Update, 4/13/22: After reviewing the terms of the agreement, the Commission approved the settlement Wednesday.
The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission announced a $198,000 settlement Tuesday with First Student, the school-bus contracting giant that has racked up hundreds of safety and procedural violations in the past two years, according to state regulators.
The company admits to 396 safety violations, which include repeated failures to screen drivers for drugs and alcohol, clearing employees to drive before they’d even completed an application for employment or had their driving records reviewed, and providing false information on driver records.
The company, which transports kids in Seattle, Tacoma and other school districts, could end up paying just a fraction of the $396,000 in penalty fines — the maximum penalty — that the commission’s staff had originally sought from the firm in February.
Under the terms of the settlement, the company will have to pay $68,000 in fines immediately. The commission will suspend the remainder of the penalties for three years and waive them completely if the company doesn’t repeat any critical violations in that time frame. First Student will also pay an additional $10,000 from a previously suspended penalty.
The commission only regulates the company’s charter school-bus services, including transportation to games, field trips and extracurricular activities — not daily transportation to and from school. However, in some places such as Seattle, First Student uses the same drivers for charters and daily bus service.
Just after the violations were announced in February, Seattle Public Schools abruptly ended negotiations with First Student for a new school-bus contract. The district has since restarted the bidding process, and the company is still vying for a new contract.