Three safety inspectors and one supervisor at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority in Philadelphia were suspended after 13 buses were wrongly labeled as safe.
The 15-year-old buses were affixed with safety stickers and put in service despite problems with corrosion, fuel tanks and brakes. The stickers represent that the bus meets state certification requirements.
Realizing the stickers had been placed on unsafe buses, a second supervisor reported the problem. The buses were taken out of service and five external companies were brought in to re-inspect SEPTA's entire bus fleet.
"We now have the safest bus fleet in the U.S.," said Rich Maloney, SEPTA's director of public affairs. "We made sure everything worked on every bus."
Out of the 1,273 buses, 30 were permanently retired because of corrosion and 15 had to be repaired to meet state certification requirements. Over the following year, SEPTA will receive 235 new buses.
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation held a fact-finding hearing to determine what went wrong and the fate of the suspended workers. Results were unavailable at press time.
Attention was brought to the mislabeled buses after several articles ran in the Philadelphia Daily News in November, two months after the problem was discovered. The articles referred to the buses as "deathtraps," something Maloney calls an "outrageous piece of journalism" because the buses never jeopardized the passengers' safety.
Bus safety has made the papers elsewhere as well. In Mexico, the leading daily Reforma ran the headline "Killer Buses" and another newspaper had a cartoon featuring buses labeled: "Dangerous to your health." Those were printed after a string of bus accidents due to reckless driving that killed five people in two days.