After nine buses burst into flames, Madrid takes special measures

Total of 220 new staff to be hired by public transport firm, after two incidents in just one week

One of the buses on fire on Velázquez street last week.Video: eligeworkplace

Madrid’s EMT municipal transportation company is set to hire 220 new maintenance workers between this year and next in a bid to combat the problem of fires breaking out on its fleet of buses. So far this year, a total of nine EMT vehicles have burst into flames, with two of these incidents taking place last week.

“The hiring of these specialists is the first serious measure we’ve seen,” said Javier Herranz, from the UGT labor union. “But it is also essential for them to speed up the purchase of [new] buses.”

Under its current purchasing plan, the company, which is owned by Madrid City Hall, is set to reduce the average age of its fleet from the current 8.3 years to 6.6 years. EMT is also set to incorporate automatic extinguishers in the whole fleet – currently just nine buses count on such a system.

It is essential for them to speed up the purchase of new vehicles

Javier Herranz, UGT labor union

An EMT spokesperson said that such blazes are nothing new. “They used to happen in the 1960s, the 1990s and they’re happening now,” the company representative said.

In 2012, Madrid City Hall – which was then governed by the conservative Popular Party – decided to suspend the renovation of new vehicles until 2016. Since then, 45 buses have caught fire, an average of nine per year. This year has seen nine bus fires already.

Another EMT bus in flames, this time in May of this year in the Vallecas neighborhood.

The last two incidents took place barely 48 hours apart last week: the first, on Monday on Cardenal Herrera Oria avenue. The vehicle was 14 years old. On Thursday morning, another vehicle caught fire on Velázquez street. The bus in that case was 12 years old. On neither occasion were there any damages or loss of property for passengers.

EMT has pointed out that the ratio of fires by year and fleet is 0.47%, a figure it says is similar to other transport companies. But both the public company and unions agree that age is a factor, and that the incidents are happening with vehicles that are aged 10 years and over.

The most common causes of fires are short circuits and problems with alternators or catalytic converters

“The responsibility lies with whoever increased the useful life of the vehicles and cut investment,” said the City Hall mobility councilor, Inés Sabanés. “It’s true that there is an inherited problem here,” said UGT union representative Herranz. “The PP left things in a disastrous state, but [current party in power] Ahora Madrid has had two years to change things.”

The most common causes of the fires are short circuits and problems with the vehicle’s alternator or catalytic converter.

Herranz also pointed out that the EMT is working with very old vehicles that are subject to high temperatures. “They heat up and as they give off oil and fuel, they end up catching fire.” In his opinion, the real number of such incidents is triple the official numbers supplied by EMT. “Only the truly scandalous cases come to light,” he said.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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