A construction flaw caused a Mount Vernon shuttle bus to burst into flames last month, GW officials said.
Fred Siegel, associate vice president and dean of freshmen, said crossed wires in the engine of a Mount Vernon shuttle caused an Aug. 31 blaze that did not result in any injuries. He added that several shuttles were grounded while International Limousine Company, which operates the bus service, conducted a two-week investigation.
“They’ve checked every one, and to the best of my knowledge they haven’t found any others (with the problem),” said Siegel, who assured students that all the Mount Vernon shuttles have been deemed safe.
In addition to checking all vehicles identical to the one that caught fire, Siegel said International Limousine has inspected every shuttle in its fleet for safety.
He added, “I have to be sure that all my students are getting on buses that are as safe as humanly possible.”
A driver noticed smoke coming out of the engine of his vehicle on Aug. 31 before the electrical malfunction occurred. Students said the driver evacuated passengers, who watched the bus catch fire 10 minutes later.
While officials have ensured that all problems with the shuttle have been resolved, the service has had three accidents since the beginning of the summer. Last week, driver error caused a bus to crash into a ledge on the Mount Vernon Campus.
Another vehicle was involved in an unnrelated incident in July, when smoke in the cabin forced students and the driver to evacuate.
“The passengers on board were safely evacuated,” Robert Snyder, director of Mount Vernon Campus Life, wrote in an e-mail this week. “The matter was referred to the shuttle contractor, International Limousine Service.”
Snyder, who directs the group that oversees the shuttle service, said that there is no apparent connection between the electrical flaw that caused last month’s shuttle fire and the cause of the July 7 incident. International Limousine, which conducted the investigation on both buses, did not return calls from The Hatchet earlier this week.
When initially asked about the possibility that a shuttle bus experienced problems this summer, Snyder said he did not have knowledge about any malfunctions. But on Tuesday, Snyder confirmed that smoke came out from a shuttle on July 7. He said he did not previously know about the incident because his office only took control of the shuttle service in late August.
Imogen Dall, a junior who was on the smoke-filled bus in July, said the malfunction caused the driver to panic.
“She just yelled that it was on fire and ran off the bus,” said Dall, who added that the driver vomited after fleeing the scene.
Dall said that in light of recent incidents, she does not feel very safe riding the shuttle.
“There’s no other way (to get to Mount Vernon), but it definitely makes you more nervous,” she said.
Besides putting students on edge, Siegel said the problems have also made drivers more cautious.
“When a driver senses the slightest problem, they stop the bus,” Siegel said.
He added that the Maryland Transportation Safety Council is providing safety courses to all Mount Vernon shuttle drivers.
In addition to mechanical problems, the bus service is also facing increased demand. Snyder attributed the increased demand partly to the popularity of the Ames dining hall.
While Snyder said students are waiting around 10 minutes to use the shuttle, some passengers said it took a half hour to board a bus. Freshman Haldon Lindstrom said he experienced his longest wait ever for a Mount Vernon shuttle on Tuesday afternoon.
“(Problems are) always coming from Foggy Bottom,” said Lindstrom, who along with 120 students waited 30 minutes to get to Mount Vernon on Tuesday. “I’ve never had a problem from Mount Vernon.”
Siegel said the service would be adding more shuttles to the Mount Vernon route between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. starting next week.