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28 of 55 Tour Buses at Yosemite Cited in Safety Checks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

State safety regulators, in surprise inspections Tuesday and Wednesday at Yosemite National Park, cited 28 of 55 private tour buses for safety or other violations. Seven of the sightseer-packed buses were so dangerous that immediate repairs were ordered on the spot.

Although Larry McNeely of the state Public Utilities Commission remarked that “it looks to us that we don’t have a very safe bus fleet here in California,” the bus-failure rate was the lowest since surprise inspections began statewide in 1989.

“We cited 50% of the buses, but that is down from the 80% we were writing up when be first started,” said William Schulte, head of the PUC’s Transportation Division.

A total of 40 citations were issued during the two days of inspections during the height of the tourist onslaught at the popular national park.

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“We wrote drivers up for everything from excessive oil leaks to massive air leaks in their brakes. It ran the gamut,” Schulte said. “The ones taken out of service were those with bald tires, significant fuel leaks, things like that.”

The PUC, joined by the California Highway Patrol and federal park police, stopped buses on a park road at landmark Bridalveil Fall. Bus passengers got out and looked at the fall or watched rock climbers on nearby El Capitan while CHP inspectors rolled under the buses.

On some of the seven buses, passengers had to wait while on-the-spot repairs were made.

Drivers of allegedly faulty buses must return to Yosemite Village to appear before federal Magistrate Donald Pitts. Technically, they are charged with a federal offense--entering federal property while violating a state law.

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Cases can be heard more swiftly in the federal system than in crowded state courts, McNeely said. Companies caught with mechanically faulty buses, expired registrations or outdated logbooks face more than the wrath of fuming customers forced to wait out repairs.

“If there’s a mechanical violation and a citation is written, there will be a fine,” said Schulte. Fines generally range from $250 to $1,000 per infraction, he added.

The surprise inspection, less than a month after a charter bus with faulty brakes hurtled off Mt. San Jacinto near Palm Springs and killed seven people on a Girl Scout outing, is the most recent in a series of state crackdowns on private bus and shuttle van operators.

Last month, inspectors pored over 45 door-to-door shuttle vans at Los Angeles International Aiport. Twenty-six vehicles were pulled out of service until their safety defects were fixed; one van was in such bad shape that PUC officials ordered it towed to a garage for repairs.

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