Kane In Your Corner: Horizon Link ranked last in the county

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A continuing Kane In Your Corner investigation finds the school bus company involved in last week's crash in Irvington has an inspection failure rate that ranks last among large bus providers in Essex County, and is 30 percent higher than the county average.

The bus, owned and operated by Horizon Link LLC, based in Bloomfield, was carrying special needs children to a summer camp last Thursday when authorities say it ran a red light, struck an SUV and slammed into the facade of a building. One student suffered a broken leg and several others sustained non-life threatening injuries.

On the evening of the crash, Kane In Your Corner reported the company had failed 96 percent of its initial inspections in 2015, with problems serious enough to have the buses ordered out of service. Inspection reports showed the bus involved in the crash was the only one that had passed its initial inspection. The company's owner, Samawal Hashem, contended those figures were misleading, because he said his company repaired problems as soon as they were pointed out, and claimed the New Jersey's Motor Vehicle Commission often failed his buses for what he called "very minor things."

So Kane In Your Corner pulled the 2015 inspection reports for every school bus provider in Essex County and found the average initial out-of-service failure rate was 74 percent, significantly lower than Horizon Link's 96 percent rate. In fact, among large Essex County school bus companies - with 20 or more initial inspections this year - Horizon Link's failure rate ranked worst in Essex County.

Some large school bus providers in Essex County did much better than the county average. Nutley Public Schools had an initial failure rate of 33 percent. Belleville schools did even better, with a first-time failure rate of 24 percent.

Raymond Martinez, Chief Administrator of the NJMVC, says average failure rates for most bus companies do tend to be higher than some would expect because, "this is a very rigorous inspection". He says parents who check the NJMVC's online "report card" for their school district should pay close attention to the reasons companies fail, as well as how long it takes for violations to be corrected. Often, Martinez says, "if you fail bus No. 1 one, by the time you're done inspecting the other vehicles in the yard, they will have already started to fix what was wrong on bus No. 1."

That was not the case at Horizon Link. Of the buses that failed initial inspections in May, nearly one-third are still not approved to be back on the road three months later. Items still in need of repair include emergency exits, handicapped lifts and doors, steering and suspension issues, fluid leaks and others, according to NJMVC data.

However, school buses are still by far the safest way for kids to get to and from school. A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that students are 23 times more likely to be killed traveling to and from school with a parent, and teen drivers are 58 times more likely to be killed driving themselves to and from school or driving there with friends.

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