State misses point of privatization-not tough enough on bus fixes

School bus inspector
A state school bus inspector examines the latch on a public school bus. A recent analysis of state records by the Detroit Free Press suggests that public school buses are passing safety inspections at a higher rate except in the city of Detroit.

DETROIT-Just because services are privatized doesn't mean they automatically work better, as if by magic. It just means they're easier to get to shape-up-because contractors that provide the services can be fired. In December, the Michigan State Police didn't go that far. But maybe they should have.

They announced a get-tough policy regarding 25 school districts and private companies that provide school bus service for Detroit-area students. The transportation providers' infraction: buses that flunk the state police's unannounced bus-safety inspections.

The old way of dealing with the problem, more than likely a holdover from the days when all such school transportation service was government owned-was the honor system. If problems with buses were identified during the several inspections each year, the state police trusted districts to take care of it. After all, they weren't going to arrest anyone, and nobody could be fired. Now, they say they will require districts and companies whose inspection failure rate falls below the statewide average to be re-inspected before their vehicles can do service again.

Is this what we want for our kids? If a private company is providing poor service-especially of a kind that could result in injury or worse for our kids-it should be fired. Last year, the Detroit Free Press published a survey showing that private firms providing school bus service in the metro area failed state inspections at a higher rate than that of their public-sector rivals.

The point of privatizing services isn't just to save money. Sometimes it can be to save lives.