Local mechanic says fixing buses is a challenge

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - A general manager for a local mechanic's shop says all the stories about bus problems are true.

Jeep White is the general manager for General Diesel. The shop looks over the bus fleet in Mount Pleasant. He says his lot is usually never without a school bus in need of repair.

"The in and out of service happens on a daily basis its very fluid. One may blow a radiator hose this morning get that repaired, and then a driver will complain about pulling to the right," he said. "They are constant coming and going and being inspected every day."

White says the company has routine maintenance and then emergency repairs.

"The buses don't pick where they break down," he said.

He says he understands why Durham bus drivers are upset, but says there is only so much he can do on his end.

"We don't see the buses other than fueling them every single day," he said. "The bus drivers are actually the eyes and there ones that should determine if the vehicle is safe to drive or not."

White says his company has a private contract with the state, but expires this school year. The company was part of a pilot program, making East Cooper buses the only ones not handled by the state. However, that will all change come next year.

For White that means some degree of relief.

"If you had unlimited funds to work with and workers you can get these buses up to 100 percent operational up time, but that's not practical for us or the state or anyone," he said.

A Durham spokesman says they could not address specific reported concerns from drivers, but did say drivers have to report safety concerns as part of the pre- and post-trip inspection process. There's also an employee hotline set up to report problems.

Mick Zais, the state's superintendent of education, says in January the state got 384 new buses, replacing some of the oldest. Ideally, he says his goal is to replace buses that are 15 years old or older.

Zais has asked legislators to budget more than $50 million for new buses.