Performing regular bus maintenance is paramount to any transit agency’s operation. Vehicle cleanliness, in addition to its obvious aesthetic purposes, extends bus life and lowers overall maintenance costs, making it an important aspect of preventive maintenance.
But to keep a fleet pristine, an agency must invest in a bus wash system that will efficiently and effectively clean its vehicles over an extended period of time. While many people might choose to purchase a fairly inexpensive piece of equipment because of budget constraints, price shouldn’t compromise the goal of achieving quality washes. Through research and planning, a bus operator can select an ideal bus wash system to accommodate all its washing needs, and be cost effective as well.
The tangible benefits of a clean bus
An agency can reap numerous benefits from regularly washing its bus fleet. A clean bus is an excellent marketing tool, promoting a healthy image to the riding public. “You want a nice, clean-looking bus for a customer to get into to increase ridership,” says Brett Feldman, account manager at N/S Wash in Inglewood, Calif. “Of course, increased ridership means increased revenue.”
James Stieva, spokesman for Beamsville, Ontario-based ACC International, agrees that cleanliness impacts rider response. “The consumers’ impression of your transit operation is based on the vehicles they see on the road and the drivers who drive them,” he says. “From that point of view, you want to project a good image, and dirty buses are not it.”
An aesthetically pleasing bus can also attract another source of revenue — advertising. A clean city bus with well-maintained ad wraps will make a positive impression on not just riders, but the community as a whole.
Another benefit is reduced maintenance costs. In areas where weather can be severe, removing mud from the undercarriage of a bus after a heavy storm will reduce the weight of the bus and reduce fuel consumption. Removing mud and grime is also critical to a maintenance crew’s ability to perform routine procedures or fix problems.
A bus wash catalog
There are a few basic styles of bus wash systems to choose from. The traditional bus wash is a “rollover” style system, in which the bus is moved without driver assistance by a conveyor belt or tire guides. Rollover wash systems can come in two-, four-, six- or eight-brush configurations, depending on the specifications of the agency.
This system was designed after agencies complained to manufacturers of their vehicles being damaged by drive-through stationary washes. With a stationary system, the speed of the bus’ movement through the wash is at the discretion of the driver or maintenance crewmember at the wheel. Mirrors can be damaged and paint scratched when a bus is moved through a system too fast.
Fred Geiger, sales manager for Westmatic, based in Delaware, Ontario, explains that this occurs because of a conflict of interest between fleet managers and the maintenance crews or drivers. While cleaning each bus as thoroughly as possible is typically the goal of management, crew members want to clean as many buses as possible on their shift, he says.
If a driver is required to wash his or her own bus, it will be done after a shift is over before going home. “If we’re about to make a mistake, it’s going to happen in the last 10 minutes when we’re rushing to do that last little thing, because our minds are already halfway in the parking lot,” Geiger says.
Manufacturers have since designed “touchless” wash systems and rollover systems guided by rails to remove driver discretion and significant brush contact. Autonomous single-brush systems and contoured brush designs have also been developed to help eliminate body damage.
Not all wash systems are equal
Choosing the appropriate manufacturer and design should only begin after an agency takes stock of its facilities and requirements. Knowing what resources you have will help eliminate options and narrow your selection. One factor bearing on the decision-making process is space. Depending on the size of the agency, a fleet can be serviced in its own maintenance garage or outside in the open. For smaller operations that are tight on space or that are renting a garage, autonomous systems are reasonable options.
ACC’s Eco-Powerbrush is one prospect for agencies looking for an efficient, easily storable autonomous system. “We are more attractive to smaller fleets for a variety of reasons,” Stieva says. “It’s just a single-brush system, so it does not take up a lot of room and doesn’t require any tracking systems, as opposed to a fully automatic rollover-type system.”
