Management & Operations

Putting road calls into proper perspective

Posted on June 1, 2003 by Walt Smothers, Transit Authority of River City (Ky.)

Road calls, or service runs as they are sometimes referred to, are defined in different ways depending on who is responding to them. A road call occurs when a bus breaks down in service, requiring immediate service. It’s the mechanic’s equivalent of a doctor’s house call. For mechanics, road calls can be a welcome outing from the shop, especially if they interrupt a diffi-cult task. For supervisors and managers, road calls can be a nightmare. On especially busy days, road calls take mechanics from the shop and most always require extra equipment. Retrieval of buses on the road can be very expensive since some coaches have planetary rear axles and cannot be towed. These vehicles require loading on flatbed trucks for retrieval. From the mechanic’s point of view, the definition I would use for road calls would be “the costly endeavor of retrieving or repairing broken down equipment.” Gauge of efficiency? Road calls should not be used to measure shop efficiency unless negligence is evident. Sometimes, intermittent problems can almost be impossible to find and you will have repeated road calls for the same problem on the same coach. This tends to drive everyone crazy. The mechanics can’t identify the problem because by the time the bus gets back to the shop, everything is working. Where do you look and what do you look for? One thing that might help is to get more than one set of eyes looking for the same problem. Maybe other mechanics have experienced the same problem in the past. At the Transit Authority of River City (TARC), everyone works well together to solve these kinds of problems. They often require, and respond to, a team effort. Product reliability can be measured somewhat by the number of road calls. If you have recurring road calls for the same problem but on different buses, it might be cost effective to check each vehicle for this problem before putting it in service. If this can’t be done because of limited equipment, then try checking a few each day until the whole fleet has been evaluated. Bus availability is the lifeblood of the transit industry, and coaches cannot always be taken out of service with an intermittent problem. At TARC, we use 10 different road call categories: air conditioning, body, wheelchair lift/ramp, dirty coach, engine, electrical, transmission, radio, tires and transportation. Drivers play key role Road calls are charged to the maintenance department in these categories. However, if the specific road call problem is not found when checked by the mechanic, the call is charged to the transportation department as driver error. For example, let’s say the trouble reported is “wheelchair lift stuck out and will not retract.” The mechanic goes out and finds the lift stuck out on the curb. This road call would be charged to the transportation department as driver error. Another example of driver error that would be charged to the transportation department is a bus that won’t move because it has been running with the rear door brakes set up, causing the rear door solenoid to get hot and not release the rear brakes. While these examples are not the only ones that will cause driver error problems charged to the transportation department, they seem to be the most common. Weather also plays role Miles between road calls are significantly affected by the type of weather in your area. Extremely hot or cold weather usually shortens the miles between road calls. February 2003 was an extremely cold month in Louisville. Road calls increased 5.8% from 223 in February 2002 to 236 in February 2003. Miles between road calls decreased by 6% from 2,613 in February 2002 to 2,454 in February 2003. During this period, both preventable and non-preventable accidents increased. This was also due to cold and icy conditions.

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