Guest Contributor, Halsey King, SAE VMMI Senior Maintenance Trainer at CTAA

New Challenges for Small Bus Maintenance

May 22, 2020

Today, what goes on in the bus maintenance shop is quite different from just ten years ago. Most of us have mastered the repair functions of the bus engine’s fuel injection system. Many of us have earned our certificate to inspect the compressed natural gas (CNG) system. And most of us have learned about the federal requirements of the small bus through the Vehicles Maintenance Management & Inspection (VMMI) training of CTAA. However, a new requirement has just landed on the shops work order pages. It is called Covid-19, and it cannot be ignored.

This virus has the potential to devastate the maintenance shops workforce, the timing and schedules for your fleet’s ongoing service and repair program, and ultimately transcend to your ridership. With this in mind, I decided to call a number of my client agencies and VMMI graduates around the country to get a sense of what they are doing to help combat COVID-19 on their buses and with their drivers.

Wow, did I get an earful! Fleets all over the country are looking at new ideas, rearranging their ongoing processes, and using new or transferred technologies both from home and in the shop. The word is spreading fast, as this is not just an issue with the larger bus fleets like New York Transit or Los Angeles MTA, it also includes much smaller, three van operations like those in northern Iowa, Florida, Arizona, and the “Radar” fleet in Roanoke, Va.

I will share some of my recent findings with you: 

  • Wayne Seale, Maintenance Director of Southland Transit, El Monte, Calif. — “We are using face masks, gloves, sprays, wipes, and plastic shields. Also, a placard to indicate the bus went through a.m. and p.m. cleaning.”
  • Greg Gallant, Maintenance Director of Western Maine Transportation Services — “We are disinfecting every bus with a spray at night, drivers as well as maintenance staff are wearing masks and gloves, and we are wiping handrails and seats during the day.”
  • Pam Sheppard, General Manager of Federated Transportation Service of the Blue Grass, Lexington, Ky.  — “While PPE is still a problem because of the shortages, we are using caution tape to split seating. We are also using a pathogen fogger, gloves, masks, and a clear shower curtain to protect drivers.
  • Tom Burda, Maintenance Director of Coast Transit – Myrtle Beach, S.C. — “We are using masks and gloves and drivers are wiping down all touch surfaces with disinfectant, both a.m. and p.m., and fogging at night. We are also building a Plexiglas divider for drivers.”
  • Steve Vardzel, Director of Maintenance at Beaver County, Pa. — “We have an outside company using a fog spray on the buses and the facilities. Drivers and mechanics are using gloves, face masks, hand sanitizer, and face shields where appropriate. We have also reduced runs and have service workers on a split schedule. An outside company is making polycarbonate shields for the drivers.”
  • Steve Wilson, Maintenance Department of Virginia Regional Transit — “We are using wipes, gloves, sprays, social distancing between seats, plastic driver barriers, and also evening cleaning between stops.”
  • Justin Birdsong, Red Cross Wheels of Lexington, Ky. — “We have everyone in PPE using disinfectant wipes and gloves. Buses are being cleaned every shift and between shifts.”
  • Kelly Getman-Dissette, City of Niles Dial-A-Ride, Niles, Mich. — “We are using gloves, masks, social distancing, Clorox type wipes, hand sanitizer, and hanging plastic curtains for drivers.”
  • Don Strickland, General Manager PeeDee RTA, Florence, S.C. — “We are using fog spray, wipes, disinfectants, gloves, face masks, and a contractor fogs the offices and shop. We have also started using thin polycarbonate shields for the drivers.

Big Paratransist

  • Kimy Wall, Marketing Manager at North County Transit District Lift Paratransit  Fleet, Oceanside, Calif. — “All vehicles are cleaned every night and disinfected daily with a cleaner that’s effective against Covid-19. This material is applied to all touch areas including seats, grab rails, and hand surfaces. All people wear masks and gloves.”
  • Melissa Drake, Admin Director of New Mexico Transit Association — “Our fleets statewide are using the safe cleaning materials, face masks, gloves, sprays, passenger separation seats, hand sanitizers. We have also increased our nightly cleaning and we’re offering fare-free rides.”
  • Rick Streiff, Director of Fleet Maintenance at Los Angeles Access — “We have a Covid-19 advisory along with passenger specific information on our website at www.accessla.org.
  • John Andoh, Executive Director and CEO of The Comet, Columbia, S.C. — “We have a comprehensive list of actions that we are taking that can be found on our website at www.catchthecometsc.gov.

On the Horizon

In this list of mixed fleets across the nation, we can see the similar and mixed methods they are currently using to combat this potentially deadly virus that arrived here very quickly. My hats off to the mechanics, drivers, and staff who are treating this pandemic as a serious affront to the health and safety of their passengers. Regardless of where that bus or van is operating, from Michigan’s Niles Paratransit fleet to San Diego’s North County Lift Paratransit, people are doing something. It’s almost as if they hit the ground running to put in early measures with masks, gloves, and wiping down surfaces.

I have no doubt that plans are being drawn up right now that will lead to a standardized set of best practices, rules, and then regulations (Editor’s note: CTAA has prepared a Best Practices Toolkit and Recommended COVID-19 Safety Protocols). Most of these will be aimed directly at the maintenance department and will become part of the normal preventive maintenance process when vehicles are in for service, into the future.

And why not? It is the job of the small bus or van to move people to their doctor, library, shopping center, and other places where life takes them. This was the reasoning used by UMTA to start the Dial-a-Ride services in the 1970’s. Of course, with the bus maintenance department involved, all of this effort is aimed at the goal of providing reliable, safe, and clean service to the most vulnerable of our populations. Isn’t that why we are here?

Halsey King is a CTAA Master Trainer for our VMMI course and provides unique insight into fleet tire, fuel and parts purchasing, as well as fleet management, labor allocation and warranty recovery. Our VMMI program is designed for managers and technicians who operate/maintain rural and complimentary vans, cutaway paratransit and buses (i.e., less than 30-foot length) to improve the maintenance oversight of fleets of smaller transit vehicles while adding a layer of testing, certification and performance quality. Learn more. 

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The Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and its members believe that mobility is a basic human right. From work and education to life-sustaining health care and human services programs to shopping and visiting with family and friends, mobility directly impacts quality of life.