If the bus leaks, drive it

Diesel leaking from Dawson City school buses has left one driver without a job. Last Thursday, Tiss Clark noticed diesel fuel dripping from under the engine when she went outside to start her school bus for the morning run.

Diesel leaking from Dawson City school buses has left one driver without a job.

Last Thursday, Tiss Clark noticed diesel fuel dripping from under the engine when she went outside to start her school bus for the morning run.

She called Takhini Transports’ local administrator Norma Lee right away, and was told to take the bus to the company’s mechanic.

But the mechanic was leaving the next day for a two-week holiday and didn’t get a chance to look at it.

Clark was given another school bus to drive – one that was missing a temperature gauge – and things ran smoothly until Monday afternoon.

“I smelled diesel again and found wetness under the engine,” said Clark.

Takhini Transport wanted Clark to do the afternoon run anyway, since it wasn’t a big leak, she said.

“But I didn’t feel safe doing so.”

For 11 years, Clark drove streetcars and buses for the Toronto Transit Commission and she knows a driver is responsible for the safety of her passengers.

“And in this case it was children,” she said.

Clark suggested taking the bus to various other mechanics in Dawson, since Takhini’s mechanic was away. She even set up a time with a mechanic at YTG’s local yard.

Takhini nixed the idea, said Clark.

“But caring about the bottom line should include safety,” she said.

Takhini Transport has the school bus contract for all Yukon communities except Haines Junction, Destruction Bay and Carmacks.

Its buses must be commercially inspected every six months, said Education’s student transportation officer Dea Hrebien.

But it’s Takhini Transport that decides who does the inspections and work on its vehicles, said Hrebien.

The only inspections carried out by government are annual roadside inspections, which look at specific points on the school bus, she said.

Hrebien had heard about the first leaking school bus.

“It’s parked until the leak is fixed,” she said.

She hadn’t heard about the second leaking bus.

“But we live in the North, things freeze and thaw,” said Hrebien.

“Keeping up with maintenance is a constant.”

The two-way radios – a safety feature on school buses – haven’t been working on the three Dawson school buses since October, said Clark, who started with the company that month.

One of the buses had problems with billowing smoke and had to be shut down and restarted periodically to help mitigate the problem, she said.

And another had starter problems.

But it was the leaking diesel that really worried Clark.

“The mechanic said it’s not as flammable as gas,” she said.

“But if it gets on the exhaust pipe it could start a fire.”

Tuesday morning, Clark called for an update. Takhini Transport owner Pat Jamieson told Clark she was overstepping her boundaries.

“Then she said, ‘How much is it leaking? All buses leak,’” said Clark.

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.”

Clark felt the bus was unsafe, but agreed to drive it if a mechanic would take a look at it.

That afternoon, Clark was fired.

“I asked why,” she said.

“But all they would say is, ‘You’re being terminated.’”

Another driver was hired and is driving the bus in question.

Clark, who hadn’t been working for a full six months, has no recourse.

“I was prepared to do my job,” she said.

“But I was also prepared to risk my job for the safety of my passengers, and in particular passengers who are children.”

Jamieson refused comment.

Contact Genesee Keevil at gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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