National Express Group, the parent company of Durham School Services, which is at the center of ongoing litigation since the deadly 2016 Woodmore Elementary School bus crash that left six children dead, has higher numbers of crashes and safety violations than its competitors, according to a national report released Friday.
Local activists are warning school districts across the country about Durham and its parent company, the private contractor that operates the buses for Hamilton County.
Woodmore Elementary school bus crash
- Community holds vigil to honor victims of fatal Woodmore school bus crash [photos]
- One year later: Have school buses gotten safer since the Woodmore crash?
- The legislation: Advocates hope to pass school bus seat belt bill in 2018
- The neighbors: Talley Road residents recount details of deadly crash
- Cooper: Woodmore bus crash offered lessons, realities
- A year of grief: Mother recalls tragic day she lost her daughter
- The first responders: Paramedics, police officers recall scene of crash [photos]
- Lawsuit: Woodmore employees say bus company responsible for emotional trauma
- Two more lawsuits point to negligence in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Three more civil claims filed in Woodmore crash case
- Bus coalition says Durham drivers want to share safety concerns
- American Red Cross of Southeast Tennessee honors local heroes
- Hamilton County 911 receives award for response to Woodmore crash
- School bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash released from jail after making bond
- Trial date set for driver in fatal Woodmore Elementary School bus crash
- Lawsuit: Mother of child who died in Woodmore bus crash was tricked into legal agreement
- Bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash placed on supervised release
- State attorneys receive new information in Woodmore solicitation case
- Chattanooga firefighters recognized with 'Governor's Certificate' for Woodmore response
- Judge denies alternative sentence request for bus driver in deadly Woodmore crash
- Attorney: Second vehicle involved in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Court date delayed for bus driver charged in Woodmore case
- Victim's mom posts court documents on Facebook, complicating trial in deadly Woodmore bus crash
- Woodmore bus driver faces additional charges after prosecutors pledge to bring more counts
- Prosecutors plan to bring more charges against Woodmore bus driver
- Attorney says Woodmore bus driver should get alternative sentence
- Texas firm denies any solicitation of Woodmore victims
- Woodmore families protest after school board renews bus company contract [photos]
- Out-of-town jurors will decide Johnthony Walker's fate in Woodmore bus crash trial
- Tennessee AG files lawsuit against Texas firm accused of deceiving Woodmore families
- Child Services confirms agency has been investigating Woodmore bus driver
- Woodmore: Johnthony Walker's attorney wants out-of-town jury
- Judge rules Woodmore attorneys can ask for pre-accident info from bus company
- Twelfth civil lawsuit filed in Woodmore bus crash
- New Woodmore lawsuit takes aim at predatory law firms
- New lawsuit accuses law firms of preying on Woodmore victims
- Two more lawsuits filed in connection to fatal Woodmore bus crash
- Law enforcement to follow, randomly ride in Hamilton County school buses in wake of fatal crash
- NTSB report recounts events leading up to fatal Woodmore school bus crash
- Woodmore Fund completes distribution of more than $500,000 in gifts from community to families
- Woodmore responders recount crash nightmare
- Woodmore bus crash: Can county turn back clock on bus privatization?
- Despite Woodmore crash, Hamilton County likely will extend contract with same bus company
- Tennessee's attorney general vows to take on any law firms that exploit the Woodmore crash victims
- Driver in fatal Woodmore school bus crash had previous accidents, infractions in personnel file
- Lawsuit filed against Hamilton County Schools in connection with fatal Woodmore bus crash
- Industry experts warn of predatory law firms in wake of Woodmore bus tragedy
- Woodmore Fund releases video appeal for relief funds ahead of holidays
- Last 2 Woodmore patients released from Erlanger to rehab facility [video]
- Sixth Woodmore bus crash lawsuit targets bus manufacturer]
- Two Woodmore bus crash victims still in Erlanger Children's Hospital
- Woodmore Fund begins to help families affected by fatal bus crash in Chattanooga
- Fourth and fifth lawsuits filed in Woodmore bus crash
- Remaining hospitalized children in Woodmore bus accident in fair condition
- Third lawsuit says bus crash causes child to suffer disfigurement, brain injury
- Durham claims it wasn't aware of all complaints against driver in deadly bus crash [photos]
- Chattanooga school bus driver refuses to speak with investigators in fatal crash probe
- School bus company addresses driver complaints prior to fatal bus crash, promises change [video]
- Second family files negligence lawsuit in connection with deadly bus crash
- Hearing for bus driver in Woodmore crash delayed
- School bus strikes pedestrian in Brainerd one week after deadly Woodmore crash
- Three Woodmore students still in critical condition; 5 total remain hospitalized
- No kids were on school bus that hit pedestrian on Brainerd Road
- Man allegedly using Woodmore victims to scam people for money
- Zyaira Mateen, 6: The girl who loved to read and dance
- D'myunn Brown: Six-year-old remembered as smart, funny
- Zyanna Harris, 10: Girl had energy and spunk
- Cor'Dayja Jones, 9: Fourth-grader was sweet and shy
- Keonte Wilson, 8: Rambunctious boy was youngest of four
- Zoie Nash, 9: She was cheerful and laid-back
- In the wake of the fatal bus crash, Chattanooga stands strong
- Cook: The Hallelujahs of Woodmore Strong
- Tennessee law caps damages for Woodmore victims, families
- Bus driver in fatal crash told school employee 'he did not care about the students,' school records show
- Family of bus crash survivor finds much to be grateful for
- Community gives $112,000 to families of children killed in bus crash
- Parents say they warned district employees before crash that bus driver drove too fast and was reckless
- Life-saving stability control mandatory in new cars but not required for school buses [video]
- A sixth child in Woodmore bus crash has died
- NTSB says Talley Road not on designated route for bus in fatal crash
- First lawsuit filed in connection with Monday's fatal bus crash
