Bus drivers hold town hall to discuss bus safety concerns

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Thursday, March 7, 2019
News 12 @ 11

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Richmond County bus drivers and maintenance workers from the Transport Workers Union Local 239 say they want to focus on the bigger picture when it comes to bus safety. They detailed several concerns at a town hall meeting in Augusta.

Both the Richmond County School System and the bus drivers and maintenance workers want to focus on the facts. The problem is, both parties have different ideas about what IS fact.

At the end of the day, bus drivers and the school system just want to keep your kids safe.

In a room filled with posters and displays illustrating their concerns, the Transport Workers Union came together to be heard and to find solutions.

"We would like for the Board to face the facts of the issues happening out at the transportation depot and try to work with the drivers and the parents on settling the issues," said Sallie Thomas, a former Richmond County bus driver and current president of TWU Local 239.

Meanwhile, the Richmond County School System says they are facing the facts, posting an infographic to their Facebook page hours before the meeting. It's called "The Truth about Transportation".

"Transparency and telling the truth are things that are important to me, ethically speaking and in all sorts of regards," said Kaden Jacobs, a spokesman for the Richmond County School System. "Since there's a lot of misinformation out there, I thought it was important to make sure the community understood what the truth of the matter was."

Bus drivers believe there could be toxic fumes and other dangers, like rats, snakes, and alligators at the main bus depot off of Mike Padgett Highway.

"We felt it was important that the parents get to know the issues of the transportation out at the depot about what's been going on for years," said Thomas.

The Georgia Department of Public Health visited the depot in November after some of these concerns came to light, saying they found no chemical odors during their visit, "nor would they be expected given GEPD's (Georgia Environmental Protection Division) sampling of the property in the past."

Bus drivers aren't satisfied by that answer. They want an independent environmental consultant to evaluate the property. They also want bus maintenance issues and an apparent bus driver shortage solved, too.

The school system says they've addressed maintenance issues where needed, and are working on updating the age of their bus fleet.

"In the last six years, we spent $8.4 million dollars on new buses," said Jacobs. More money for new buses was recently approved, too, meaning the school system will have 91 buses that are less than 6-years-old. They try to keep all their buses 10-years-old or younger.

The union says, they want the conversation to continue to keep your kids and family safe while in their care.

"A bus driver gets on the bus first thing in the morning and they worry about kids. Period. " said Thomas.

After all of this came to a head, the School System says they met with bus drivers and maintenance workers twice and gave them envelopes that were pre addressed and stamped so they could remain anonymous when providing complaints or feedback. Since that meeting, they've only received one and officials claim the content of the letter was positive.

At least one school board member was present at the meeting, and an Augusta commissioner was there, too.

School board leaders say after those two buses caught fire in the fall, they immediately dispatched their maintenance workers who checked all buses in the fleet before they left the depot for the morning.

A lot of passionate people on both sides of the issue are involved. News 12 will continue to ask for answers from both sides.