When Metro Bus #7770 was brought into Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (Metro) Regional Rebuild Center (RRC) recently, the perils of navigating L.A.’s traffic-choked roadways was apparent right away. The bus was involved in a major front-end collision with a truck. Its entire front section — from front and side frames, window assembly, roof, windshield, wheel arch and entrance doors — was mangled.
Damage to this extent could cost a transit property a fortune in repair and replacement costs, but it is all in a day’s work at this state-of-the-art rebuild center. Metro’s heavy maintenance facility has all of the expertise and high-tech equipment needed to support its 2,500-bus fleet.
The RRC includes body and paint shops, a mid-life bus refurbishment program, mechanical unit repairs, engine and transmission repairs, machine, welding, radiator and electronic shops.
All of these activities are coordinated to get Metro’s damaged buses back on the street quickly — usually within 30 days — at a cost substantially lower than outsourcing repair work or purchasing new parts.
With an average of 350,000 miles between engine overhauls on both its compressed natural gas (CNG) and diesel buses, Metro may have one of the best-maintained fleets in the country.
“This facility is light years ahead of most repair facilities in technology, organization, and how we rebuild components,” says Michael Singer, lead maintenance manager for the RRC.
Singer, whose father and grandfather worked as agency employees, is responsible for overseeing repair operations at the facility. “We could build a bus completely from scratch if we wanted to. We have everything here you need to make and keep a bus roadworthy,” he says.
A one-stop shop
Within the RRC’s 440,000 square feet of shop and warehouse space lies advanced equipment such as CNC lathes and mills, diesel and CNG engine and transmission dynamometers and a top-of-the-line machine shop. Mechanics of all classifications work in its fully functioning repair shops.
“We’re real proud of our capability to perform cost-effective repairs to mechanical and electrical components,” says Milo Victoria, Metro’s deputy executive officer of operations. “We can rebuild anything from alternators and starters to complete CNG engines and electronically controlled transmissions. Whatever we rebuild here is very reliable.”
With a budget of $35 million, the RRC performed 85 major accident repairs, 351 bus paint jobs and 200 mid-life overhauls last year. Since the average lifespan of its buses is 12 years, the agency refurbishes them every six years so they will be reliable for the rest of their lifespan. Buses receive new powerplant engines, transmissions, suspension and paint during the mid-life refurbishment program.
Cost savings analyzed
Metro’s buy-versus-make cost analysis on several models of bus transmissions and other components reveals the advantage of performing certain types of work in-house. That’s because, in many cases, the manufacturer may no longer support certain bus parts, especially those on older buses. If the part happens to be available, it could be on back order and/or shipped from overseas, which extends the bus’ downtime.
Metro forecasts spending $3.2 million for rebuilding a total of 643 of its transmissions this fiscal year. Rebuilding its existing transmissions costs the agency between $2,800 and $6,300 each. A new transmission would cost $10,000 to $16,000. The agency saves more than $5 million a year by rebuilding transmissions versus purchasing new ones.
For its 11 bus divisions, the RRC performs a critical role in helping maintain daily bus service schedules and lowering the divisions’ operating costs. “Without the RRC, the cost incurred by the divisions would be much higher,” Victoria says. “For one, divisions don’t have the equipment or the space to make those repairs. But here at the RRC, we do these types of repairs all the time. We bring the buses in here, get them rebuilt, repaired and back out at the divisions making money.”
Safety, training emphasized
Metro’s concern for safety is a high organizational priority, and no action is considered too small for reducing workplace injuries. The RRC has demonstrated an excellent safety record over the past few years, going from an average of 113 chargeable injuries in 1999 to just 23 in 2004, an 80% reduction.
“The safety record of this facility far exceeds that of any other in this agency,” Victoria says.
Of the RRC’s 210 employees, nearly 178 are mechanics who undergo training classes in CNG and diesel engines. Metro’s Maintenance Instruction Department regularly conducts workshops on various mechanical topics.
When the agency makes a new bus buy, the training staff works directly with the manufacturer to “train the trainer.” In-house trainers become as proficient at maintenance instruction as the manufacturer, enabling them subsequently to provide in-house training independent of the bus maker. These in-house trainers hold the same professional certifications as their counterparts at the bus company.
When specialized training is required, particularly for the agency’s CNG bus fleet — which represents 85% of its buses — Metro will send its staff outside to get the specialized training they need.
Mentorship is a vital component of training at the RRC, both for safety and productivity. The facility has migrated away from an assembly line to a batch process whereby individual mechanics are responsible for overseeing the rebuild process from beginning to end using “engine kits” that eliminate the need to pull multiple parts. Training supervisors place new employees with facility veterans to help ensure accountability and quality in the rebuild process.
Metro Bus #7770 is now back in revenue service. Workers spent nearly 400 hours restoring the bus to good-as-new condition. They don’t expect to see this bus back any time soon, but if it returns, the shop will be ready.
Dave Sotero is a public relations specialist for the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.