MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - What we have here, folks, is a failure to communicate.
If the communications staffs of both Shelby County Schools and its bus contractor, Durham School Services, had simply answered a request Tuesday for one number -- one single USDOT registration number -- this might not even be a story.
But their failure to address Tiaa Ferguson's concern made it our story.
Ferguson's daughter is in the first grade at White Station Elementary School. Her daughter delivered paperwork home from school about an upcoming field trip to The Orpheum in April.
Mom noticed something on the paperwork.
"It said transportation would be provided by ABC Charter Services," Ferguson said. "I remembered your segment you had done on the news."
This segment -- in which WMC Action News 5 exposed ABC Charter Services as one of six companies with suspect safety histories on SCS's charter travel vendor list. Our investigation followed a Jan. 20 fire that broke out in a charter bus while serving Central High School's basketball teams. Our investigation revealed that charter, Jefferson Travel & Tours, harbored a history of safety violations and license failures. The district terminated it from the list.
At that time, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's SAFER (Safety And Fitness Electronic Records) system noted ABC Charter Services as "not rated" because of a "...failure to complete its biennial (registration)."
SCS removed ABC Charter Services from its approved list after that segment. But there it was again -- right on the dotted line of Ferguson's daughter's field trip permission slip. And there it was again, slipped in as fine print under the updated list of SCS travel vendors -- and as an affiliate of SCS's troubled primary bus contractor Durham School Services.
"Sure seemed deceptive to me," Ferguson said.
SCS Communications, in an e-mail, said ABC Charter Services was allowed back on the list because it established a new U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) registration. We asked SCS and Durham's operatives repeatedly for ABC Charter Services' new registration number to run our own background check.
We were repeatedly ignored.
So we visited Durham's bus depot on Getwell Road. Scattered on its lot: ABC Charter Services buses carrying a new USDOT number. We shot video of the number to run it through the SAFER system.
Sure enough, the number revealed a new and valid registration for ABC Charter Services, regulated separately but under the auspices of Durham School Services. It listed ABC's operating status as "not authorized" for interstate travel -- only travel within Tennessee.
"I don't equate that with 'deceptive,'" said SCS Board Chair Teresa Jones, who admitted the district could have done a better job of explaining why ABC Charter Services got back into the district's good graces.
"For other companies who may get back on the list in good standing, perhaps it could be done in a more public way," she said.
You would think so, assumed Ferguson. That's why she went public with her concern -- to ensure her daughter and her daughter's school could count on a safe bus company for that field trip to The Orpheum.
"They can't say anything about it," she said. "We have to say something for them."