A summer football camp trip to and from Pennsylvanian turned unpleasant for city students last week. Air conditioning in the coach bus malfunctioned an hour into the long trip to Camp Tioga. While trying to return to Paterson three days later, the bus broke down completely due to a battery failure.
The bus supplied by Madison Coach of Bloomfield lost power while trying to pick up students for a return trip to Eastside High School on Aug. 22. Students boarded the bus, but the vehicle would not start. Without power, the team’s equipment was locked inside the bus storage compartments, according to school officials.
“This was not a predictable thing,” said Joe Rotter, vice president of sales at Madison Coach. The driver tried to boost the vehicle via a truck without success. The company explored sending a second vehicle, but that would take 5 to 6 hours and students would miss their scrimmage game scheduled for the evening.
Rotter said the company hired an area charter bus to transport the students back to Eastside High School. District business administrator Richard Matthews said the company paid for the charter bus.
An employee was dispatched with two new batteries to remedy the situation in Thompson, Penn., said Rotter. He said the company went “above and beyond” to rectify the situation.
“We did all that was possible,” said Rotter.
School board member Emanuel Capers, chairman of the operations committee which provides oversight to the district’s transportation department, saw the incident as the latest mishap involving a contracted bus company.
“We just can’t tolerate this,” said Capers. “They should be out of our district and out of business.”
Capers said students suffered during the ride due to lack of air conditioning. Rotter said the bus was inspected prior to the trip and received a “clean bill of health.” Inspection included testing the air conditioning system.
The pre-check process did discover the batteries were weak. He said batteries were changed. The air conditioning in the vehicle was working when the bus departed with students. Some students asked to have the air conditioning turned down because it was too cold inside the bus. An hour into the ride, the air conditioning malfunctioned. A mechanic dispatched to the location later fixed the air conditioning problem.
Rotter said it’s unfair for Capers to lump his company in with other firms. Madison Coach has been doing business with the district for the past half-decade, he said.
Capers said the company provided a bus from 1998. He said the district requires buses to be from 2007 or later.
“There’s no contract stating age,” said Rotter. He said this assignment is different from the annual school bus routes. He does not believe there was a breach of contract. Some in the district have wondered whether there was a contract violation.
Rotter said the company was contacted at the last minute on Friday to take the students to the summer camp on Sunday, Aug. 19.
A former district employee, who worked as a fleet manager, was tasked to arrange transportation for the football program to attend the annual camp. School officials said this employee dropped the ball.
The students arrived at Eastside High School at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 23. The bus was repaired by swapping out the batteries and the football equipment was returned at 3:30 p.m.
The rescheduled scrimmage was played on Thursday.
The school has been pushing the bus company to either waive the cost of the trip due to the mishaps or charge a deeply discounted rate, according to school officials and the company.
“This was not a profitable undertaking,” said Rotter. Both parties are trying to come to an agreement on payment for the trip, he said.