Cause of bus fire unknown

LAWRENCEVILLE - The cause of a Thursday fire on a Gwinnett County Transit bus that snarled traffic for hours is still unknown, but the rest of the fleet will be inspected as a result of the blaze.

Bill Powell, the deputy director of Gwinnett's department of transportation, said the 60 buses and eight vans that carry commuters will not have their service disrupted. The vehicles will, however, be checked to ensure that they are safe.

The oldest buses are 51⁄2 years old, Powell said, while the Orion express bus that caught fire on Interstate 85 southbound just before 5 p.m. was four years old. It was empty except for the driver, who escaped the bus unharmed.

The bus caught fire while traveling in the HOV lane underneath Interstate 285, causing a problem for commuters who were backed up in traffic for hours.

"It's an unfortunate occurrence," Powell said. "It couldn't happen at a worse time, at a worse place."

The bus was on its way downtown to pick people up from Atlanta.

Veolia Transportation, the contractor that operates the buses, is sending people to Gwinnett this weekend to determine the cause of the fire, Transportation Director Tim Collins said.

Collins said the department would do everything possible to make sure the fire was an isolated event.

"These types of incidents are totally unacceptable in the county's opinion," he said. "We fully expect a thorough investigation and for them to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent such an occurrence in the future."

Because ridership is usually lower on Fridays, Powell said he had no way of knowing whether fewer people rode the bus after the fire.

Each bus carries between 35 and 42 people and runs on compressed natural gas, Powell said.