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WA: School bus carrier should be fined $364K for violations

February 24, 2022 GMT

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state regulators found more than 600 safety and procedural violations by school bus carrier First Student in the past two years, dozens of which persisted for years after company officials were warned of the infractions.

The Seattle Times reports the company repeatedly failed to screen drivers for drugs and alcohol, cleared employees to drive before they’d completed an application for employment or a history of their driving records, provided false information on driver records and allowed some vehicles to continue running even when seats weren’t securely attached, according to a complaint from the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission.

First Student, which provides daily school bus and charter service in Seattle, Tacoma, Vashon Island and several other school districts in Washington state, could pay up to the maximum fine of $364,000, depending on the outcome of a hearing next month.

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That the UTC sought the highest penalty amount under the law is “pretty unusual,” said Emilie Brown, a spokesperson for the UTC. The commission also downgraded the company’s safety rating from “satisfactory” to “conditional.”

If that rating is approved by the federal government and becomes permanent, the company will lose its ability to enter into bus-chartering contracts with school districts in Washington state.

“We were apprised of the UTC action this week and we are in the process of reviewing how it might impact our relationship with the district’s primary transportation vendor,” said Tim Robinson, a spokesperson for the school district.

First Student spokesman Scott Gulbransen said the company’s first priority is always the safety and welfare of the students.

“We are working with the WUTC to immediately address these findings to ensure our policies and procedures are reviewed and in compliance,” Gulbransen said.