Stieva also notes that the Eco- Powerbrush is an economical choice because it is easy to use and reduces labor costs by eliminating the need for a hand-wash crew. “One person can wash a bus in five to seven minutes,” Stieva says. “You’re using substantially less water and substantially fewer chemicals, so overall, we’ve calculated that you save probably 50% to 80% over existing hand-wash methods.” The aluminum frame and sealed bearings, as well as the direct-drive motor that spins the brush, extend the life of the brush, and are all low maintenance.
Stamford, Conn.-based Bitimec’s line of autonomous wash systems is ideal for diverse fleets. Bruno Albanesi, president of Bitimec, explains that the systems can be powered by electricity, battery, gasoline, diesel or a hybrid power unit. Bitimec’s systems also have specialized soap-dispensing units, and the frames and bases are made of stainless steel to withstand corrosion and rusting. The frames have a five-year warranty.
The big boys
For agencies with large maintenance facilities, or operations looking for something more permanent, fixed systems like gantry rollover systems, touchless washes or drive-through washes are ideal. An agency should make a point to research its water usage, available water reclamation systems and maintenance requirements before turning to one particular manufacturer.
N/S Wash’s systems use a combination of touchless technology and advanced brush design to provide thorough washes for its customers’ fleets. “About 35 years ago, N/S developed what’s referred to as the single-hung brush design,” Feldman says. “It’s a different way of attaching the brush to the framework, and it’s a lot more effective.” The brush is attached with an advanced coupling system and works with gravity to move around the contours of the bus.
This design competes with the top- and bottom-bearing brush design of most rollover washes, which attaches the brush at both the top and bottom of the frame. Keith Caggiano, sales manager at N/S, explains the drawbacks of a top- and bottom-bearing brush. “It doesn’t offer the flexibility to contour specific vehicles, and it also causes potential damage to the bus, and also to the bus wash,” he says. For agencies that rely on the stability of a top- and bottom-bearing brush, N/S still provides systems with that design.
N/S frames are made of an aluminum alloy, and the engineering is designed to be simple and low maintenance. “All the systems basically operate on good engineering, with gravity, tension and counter-rotation,” Caggiano says. “It’s basically a very simple system, so the number of breakdowns are significantly reduced because there are fewer moving parts.”
Short- and long-term costs
Fleet managers should always pay attention to capital equipment costs. Of course, larger initial investments are sometimes more cost effective than investments in cheaper equipment.
Jeff Ross, president of Ross & White Co. in Cary, Ill., presses this notion. “I think the main thing is that you really have to look at what you’re doing. You’re trying to get your vehicles clean,” Ross says. “There’s good equipment out there, and there’s bad equipment out there, and you shouldn’t sacrifice the capital equipment cost to buy cheap equipment.”
Ross & White prides itself on supplying equipment with top- and bottom-bearing brushes. Ross says the single-hung brush design isn’t as effective as the stable design of a double-hung design. Though a double-hung brush system has more moving parts, Ross feels a single-hung brush design will not reach hard-to-get areas. “It only assumes a brush is going into a certain defined place or a defined radius, whereas a brush with a supported top and bottom has a very defined radius that it moves through,” he says.
Ross & White systems can run anywhere between $30,000 and $180,000 depending on the specifications of the agency.
Finding the right fit
SSI Wash in Mississauga, Ontario, has a full line of styles for agencies to choose from. David Newell, head of SSI’s U.S.A. Transit Division, says this expansive line lets the company focus on consulting its clients. “What SSI is good at doing is going in and saying, ‘Well, this is the best system for your situation with the vehicles that you’re washing,’” Newell says.
SSI has two-, four-, six- and eight-brush configurations, and offers both single- and double-hung brush designs, as well as a rollover drive-through design.
For agencies that want to avoid the hassle of brushes, touchless washes are also an option. These wash systems, though good for avoiding scratches and damaged mirrors, use more water.
Interclean, based in Ypsilanti, Mich., combines high-pressure touchless washes with aspects of brush systems.
Northville, Mich.-based Belanger Inc. designed the touchless V-Max to wash any large vehicle.