May 2010

Top-Notch Vehicle Maintenance Programs Help Transit Agencies Excel

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Courtesy Free Ride Transit

To keep up with the high standards customers hold for a transit agency's vehicles, maintenance departments are continuously working at making improvements in their shops, even as nationwide budget crunches eliminate funding in this all-important area.

"Customer service is job No. 1," says Mike Terry, CEO for the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corp. (IndyGo). "This aspect of customer service is making sure that our customers have the safest, cleanest and best operating vehicles on the street."

METRO Magazine found maintenance departments from around the nation that are reaping successes in the garage by increasing efficiencies and training, reorganizing, or establishing a rock-solid preventive maintenance program. 

Metro Transit-St. Louis

In 2002, after coming under severe internal scrutiny for having an admittedly "less than stellar" track record, Metro Transit-St. Louis' (Metro) vehicle maintenance department (VMD) took a look at the problems and issues they faced as well as the outcomes that were produced.

"Maintenance was fractured, but it wasn't like we weren't trying to work together," says Carl Thiessen, chief mechanical officer for Metro. "The real problem was that our costs were out of control and nobody could really explain what the costs were or why they were out of control."

With an open-minded approach, Metro decided to remake the maintenance department to not only restore credibility but also improve performance. To do this, the agency made several key organizational changes, including uniting its bus, van and rail VMDs under one umbrella with a new leader — previously each department had separate leaderships able to chart their own course, according to Thiessen.

With this change in place, the VMD team was challenged to design a maintenance program that would satisfy its organizational goals - providing safe, clean, reliable equipment as cost effectively as possible.

"We were never asked to find ways to reduce costs," says Thiessen. "We were challenged to justify every maintenance expenditure as a reasonable business decision that supported the goals."

Thiessen explains that the centerpiece of Metro's revamped vehicle maintenance was developed following extensive research of OEM ­manuals, recommendations from the ­industry and management's ­experience.

The outcome was a predictive maintenance program that directs Metro's largest financial investment for vehicle maintenance at the mid-life of the unit, which has increased reliability and enabled the agency to maximize its capital investment in equipment by stretching vehicle life years past the industry norm.

"The planned points are progressively comprehensive in scope through the life of the vehicle to eight years and about 400,000 miles," Thiessen explains. "Major repair or replacement is performed at the 200,000-, 300,000- and 400,000-mile points. After the 400,000-mile inspection point, work activity tapers off until the vehicle is retired at about 15 years of age and 750,000 miles," he says.

Every planned maintenance event has a bill, which includes wear as well as appearance items of materials that is supplied to the storeroom, and all maintenance events are forecasted 18 months in advance, giving the storeroom ample time to procure the necessary material, ­Thiessen adds.

Additionally, every month a one-, two- and three-month expected inspection report is generated and sent to maintenance managers and the storeroom. The one-month report is a list of the vehicles that must be inspected that month, and maintenance departments are required to schedule and complete inspections within the month indicated. The only other maintenance inspections completed are a bi-weekly safety inspection that mimics the driver daily pull out inspection and a 10,000-mile inspection.

"All grief items are to be repaired when found on inspection. Maintenance managers are constantly monitoring the condition of their equipment in an effort to identify trends. If a trend is indicated, every effort is made to add corrective action to the closest 50,000-mile maintenance event," says Thiessen. "This process precludes any reason to create campaigns; vehicle configurations are updated in accordance with the maintenance program."

The results of the program have been significant. In 2002, Metro's bus group achieved 10,124 miles between breakdowns compared with 21,827 miles between breakdowns in 2009 - a 115-percent improvement.

Since 2003, Metro has increased its cost per mile, which includes labor, fuel, commodities and parts, a remarkable 3 percent per year, from $1.22 to $1.52 in 2009.

Also, using an internal metric that measures dollars tied up in inventory, Metro had approximately $6.05 million dedicated to bus part inventory in 2002 compared with about $1.8 million in 2009 — a 75-percent reduction.

"This dramatic reduction frees up monies for other purposes, which is an ever increasing issue of importance to all transit systems," says Thiessen, who adds that Metro also had a 98.98-percent on-time performance in 2009.

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