Brake order affects 79 area school buses

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

WOODSTOCK — A state order requiring certain school buses to have new braking mechanisms installed will affect 79 buses in Harrisonburg and Rockingham and Shenandoah counties.

The Virginia Department of Education sent a memo to the superintendents of all 133 school divisions in the state on May 19 alerting them that all buses purchased after March 24, 2011, must have a brake interlocking mechanism installed.

The order affects 50 of the 227 buses used by Rockingham County Public Schools, or 22 percent of its fleet.

Twenty-two of Shenandoah County Public Schools’ 112 buses, or 19 percent, will need the new interlock, as will seven out of 55 buses used by Harrisonburg City Schools, or 12 percent of its fleet.

About 4,000 buses statewide need the brake interlock, according to the VDOE memo.

State inspections of buses purchased from multiple manufacturers after March 24, 2011, revealed that they did not have the brake interlock as required by the Virginia School Bus Specifications.

The specifications, which were approved on that date and last updated in 2013, require that all buses “shall incorporate a park brake interlock that requires the service brake to be applied to allow release of the parking brake,” according to the VDOE website.

Wade Feller, transportation supervisor for SCPS, said the memo does not amount to a recall and that all buses are safe to ride on with or without the brake interlock.

“There’s nothing unsafe about the buses,” he said. “It [the interlock] just means you have to push down on the brake pedal before the brake can be released.”

No cost estimate has been released, but all costs will be paid by the bus manufacturers, Shenandoah County Schools Superintendent Mark Johnston said.

“Because buses are purchased on a state contract, the manufacturer will pick up the cost,” he said.

Jeremy Mason, transportation supervisor for RCPS, said he hopes the interlocks will be installed during the summer in time for the 2017-18 school year.

All three local school divisions use vehicles from IC Bus, formerly known as International.

Reggie Smith, director of the Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation, which provides the city’s school bus service, said interlocks for city buses will come from Kingmor Supply near Cross Keys and Highway Motors north of Harrisonburg.

But, he said, installations may take a while.

“We’re going to need a whole lot of parts, and there will probably be a backlog on parts since it took them six years to realize this,” he said.

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