Posted on Jun 23, 2009

Public transportation patrons in Gwinnett County have to be wondering how safe their bus rides are to downtown Atlanta. In the span of five months, there were three fires on the bus line. The first occurred in September, 2006, the second in December and the third, in February, of this year. The December fire ruined one bus while the blaze delayed traffic for hours on I-85 near Spaghetti Junction.

Audit Reveals Engine Mechanical Problems

p>What may be worse is a scathing county audit on Veolia, the company which operates the 76-vehicle bus line. The report was made public in May, just one month after the county signed a five-year, $60 million contract to continue service with the Oak Brook, Il.-based carrier.


Specifically, a report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) cited the lack of qualified auto mechanics. The report said only one mechanic was “expert,” while two mechanics operated below this level. Remaining mechanics were referred to as “novices.” There were over 6 million passenger boardings on the line in 2006, according to the AJC.

But bad publicity hasn’t bothered Phil Boyd, transit director for Gwinnett County, who praised Veolia for making progress. “We feel they are on the right track,” he said. “They have made improvements in maintenance and maintenance records and have hired people to take them to the next, highest level of training.”

Company Revamps Mechanic Staff, Upgrades Engines<.h2>

As for the fires, Veolia claims they were caused by a deficient engine part. An auditor hired by Gwinnett County determined the cause of the fire to be manufacturer design flaws in the engine. Veolia informed the county it will replace suspect parts and increase preventive maintenance to assure rider safety. Veolia will move into a new facility in Norcross in early October. With the change in scenery comes a new maintenance director, mechanic and trainer of mechanics, according to Veolia President John Autry.

But some bus drivers still question Veolia’s safety record. “From what I hear, the equipment is still not safe,” said Oliver Hooks, spokesman for the Gwinnett bus drivers union. “The air conditioning doesn’t work and horns don’t work. Drivers say the company’s view is to, ‘Drive the buses until they stop running.’”


The Gwinnett County bus line began six years ago with 17 buses. In 2006, the five-year, $26.8-million contract of McDonald Transit expired, inviting new bids. In May of 2006, the county awarded Veolia a five-year pact.