School transportation officials in the Baltimore area are still summing up the impact that a nationwide recall of at least 24,000 school buses will have on their localities.
But even those who know that their fleets will be affected say they are confident that the buses will be repaired and ready when school starts in September.
The recall of buses manufactured by Chicago-based Navistar International Corp. is the result of a defect that was uncovered last month during a routine crash test of one of its International school buses, company officials said this week.
It was learned that the gas tanks can leak diesel fuel and cause a fire if the buses are struck from the side by another vehicle. Tests were performed on a bus with a 35-gallon fuel tank. The company said it will also test International buses equipped with other tanks (the most common holds 65 gallons) before deciding if they need to be recalled.
If the 65-gallon tanks show the same problem, up to 185,000 International buses manufactured over the last 14 years could be recalled.
Glenn Johnson, director of transportation for the Howard County school system, said he has already received a notice from Navistar and has notified his bus contractors. He said 81 of the county's 300 school buses have 35-gallon tanks and could be involved in the recall.
Because the county contracts for all of its bus service, Mr. Johnson said, bus owners will be responsible for having their vehicles repaired, if necessary. Before a bus can be used, the contractor is required to send a certification form indicating that the repairs have been completed.
Mr. Johnson said he has received 30 certificates from bus owners and expects to collect more during the fleet's annual inspection next month.
Baltimore County has no International buses with 35-gallon fuel tanks, although up to 72 vehicles could be affected if the recall eventually includes all Navistar buses, said Bill Markley, specialist in the transportation department.
Paul Welch, supervisor of transportation for Harford County public schools, said there are no 35-gallon International buses in his fleet, either. Of the fleet's 400 or so buses, 70 percent to 80 percent are International.
"We're in good shape right now," he said. "I'm sure that if we get into a recall of 185,000 buses, we'll have some recalls, but [Navistar] says the fuel tank integrity is better on the 65-gallon tanks."
In Anne Arundel County, spokeswoman Jane Doyle said the county has few if any buses with 35-gallon fuel tanks.
Transportation officials in Carroll County and Baltimore City could not be reached for comment. The city does not operate a large transportation fleet because the vast majority of its students walk or ride MTA buses.
Navistar spokeswoman Deborah Spak said there have been no reports of accidents or injuries related to the tank defect.
"We want to take care of any problems before anything bad happens," she said.