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Goldstein Investigation: Major Mechanical Issues Pose A Threat To MTA Bus Safety

STUDIO CITY (CBSLA) – A CBS2 investigation found that several MTA buses have caught fire in the past three years and have had dozens mechanical problems. The issue is prevalent in a particular make and model – and it's still on the road.

Firefighters had to cut open the back of an Metro Transportation Authority bus that exploded on the 710 Freeway in August just to extinguish the flames. No one was inside and there were no injuries, but it wasn't the first time the same make and model had caught fire.

Hidden cameras found a graveyard of broken-down and burnt-out buses stored in a yard in the South Bay.

The buses were towed away to a secure location after CBS2 Investigative Reporter David Goldstein first started asking questions. Sources said MTA officials ordered the buses to be moved.

[Reporter: How safe are these buses?]

"Not safe at all," said an MTA bus driver who would only talk on the condition of anonymity.

"Yes, buses do catch on fire. Buses have caught on fire with passengers inside of them, and bus drivers have had to take passengers off the bus – like help the passengers get off the bus because those buses fill really, really quickly with smoke."

The buses are part of Metro's older diesel fleet and are 18 years old. Fifty-two are still on the roads and are operated for MTA by MV Transportation.

The routes are in the South Bay area, traversing some of Los Angeles's poorer neighborhoods.

MTA has confirmed that seven of those buses have caught fire since 2015. But internal MTA logs show hundreds of other problems with the fleet. Issues include an operator reporting the coach is on fire, a driver stating they were pulled over by a sheriff's deputy due to the bus smoking too heavily, a bus that wouldn't go into gear and brakes that wouldn't stop the coach.

"Sometimes you have to press so hard on the brake that you're almost standing on top of the brake," said the bus driver.

There were also plenty of reports of "unsafe to drive," like one that stated a bus lost power.

It happened to another driver who would also only talk anonymously.

"When it says 'Stop engine,' it stops. And it stops right there on the freeway," the driver said. "I'm still praying that all the cars and trucks that's coming my way pay attention to my hazard lights."

While riding in some buses, passengers can hear and feel the age. One bus shook like an earthquake.

"It's shaking, the transmission is jerking, door's getting stuck, same bus from yesterday," said the driver.

But the buses are still on the road, and passengers are experiencing the effects.

"I've been on the 130 Metro and it was a horrible experience when it breaks down. There's a lot of crying kids," said one rider. "The bus is already crowded, so it's a really bad experience. It's hot and stuffy."

Metro Chief Operations Officer Jim Gallagher said there's nothing to worry about.

[Reporter: Do you believe those buses are safe on the road?]

"Yes, absolutely," he said.

He said Metro identified a problem on the buses causing the fires and had it fixed.

But in Washington, D.C., two of the exact same model buses caught fire in 2012 and the entire fleet was permanently removed from service.

It was the first Gallagher had heard about it.

[Reporter: In Washington, D.C., they deemed the buses to be unsafe after two fires and pulled them off the road. And you're not aware of that?]

"No, I'm sorry, I'm not," he said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn viewed the video of the burnt-out buses.

"Oh gosh, that's horrible."

Most of the routes are in her district, and she sits on the MTA board.

"I am going to ask for a full investigation of these instances. I am gonna ask why haven't these buses been replaced? When are they supposed to be replaced? And to be honest with you, if it hadn't been for you, I wouldn't have known about any of these instances," she said.

MTA claims these are the last of the old buses that are left in their fleet. They said new ones are expected to hit the roads in the upcoming months, and they hope all 52 buses will be replaced by next summer.

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