Internal memo exposes incentives to cut safety corners on First Student buses

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by Lauren Trager / News 4 | @LaurenTrager

KMOV.com

Posted on February 6, 2014 at 9:57 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 7 at 7:21 AM

  (KMOV) -- News 4 has obtained a memo from the president of a huge school bus company telling its employees if they want to make extra money they need to cut serious corners.

And that, employees told News 4, is at the root of all the dangerous problems we’ve been uncovering.

“We are putting an unsafe product on the road,” said an employee who asked to be anonymous.

He is afraid of repercussions after he handed News 4’s Lauren Trager a secret document that he claims puts First Student to shame.

“I think it was horrible and I thought it shed a lot of light on why we are having the problems at First Student we are having,” he said.

Those problems, drivers tell News 4, include breakdowns, bad brakes, and broken heaters.

News 4 found buses with jagged and rusty edges, out of state or faded plates, and just generally disgusting conditions meant for our kids.

But the document, employees say, explains it all. It details a program called “Beat your Budget, Build Your Rewards.”

The memo tells First Student managers that if they cut costs, they receive a payout or bonus.

It says loud and clear and in black and white that for every dollar saved not repairing a school bus, the manager gets paid big time.

And this document was clearly not intended for everyone to see.

“They are concerned with the bottom line. Dollars, first, safety, second,” said the driver.

A spokesperson for First Student’s parent company, FirstGroup America said,

“As you know we stake our reputation on safety. Part of our responsibility is to provide safe, cost-efficient solutions to school districts, many of which are facing financial challenges. The internal memo you referenced was an incentive for Shop Managers to maximize the efficiency of their maintenance shops while continuing to meet our high standards for safety.”

First Student did not return News 4’s request for an on-camera interview Thursday.

Some school district department heads who contract with First Student tell Trager they weren’t aware of the policy. But this employee says he just had to speak up, fearing the policy puts students in danger.

The FirstGroup America spokesperson said “we have moved quickly to investigate employees’ concerns at the Pagedale location to resolve the issue in a comprehensive manner” following the News 4 investigation into the bus lot.

Stay with News 4 and KMOV as we continue following up with First Student to get them to answer regarding this policy. 

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