October 9, 2008 at 1:00 am

State passes 90% of school buses

Detroit sees one of the biggest improvements, with its fleet performing better than the Mich. average.

Michigan schoolchildren are increasingly riding safe buses, according to records released on Wednesday that show a growing number are passing state inspections.

More than 90 percent of the more than 17,200 school buses in the state passed a 198-point inspection conducted by the Michigan State Police, continuing an improvement trend dating back four years.

The buses of 384 districts got perfect marks, the most since the state began conducting mandatory inspections in 1990, said Col. Peter C. Munoz, director of the State Police. The buses were inspected between September 2007 and the end of August.

Detroit saw one of the biggest improvements, with its fleet performing better than the state average. While more than 1 in 5 of the district's buses were pulled out of service over safety concerns discovered during the 2006-07 inspection period, just 8 percent were pulled from service this year.

The district implemented a 30-day inspection of buses, using a preventative maintenance program, and encouraged drivers to pay close attention to their vehicles to quickly identify problems, said Steve Wasko, a Detroit Public Schools spokesman.

"We've put some solid plans in place, but plans alone can't take all the credit; our fleet consists not only of buses but the drivers, mechanics, schedulers and others who keep them running each day, safely, for Detroit schoolchildren," Wasko said in an e-mailed statement.

Buses that don't pass the inspections get a yellow or red tag. Yellow-tagged buses may operate as long as the defect is repaired within 60 days. A red-tagged bus is immediately pulled from service until the defect is fixed.

Some districts in the region struggled with the inspections, including Taylor, Rochester and Woodhaven-Brownstown, while others rebounded from poor inspections a year earlier.

In Taylor, 54 of the district's 82 buses failed the inspections and were red-tagged, up from two the year before. The district issued a press release Wednesday saying all buses were currently operational and many were fixed before inspectors left the district's facilities.