SCS leaves charter with questionable history on vendor list

SCS lifts charter bus suspension with smaller vendor list
(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Photo Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A charter travel company with a history of maintenance violations will remain on Shelby County Schools' approved vendor list, even as the district slices that list in half in response to a WMC Action News 5 safety investigation.

Tuesday, the district whittled the list from 36 to 17 charter vendors. Click here to see the list.

Cross Country Tours, Inc., remains on the list, even though it is one of six companies WMC Action News 5 singled out for questionable safety records. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Safety Measurement System (SMS), the Millington-based charter carries a 24-month history of maintenance violations that SMS says "...exceeds the FMCSA intervention threshold relative to its safety..."

According to the SMS, Cross Country Tours, Inc.'s maintenance violations include everything from minor issues like an "inoperable turn signal," to what the SMS describes as "severe" violations, including "power steering violations" and "no or defective brake warning device."

"Unfortunately, we do have hiccups from time to time," said Curtis Herron, owner and operator of Cross Country Tours, Inc. "And whenever those hiccups are made, we try to take care of that responsibly and in a quick manner."

SCS spokesperson Kristin Tallent said Cross Country Tours remains on the list because a May 2014 audit by federal safety regulators gave the charter a 'satisfactory' rating. FMCSA documents confirmed the rating.

About the charter's maintenance history, Tallent said in an e-mail, "No enforcement action was taken, and (Cross Country Tours) maintained its satisfactory rating. District leaders will speak with (Herron) about corrective action."

Herron said his company's violations listed in the federal SMS system are dated and have been corrected. He said they haven't been removed because the feds have yet to conduct follow-up inspections on those specific violations.

"The more inspections you have, the more those points are removed from your record," he explained. "So we haven't had enough inspections, if you will, to have them all eradicated."

Tallent clarified the district still considers the charter vendor list to be suspended as it continues to vet the companies on the abbreviated list. "There are companies still on suspension and will be potentially terminated from the list if they are not able to provide us with updated (safety) information we have requested," she said in an e-mail.

WMC Action News 5 reported a series of problems with the district's charter vendor list after a bus operated by Jefferson Travel and Tours caught fire while carrying basketball players and cheerleaders from Central High School to a game in Whitehaven. Everyone made it out safely.

SCS suspended all charter bus services two days after the bus fire.

Immediately following the charter bus fire, WMC Action News 5 began looking into the list of charter bus vendors and found that six companies, including Jefferson Travel and Tours, have serious histories that the district should have considered before leaving them on the approved list. Tuesday, the district terminated relationships with five of those companies.

Tallent said the district inherited its list of approved charter bus vendors from the merger of Memphis City Schools and Shelby County Schools. She admitted that no one at the unified school district ever vetted the list until WMC Action News 5's investigation.

Neither Tallent nor anyone else with the district's communications staff has ever granted WMC Action News 5's request to interview Stephen Wherry, SCS's transportation director. A request Tuesday for an interview with Wherry again went unfulfilled. Tallent explained Wherry deals with Durham School Services, the district's school bus contractor, but she said the district's office of procurement handles vendors, including charter travel.

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