- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A fleet of 37 Montgomery County Ride On buses have been permanently removed from service after a bus fire Wednesday morning in Silver Spring.

County government officials said Wednesday they do not know what caused the fire in the out-of-service bus, but the blaze follows a series of fires reported over the past three years involving similar buses.

Union officials have previously raised concerns over the continued use of the Champion bus model in question, as leaders said up to 12 buses have caught fire in similar incidents.

“It was just stupid luck that we haven’t had any injuries,” said Gino Renne, president of Local 1994, the union that represents approximately 10,000 general services employees, including bus drivers, in the county.

County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett made the decision to pull the buses from service soon after the Wednesday morning fire was reported, calling the move “the right thing to do to ensure the safety of the public and our bus drivers.”

Officials began work earlier this year to replace the Champion buses in the county’s Ride On fleet. The county should receive 20 of the replacement buses by next week and the remainder by mid-August, Montgomery County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said. He did not have an estimate Wednesday on the cost to replace the buses.

Ride On staff and the Department of General Services were working Wednesday afternoon to address the issues with bus services that could result from the abrupt removal of the buses from service. The 37 buses pulled from the fleet Wednesday will be stripped by mechanics in order to sell salvageable parts on the open market, Mr. Renne said.

An investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into the Champion buses, which are manufactured by Navistar Inc., is ongoing, the agency confirmed Wednesday.

The buses have been problematic since they were first purchased by the county in 2007, and the union advised against buying them, believing at the time that the specific model would not be able to hold up against the wear and tear, Mr. Renne said.

“It’s all because those buses were not designed to endure the constant stress, the constant heat, the constant demand,” he said. “Buses are on the road up to 18 or 20 hours a day.”

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