C-Tran replaces faulty tires

Bus agency has 594 affected by the Michelin recall

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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photoC-Tran buses experienced 43 tire blowouts in 2011, more than the previous two years combined. In 2012, the total has already reached 47 since January.

A Michelin recall has C-Tran scrambling to replace hundreds of faulty tires that have caused dozens of blowouts since last year.

Last month, the France-based tire-maker announced the recall of almost 78,000 tires in the U.S. and Canada, manufactured between 2005 and 2011. The company cited faulty casings that were prone to “a loss of integrity and in some cases rapid air loss that increases the risk of a vehicle crash.”

That news didn’t come as a shock to C-Tran.

“We knew this was a problem quite a few months ago,” said Scott Patterson, C-Tran’s public affairs director.

The transit agency had already started replacing tires after a spike in the number of blowouts made the issue apparent. C-Tran buses experienced just over a dozen tire blowouts in both 2009 and 2010, which were average years. Then in 2011, the number jumped to 43 blowouts. This year, C-Tran has already seen 47 since January.

Initially, C-Tran started replacing the tires -- they cost $657 each -- on its own dime. C-Tran leaders met with Michelin representatives in 2011 and 2012, then filed a formal complaint with the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration last month.

Earlier this week, Michelin provided some 200 replacement tires to C-Tran. The agency immediately went to work, day and night, with the help of a local Superior Tire Service dealer. But C-Tran still plans to seek reimbursement from Michelin for its earlier costs, incurred through delays, overtime, earlier replacements and staff hours. A final tab is still being determined, Patterson said.

“It’s a significant amount of expense,” he said.

In all, C-Tran ended up with 594 of the affected tires. It’s moving to replace 431 of those right away (167 of them had already been changed out before the recall). Tires that haven’t been “recapped” with new treads will likely wait until this summer.

C-Tran crews didn’t waste any time on the large batch of replacement tires delivered this week. With buses queued up in the maintenance yard, workers moved at a nearly nonstop pace changing out tires in recent days. Rows of new tires waited on one side of the yard. Stacks of ripped or damaged tires sat in another storage area.

Crews tackled the higher-risk vehicles first -- hybrid buses, which are heavier than traditional vehicles, and buses on freeway routes. Both are more prone to blowouts with the faulty tires. And a recent run of hot weather only added to that worry, said C-Tran maintenance director John Hoefs.

“We kind of prioritize everything we’re doing so we can minimize the impact as much as possible,” Hoefs said.

The blowouts haven’t caused any accidents or injuries, Patterson said, but they have caused plenty of delays and costs.

C-Tran has two options when a tire blows out on the road. The agency can either send help to change the tire on the spot, or tow the bus back to the shop for service. Crews have done both recently, Hoefs said. C-Tran also may send a backup bus to pick up passengers and continue the route where the other vehicle left off.

C-Tran hoped to have the first wave of tires changed out and finished by Thursday morning. But the agency isn’t done sorting out the total impact of the bad tires and recall.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” Patterson said.

“Not to this magnitude,” Hoefs added.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; http://twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.