RALEIGH, N.C. — No car should be on the road with worn tires and expired registration stickers, but that is how some local buses carrying children were on the road -- and that is not the worst part.
Most parents would not think twice about allowing their children to ride on YMCA buses to after-school programs or to summer camps. But what a Five On Your Side investigation found brings up some serious safety concerns for the children who ride those buses.
At first glance, the YMCA buses look perfectly safe. But what if the children inside needed to get out quickly? Do not count on the emergency exits. Five On Your Side found them locked.
The emergency exit on bus No. 20 has a bike lock completely around it. There is no way an adult, let alone a child, could get that open.
Other items blocked the exit, as well.
The emergency exit on bus No. 35 was also locked with a bike lock, and bus No. 37's exit was locked with a chain.
The emergency exit on another bus was tied shut with a necktie.
Five On Your Side also noticed questionable wear on tires and license plates with expired registration stickers.
Every day, dozens of children ride these buses for after-school programs. They are also the same buses used to shuffle thousands of children for the YMCA's summer camp programs.
Five On Your Side talked to Central YMCA branch director George Allen. He said the doors are chained at night to keep the buses from being vandalized.
"As far as our drivers, when we put our vehicles on the road each day, it is procedure that they do a walk-around the vehicles and those chains are removed off of the back doors, obviously, for safety reasons. Safety is No. 1 for the YMCA," Allen said.
That is not what Five On Your Side saw. We watched several times as drivers got on the same buses, started the engines and took off to pick up children without ever first going to the back to undo the locked exits.
We also watched as they returned, parked the bus and got off again without ever going to the back of the bus to relock the exits had they been unlocked in the first place.
Allen was not convinced drivers left without unlocking the doors or that tires were worn, but he promises from this point forward, the buses will be safe.
"If that is indeed happening, no bus will leave this parking lot today in conditions like that. Absolutely not," he said.
Allen followed up with a letter. In it he lists eight steps the "Y" is taking in response to Five On Your Side's investigation. Among them, all locks were immediately removed, they went over the policies with all the drivers and strengthened training.