to safely vacate the vehicle,” he added. But he said: “There is no doubt that Bermuda is facing significant challenges with its bus fleet.”

Bus Fire on Middle Road, Warwick on March 7, 2017

On that note, he said the Ministry is “of the opinion that an improved schedule would require fewer buses to be on the road, and more progress needs to be made on adoption of the new schedule”. “This may involve going to arbitration,” he said. In order to run the service as it stands now he said: “We need 88 buses ready to go and we don’t have them.”

“In an environment of budget constraints, there are too few buses for the existing schedule, and too many in need of repair, which has caused far too many cancellations of individual bus runs. This has meant substantial pressure on the bus mechanics to service the fleet and get more buses on the road.” Sen Fahy also noted that the DPT “will fill the position of Maintenance Manager, which was vacated in 2013”.

Bermuda’s ageing bus fleet is charged with “more than 211,000 bus runs a year, operating between 3.9 and 4.7 million miles in that 12 month period, and carrying some 2.8 million fares”. Four new buses are due to be imported later this year, with another eight scheduled to arrive next year.

Despite the challenges, Sen Fahy said he remains confident that the bus service will meet the demands of the America’s Cup and the peak tourism cruise ship season. He also commended the actions of the bus operator, the students, and Bermuda Fire & Rescue Service and the public for their actions on March 7th.