With the signing of the American With Disabilities Act into law in July 1990, transit agencies went from providing transportation to being transportation providers. Beginning in August 1990, a percentage of new buses had to be wheelchair accessible. This presented new challenges for both maintenance and transportation departments.
Transportation departments were challenged to designate routes that needed wheelchair-accessible buses and also had to ensure that these routes ran only wheelchair-accessible buses.
For maintenance departments, the challenge was to maintain the buses with new features and to make certain they were available for the designated routes.
Training was key issue
The biggest obstacle for maintenance departments during this era was the lack of training. Since most agencies did not have a budgeted training department, mechanics were expected to maintain the new accessibility systems with very little knowledge of how the systems worked. The early model wheelchair lifts were powered by a combination of electricity and hydraulics. The hydraulic part of the lift ran with the power steering pump. This presented a problem during cold weather because the cold power-steering fluid would not operate the lift. These lifts were also chain driven, and if the chains became rusty or dirty, the lift would not operate. It suddenly became a nightmare to keep these lifts operating.
At TARC, we dealt with this issue by creating a specialty job, where one mechanic on each shift worked only on wheelchair lifts. We now maintain a 95% to 100% availability rate for buses with wheelchair lifts.
Several years before the signing of ADA, TARC began to order only wheelchair-accessible buses, no matter the size. With the introduction of low-floor buses in 1998, buses were ordered with ramps. Ramps have proven to be easier and cheaper to maintain because most are belt driven, and there are no hydraulics and only one electric motor.
The key to keeping buses on the street with all systems operating properly is a good preventive maintenance program. At TARC, we have several preventive maintenance programs in place that work extremely well. These programs range from air conditioning and heat to wheelchair lifts/ramps and regularly scheduled inspections, and guarantee that we maintain the level of service our customers have grown accustomed to.
Until next time!