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School bus firm used by Pierce, Thurston school districts fined for safety issues

A charter school bus company that has ties to Tacoma, Tenino and Rochester has been fined $23,700 for safety violations, according to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.
A charter school bus company that has ties to Tacoma, Tenino and Rochester has been fined $23,700 for safety violations, according to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission. Rolf Boone

A private school bus company that transports students in Tacoma, Tenino and Rochester school districts has been fined $23,700 for safety violations, according to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission.

The UTC does not regulate school-to-home or home-to-school bus routes, but it does have regulatory authority when school buses are chartered to transport students for non-routine trips such as field trips or school sporting events.

The UTC announced its fine of Ohio-based First Student Inc. last Wednesday.

First Student, which operates throughout the country, was subject to a routine safety investigation in February, according to the state agency. The agency found more than 150 violations of state and federal transportation safety laws.

Among them: 99 violations of failing to require drivers to prepare driver vehicle inspection reports, and 44 violations of using a driver without a pre-employment drug test. The UTC also said First Student failed to properly maintain vehicles.

UTC staff notified the company about its findings and the fine in April. The UTC says First Student requested mitigation, but the commission denied it.

Although the UTC upheld its $23,700 fine, it did suspend $10,000 if First Student meets safety requirements over the next two years.

First Student representatives could not be reached, but the company does emphasize the importance of safety on its website.

“Safety is a core value and a way of life for all of our employees,” the website reads. “Safety has always been at the heart of everything we do. Because of our dedication to safe school bus transportation, we’re twice as safe as the industry average in collisions.”

The UTC says that First Student operates more than 500 buses that serve the following communities: Tenino, Rochester, Tacoma, Vashon Island, Seattle, Chattaroy (near Spokane), and Colville.

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