- Local agencies launch fund for families of school bus crash victims
- Brainerd crash: New details emerge on history of driver, bus company
- Families mourn Woodmore Elementary students killed in school bus crash
- Tragedy leaves many area first responders emotionally scarred
- Local lawmakers favor push for mandatory seat belts on school buses
- Community gathers at prayer vigil for victims of fatal school bus accident
- Neighbors recount moments following Monday's fatal crash, say driver had reputation for speeding
- Johnthony Walker crashed bus months before fatal accident
- A nation reacts to Monday's school bus crash tragedy
- McCormick to push bill requiring all Tennessee school buses have seat belts
- Haslam says 'time to have that conversation' about school bus safety
- Neighbors of the bus driver charged with vehicular homicide said he was 'just an ordinary guy'
- School bus service provider had 346 crashes in last two years, records show'
- Families identify all five children killed in bus crash
- Community rallies to support Woodmore families
- Blood Assurance needs O-negative blood donations
- School bus driver in fatal accident graduated from Brainerd
- 6 students in ICU after school bus driver charged in crash that killed Woodmore Elementary students
- Erlanger doctors say kids dazed, couldn't spell names on arrival
- Officials report multiple fatalities in school bus crash on Talley Road
The group, Stand Up For School Bus Safety Coalition, formed in the months after the Woodmore crash, sent a letter to more than 250 school districts Friday citing the new report that found the company has a 25 percent higher crash rate than its two largest competitors.
The report, authored by Michael Belzer, an economics professor at Wayne State University, compared data from the nation's three largest bus operators - National Express Group (Durham's U.K.-based parent company), First Student and Student Transportation Inc.
National Express Group and its subsidiaries, including Durham, make it the second- largest bus contractor in the country, transporting more than 1 million students across 400 districts in 32 states, according to a news release.
The company's buses experienced a 25 percent higher rate of crashes per 1 mil- lion miles traveled compared to its competitors and a 41 percent higher number of federal safety violations, according to the report.
The report also found that the operator racked up three times as many violations as its competitors. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates and tracks school buses, citing violations for things such as bald tires or having a driver without a commercial driver's license.
"NEX and subsidiaries like Durham transport millions of our nation's children every day, and they have a duty to make safety a priority," Belzer said in a statement. "Yet from crash rates to violations of federal standards, the data shows that the company is falling behind at the expense of communities, and it faces serious risk factors that continue to exacerbate these safety concerns."
The coalition called upon Hamilton County Schools board members and officials in February to make changes in light of more than 75 unsafe incidents on Durham buses documented by the coalition. Members presented a list of recommendations to the board including establishing a district-run hotline for reporting problems on buses, conducting yearly trainings and drills for students who ride buses, establishing a process for dealing with misbehavior on buses and creating a community task force to review and monitor bus management and operations.
"Families and communities are suffering because of Durham's reckless approach to safety and maintenance," Jeffery Evans, minister and president of the Eastdale Neighborhood Association, said in a statement. "By joining together we can make a difference, ensure that our children are safe and make sure that Durham is held accountable wherever it does business. We hope more parents, educators, drivers, school board members and administrators join us in standing up to Durham."
The coalition also reportedly had a a meeting with Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Bryan Johnson last month.
Durham's parent company defended its safety track record Friday.
"With respect to our safety track record, the fact is that we hold the highest safety rating awarded by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and have one of the most robust safety programs in the student transportation industry," a spokesperson for NEX said in a statement. "We are the only provider outfitting our entire fleet with smart-camera technology and employing a centralized complaint management system. These tools, among others, make our drivers among the safest on the road, and are part of our ongoing commitment to getting our students to and from school safely every day."
On March 1, a jury found the driver of the bus, Johnthony Walker, guilty of criminally negligent homicide, along with a combination of lesser charges, in the Nov. 21, 2016, school bus crash. Walker faced 34 criminal charges and was accused of speeding while on the phone before he crashed the bus carrying 37 children into a tree. Durham also faces more than 30 personal-injury lawsuits in connection with the crash.
After the crash, the company committed to providing more school bus monitors and establishing a feedback system for employees, parents, school officials and community members to report incidents or problems on its buses.
"As parents, we put our trust in the hands of the school bus companies transporting our children to and from school every day, and Durham doesn't deserve our trust," reads a statement issued by pastor and Clergy Koinonia president J.R. Bridgeman, who has a son who rides a Hamilton County bus. "Even after the unimaginable tragedy in our community, Durham isn't putting the safety of our children first, even as it brings in record profits. I have a moral obligation to let other parents know about this dangerous company and make sure what happened in Chattanooga doesn't happen anywhere else, ever again."
The coalition previously launched a website to inform communities in other districts of Durham's safety record, as well as tools for parents to use when contacting school district leaders or reporting problems on buses. Coalition members will also present the report and their recommendations to the National School Boards Assocition Conference this month.
Contact staff writer Meghan Mangrum at email@example.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @memangrum.