State Agency Alleges New and Repeated Safety Violations at School Bus Company


A charter school bus company that operates in Pierce and Thurston counties has been hit with another formal complaint by state regulators.

Staff for the Utilities and Transportation Commission filed the complaint on Thursday after finding "new and repeated safety violations" by Ohio-based First Student Inc., according to a news release.

The UTC fined the company $23,700 in 2019 but suspended $10,000 on the condition it met certain criteria and did not commit violations for two years. The company operates throughout the country, including in Tacoma, Tenino and Rochester.

A routine follow-up to the 2019 investigation uncovered 634 violations of vehicle and driver safety requirements from January 2020 to April 2021, per the release. Staff categorized 396 of these violations as acute, critical or repeated.

Consequently, staff recommended the UTC reapply the previously suspended $10,000 penalty and consider imposing a $1,000 fine for the 396 violations.

The alleged violations include three occasions of making fraudulent statements or record entries, 38 occasions of using a driver before the motor carrier received a negative pre-employment drug test, 209 occasions of failing to conduct required random drug testing and many more.

Representatives for First Student's Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Olympian.

The company's website says it has consistently been "recognized as a leader in safety" and promotes case studies in support of that claim.

"First Student had the best product and service at the most advantageous price for the benefit of our students. ... This is a way for the district to offer our students the utmost safety and comfort," Al Diamico, Director of Transportation, is quoted as saying on the website.

The UTC does not regulate school-to-home or home-to-school bus routes. However, the commission does have regulatory authority over buses that are chartered to transport students for field trips, sporting events and other non-routine events.

A virtual brief adjudicative proceeding will be held 9:30 a.m. March 22. During the proceeding, an administrative law judge will decide whether to impose new or previously suspended penalties based on the complaint.

Members of the public can join online or by calling 253-215-8782, using Meeting ID: 929 2209 0324 and Passcode 782234#.

In addition to servicing communities in Pierce and Thurston counties, First Student Inc. also provides services in Seattle and Vashon Island.