RFTA probes why wheels fell off bus | AspenTimes.com

RFTA probes why wheels fell off bus

PITKIN COUNTY ” The phrase “the wheels are coming off” is sure to strike terror in the heart of any organization ” no more so than the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority.

Typically, the phrase means all sorts of misfortunate striking at the same time. In RFTA’s case, it actually meant wheels falling off.

Sleepy-eyed morning commuters on an Aspen-bound bus were jolted to attention Friday, Oct. 26, when two tires and rims fell off the right, rear side of a bus, according to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.

The accident occurred about 6:30 a.m. on Highway 82 near Aspen Village. He didn’t know how many passengers were on the bus at the time. No one was injured, so no law enforcement or medical officials were called to the scene. The driver was able to pull the bus onto the shoulder, and another rig was called to transport the passengers.

“I think it’s always a stressful situation when a tire comes off a bus,” Blankenship said.

The incident received little media scrutiny, but Blankenship alerted RFTA’s board of directors about the event in a memo released last weekend. While there were no injuries or major damage, “this could have been a very serious accident,” he wrote. The bus was taken out of circulation pending an internal review.

Blankenship said Monday that he brought the incident to the board’s attention because it is important for the organization to hold itself accountable.

“It’s our job to make sure it didn’t happen but it did happen,” he said.

RFTA operates bus service between western Garfield County and Aspen. It is on pace to haul a record 4.4 million passengers this year.

Blankenship said the organization takes safety seriously and is reviewing the incident to see if another step of checks and balances is needed in maintenance records and procedures, pre-trip inspections or reporting of unsafe conditions. Marianne Scott-Prioleau, who recently joined RFTA in the new position of manager of safety and training, is undertaking that review.

Blankenship said it is possible there was a problem with the studs that the lug nuts of the dual wheels tighten to. The lug nuts became loose enough to give the bus “wobbly wheels” in a previous incident this fall, he said. The driver reported the problem, and the maintenance department tightened the nuts ” properly documenting the problem and the corrective action, Blankenship said.

The studs can stretch over time, which could prevent the lugs nuts from staying tight even if they were properly tightened, he continued.

The incident is one of the few blemishes on what has been a stellar year for RFTA. RFTA’s ridership is up by 316,513 passengers, or 10 percent, for the year through September compared to last year. Even if the pace slips a bit, it will top 4 million and set the ridership record.

Ridership in the Highway 82 corridor is up 15 percent; up 2 percent in the city of Aspen; and up almost 18 percent in the Grand Hogback service in western Garfield County.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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