After reading the Summit Daily News article in the paper on Friday, March 29, one might think that the Summit Stage fleet is falling apart and the fleet maintenance company contracted two years ago by the County is asleep at the wheel. On the contrary, the readiness, safety, reliability and overall maintenance program of the Summit Stage are better than ever. However, there are a number of facts not reported that the citizens of Summit County should know.
The article creates the impression that the drivers are being forced to drive buses until they break down and that there are no spare buses available to put into service when a legitimate mechanical problem does occur. After years of having to carry more than twice the national standard of spare buses due to less than acceptable maintenance, the number of spares needed has been reduced significantly down to the Federal Transportation Administration's target of 20 percent for the first time ever. Since First Vehicle Services began maintaining the Summit Stage fleet in the spring of 2011, six spare buses have been eliminated, reducing the overall fleet from 32 buses to just 26 for the same number of routes. That means a savings to the Summit Stage budget of nearly $3 million in avoided replacement costs going forward. Those savings over time will help keep the Summit Stage viable and help reduce the need to make service cuts or driver layoffs in future years.
As reported by the SDN, there are indeed times when drivers are told to continue operating a vehicle after reporting an issue, but that alone does not indicate a disregard for safety or necessary maintenance. Every service call is seriously analyzed and the decision to keep a bus on the road is made only after carefully considering the specifics of the problem and the safety of the passengers and driver. A bus will never be put into service or allowed to remain on the road when a safety or maintenance issue exists. The mere fact that a warning light comes on while driving is not necessarily cause for alarm - it may simply be an indicator that a service is due or some component in the very complex computer system that serves as the brain for the bus needs to be serviced or adjusted. Evidence of that lies in our average breakdown rate on the road, which is a well below the national average, despite the frequently harsh driving conditions. Two years ago, with 32 buses in the fleet, there were often days when runs had to be cancelled due to maintenance issues, but since First Vehicle Services has taken the helm, a scheduled departure has never been missed despite operating the same number of routes with six fewer buses. Generally, between two to six spare buses are available, and can be inserted into the schedule when warranted.
It is important to note that First Vehicle Services also maintains not only the Summit Stage, but the entire Summit County motorized fleet, including all Sheriff's Office patrol cars, snow plows, heavy equipment and other general purpose vehicles. All of these departments have seen improved maintenance services and enhanced reliability since the introduction of First Vehicle Services.
Maintenance of heavy-duty coach buses is a team effort, with federally required pre-trip and in-service inspections by drivers double checking the work done by mechanics. It is this team effort that creates an additional layer of oversight to catch potential issues such as a worn tire or an inoperative headlight. Good drivers catch these things before heading out on the road and get them reported to maintenance, but all issues identified do not necessarily warrant replacing a bus, any more than they would on your personal vehicle. It takes great teamwork by drivers, supervisors and mechanics to provide the high level of safety, security and comfort that our passengers demand and deserve.
We are proud of the improvements that have occurred in the Summit Stage maintenance program and will continue to rely upon the high level of service provided by the operators and mechanics that together provide a truly safe and efficient bus service in our mountain community.