Investigation into Montgomery County Ride On Bus Fires

Five fires since 2009

By Melissa Mollet and Tim Persinko
|  Thursday, Feb 9, 2012  |  Updated 8:34 AM EDT
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Some Montgomery County workers say a series of fires prove the Ride-On buses aren't safe.

Melissa Mollet

Some Montgomery County workers say a series of fires prove the Ride-On buses aren't safe.

Are Montgomery County's Ride On buses dangerous?

That's the question being asked after a series of fires, the most recent on Tuesday.

Since 2009, there have been five fires on 29-foot long Montgomery County Ride On buses manufactured by Champion.

The most recent incident happened during the Tuesday morning commute in White Oak.  There was one on December 27 in Glen Echo, another the year before in Rockville, and one in Silver Spring. No one has ever been injured in the fires.

The county operates both 29-foot and 30-foot long Champion buses.  Montgomery County has a fleet of 46 of the shorter buses, and nearly half of those are off the road for maintenance.

Frank Beckham, a mechanic for Ride On for the past 10 years, said the shorter buses are junk.  "They should never have been purchased," he told News4,  "and they are just problematic."

Bus operator Nelvin Ransome, who has driven a Ride On bus for the past 24 years, told News4 he thinks the vehicles should be pulled off the road immediately.

According to the UFCW Local 1994 union, which represents 9,000 Montgomery County employees, including Ride On workers, the first of the five fires was caused by a brake problem.  The next two started in the engine compartment, and the fourth was attributed to a circuit breaker. Thursday's fire is still under investigation.

David Dise, director of the county's Department of General Services says there's a big difference between buses that need chronic repair and a bus that's unsafe.   "Let me put it this way,” he said.  “We don't put unsafe buses on the street."

He said after the brake fire in 2009, the fleet was taken out of service for maintenance.

The county told News4 there are plans to replace the buses within the next 18 months.   "We have had an increase in frequency of problems with these particular models," Dise said, "and don’t want to continue to run into those problems."

But the union says it feels the county is being reckless, ignoring the safety of drivers and passengers in the meantime.

Gino Renne, Local 1994's president, said, "This particular administration, unlike past administrations, they cannot accept mistakes, and they're slow to undo their mistakes."

Montgomery County has inspected all 23 Champion buses in service since Tuesday's fire. They have started their investigation, and an outside firm will give an opinion on the fires next week as well.

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