Dawson busing an explosive issue

There was an explosion on one of Takhini Transport's school buses last week. The Dawson City bus was full of children and just about to turn onto the highway last Friday when there was a loud bang and a big flash of red.

There was an explosion on one of Takhini Transport’s school buses last week.

The Dawson City bus was full of children and just about to turn onto the highway last Friday when there was a loud bang and a big flash of red.

The children were safely evacuated.

The bus is now out of commission.

“It was a backfire,” said Cyndy Dekuysscher, Education’s director of finance systems and administration.

“Sometimes there’s a flash out the back,” she said.

“These things happen, especially in cold weather.”

The children were transported to school on a different bus.

And the problem bus is still in the shop, said Dekuysscher.

It’s had a part replaced and will undergo some long-distance road tests before children climb back on board, she said.

But the incident has left some parents with serious concerns.

“I have lost confidence in a bus company that is supposed to be responsible for the safety of our children and then fires a driver for questioning the safety of its buses,” said parent Elizabeth Connellan.

In December, Takhini Transport fired one of its Dawson bus drivers after she refused to drive a bus that was leaking diesel.

Tiss Clark drove streetcars and buses for the Toronto Transit Commission for 11 years, before taking the job in Dawson.

And Clark knew drivers were responsible for the safety of their passengers.

The Yukon’s Education Act, under responsibility of the driver, states:

“No driver shall drive with students as passengers until satisfied that the contracted vehicle is in safe mechanical condition.”

According to Clark, the Dawson buses had several mechanical issues:

The two-way radios – a safety feature – hadn’t been working on the three Dawson buses since October.

And one bus had problems with billowing smoke and had to be shut down and restarted periodically to mitigate the problem.

Another had starter problems.

But the leaking diesel really worried Clark.

When she complained, she was fired.

At the time, Takhini Transport refused comment.

“I get concerned when a company fires a whistleblower,” said Connellan.

“And then another of its buses fails just before it hits the highway ….

“As a parent, I’ve lost confidence in this company.”

Connellan’s son is supposed to travel to Whitehorse for the Polar Games next week.

The 40 Dawson students will make the trip on one of Takhini Transport’s buses.

Now, Connellan is considering alternate transportation.

“Takhini Transport’s credibility has fallen low enough, I’m considering spending $400 on a plane ticket,” she said.

“The additional expense is worth it to keep my child safe and give me peace of mind.”

But Connellan’s son will be disappointed.

He wants to ride with his friends.

Last year, students travelled to Whitehorse in a small bus owned by the Robert Service School.

“It was well maintained, safe and comfortable,” said Connellan.

Robert Service principal Joe Karmel refused to comment on the bus safety issue.

He referred all questions to the Department of Education.

“We have no concerns about safety,” said Dekuysscher.

The bus that backfired is still not in operation, she said.

“But with vehicles, mechanical things do happen, and Takhini Transport is well prepared to deal with it.”

The buses undergo mechanical inspections every six months, she added.

And the vehicles can be no more than 10 years old.

“I don’t think it’s the bus in the shop that will be going to Whitehorse,” added Dekuysscher.

And the bus that does go will undergo full maintenance and a road test, she said.

But Takhini Transport decides who does the inspections and work on its vehicles, said Education’s student transportation officer Dea Hrebien in a previous interview.

Connellan is surprised more people didn’t contact the school after Clark was fired.

“Tiss’ history with public transportation is huge,” she said.

“And she was worried about the safety of our children.

“Why isn’t every parent calling the school and asking why this happened?

“My confidence in this company is trashed.”

Takhini Transport refused comment for this story.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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