Cleaning Systems

The Rapid, in Grand Rapids, Mich., recognizes that clean buses are more likely to attract a group of riders that would ordinarily use their cars. It strives to promote a clean and healthy environment for its riders. The Rapid chose to procure a new bus wash for a number of reasons. Before it could purchase a wash, however, it had to choose its method of procurement.

There are two primary processes that The Rapid typically uses when it comes to procuring goods and services. The first is Invitation for Bid (IFB). This process is used when specifications for the exact product needed are available, or the buyer knows what product best suits its needs. It is commonly used during construction projects that have construction documents available. Traditionally, the lowest, most qualified bidder is awarded the contract.

The second process is the Request for Proposal (RFP). The RFP process is chosen when the buyer needs expert assistance to determine the most efficient, cost-effective solution, does not necessarily have knowledge of all products on the market, may not know which product will best suit its needs, or there are a variety of similar products available that adequately fulfill the owner’s requirements. During the RFP process for a construction project, construction documents are made public and vendors then submit a proposal to the owner. The owner forms an evaluation team that reviews all proposals that have been submitted by vendors. The proposals are evaluated on a number of different items including, but not limited to, warranty, function, quality, size and price. Each category is assigned a weight. Categories are project dependent and will change from project to project. The proposal with the highest score during the evaluation typically gets awarded the contract. Price makes up only a small portion of the scoring. This allows the owner to select the best overall product or contractor instead of relying on price alone, which may not be the best solution for its needs.

The evaluation process for RFP’s can be a lengthy one. In the case of The Rapid, the evaluation team required site visits to other transit authorities to study other bus washing systems. Evaluations may also involve post-proposal interviews with vendors that submitted proposals. This process is a very thorough way of choosing the best vendor and obtaining good results.

The Rapid did not know which bus wash would best serve its needs so it opted to use the RFP process. The Rapid evaluated the submitted bus wash proposals on a number of items including functionality, cost per wash, quality of wash, usability, warranty and price of system. In addition to evaluating each proposal, references were contacted to discuss the vendor’s ability to complete the work, the operation and performance of the proposed system and after-sale support.

The Rapid’s line haul fleet consists of approximately 120 buses, five of which are hybrid-electric buses. The existing washing system was outdated and created many problems. Scratched windows, mirrors being damaged or removed, and front-mounted bike racks being damaged were all results of the old system. In addition, soap use was quite high, yet the buses did not meet The Rapid’s standards for cleanliness. Lastly, only buses could be washed — the remainder of the fleet was washed by hand.

The Rapid needed a new bus wash, but it needed to sort through all the new technologies to find that best solution that would wash its entire fleet. It was time to find a bus wash that could wash modern buses and do it without damaging parts and costing extra money.

The Rapid requested that Progressive AE, with whom it holds a master agreement for A/E services, generate a RFP to procure a new bus washing system. There were many important things to consider in the design of the new system. Buses are changing; no longer is every bus square or easy to clean. Many have bike racks and all have mirrors that can be damaged during washing. The Rapid recently acquired hybrid-electric buses that have a rounded front end and a battery storage compartment on top that would need to be washed with the new system. Hybrid electric buses are also wider and taller than standard 40-foot line haul vehicles.

The system had to be a touchless or hybrid system, be capable of washing all sizes of vehicles, be capable of utilizing a water reclaim system, be capable of utilizing a reverse osmosis system for spot-free drying, be able to fit into the existing space in the bus storage garage and allow owner controllability and adjustability with only minimal training.

A touchless system utilizes high pressure sprayers to clean so there are no mechanical parts that actually touch the vehicle as it moves through the wash. This type of system is ideal for not scratching vehicles, but is not the most effective for particularly dirty buses. A hybrid system uses both brushes and sprayers to clean vehicles, and is good because of the ability to control when brushes are activated during the wash cycle. For example, the brushes do not activate until after the mirrors on the bus have passed the brushes which eliminates damage to the mirrors. A wash utilizing many brushes without high pressure spray provides a good wash, but damage to vehicles is more likely.

Effective cleaning measures can improve bus maintenance. High pressure sprayers can be utilized in the underbody washing section of the wash; however, caution should be used if vehicles have a wood floor. Spinners and straight-piped manifold sprayers can be used to effectively reduce the amount of cleaning required before bus maintenance begins. Removing daily dirt and buildup underneath the bus can also promote longevity of parts. The Rapid’s wash utilizes under-vehicle sprayers aimed at the brake pads of the bus to help reduce brake dust. This helps keep the bus clean and makes changing the brake pads easier.

A system that is capable of washing all sizes of vehicles is important for a transit authority because of the amount of time that can be saved by not hand washing. Buses are not the only vehicles that The Rapid utilizes. It uses driver relief vehicles, which are standard passenger cars, the facilities department uses work trucks, 35-foot and 40-foot line haul buses make up a majority of its fleet, 28-foot paratransit cutaway vehicles are used to operate the Go!Bus program, and a small electric car is used to travel around its campus. It was important to choose a washing system that would allow all of these vehicles to be cleaned.

Due to the varying sizes and heights of The Rapid’s vehicles, height could not play a role in activation of the bus wash. A set of optics acting as sensing devices helps to ensure that vehicles of any height could activate the wash system.

A reclaim system gathers water that was used to wash and rinse the bus as it moves through the wash. The water is collected, filtered and then stored for later reuse. Reclaimed water cannot be used in all parts of the bus wash; however, it works well in the early stages of bus cleaning, before the final rinse. It is a less expensive alternative to using new, fresh water. Water does not have to be reverse osmosis-generated water where the first stages of dirt removal are concerned. At this point, the wash should be removing a majority of the road dirt and grime in preparation for the scrubbing phase.

Water gets stale after it sits and is unfiltered for any length of time. To combat this, the reclaim system aerates the water by moving it through a filtering system, which also removes particles from the water. Filtering and movement are two items that help keep odors from reclaim water to a minimum.

A reclaim system helps tremendously as far as sustainability is concerned. The amount of water saved using a reclaim system is substantial. Approximately 200 gallons of water can be saved during every wash cycle by using a reclaim system with a hybrid or touchless wash. Washing 120 buses every night for 365 days per year yields a savings of around nine million gallons of fresh water every year. If the rest of the fleet is taken into consideration, this number will be greater.

The Rapid has made sustainability a top priority and as such, it was interested in keeping energy and water consumption as low as possible, yet still maintaining clean vehicles.

Reverse osmosis (RO) generated water is a very pure form of water and is free of granules and other contaminants that could be in regular clean water, or even softened water. RO is the process of pushing a solution through a membrane leaving the solute on the back side of the membrane and retaining the solvent, in this case, water. An RO system can be used as a final rinse in the wash. Because it is so pure, it leaves nothing behind as it evaporates. Typically this is referred to as a spot-free rinse. Without the aid of an RO system, hand drying would be required unless spotted windows and vehicles are acceptable.

The alternate solution would be burst air drying. This solution not only takes up valuable floor space at the end of the wash, but also consumes energy to drive the motors in the blowers, and heat energy if required. In addition, it typically requires more maintenance than an RO rinse.

An owner-controllable system is of the utmost importance. It allows adjustability within the wash cycle to match specific needs. Northern climates have to contend with salt during the winter months but are not concerned with it in the summer months. Transit authorities like The Rapid need the ability to increase or decrease the amount of washing agent distributed on the vehicle as it moves through the wash depending on the season. More washing agent can be used in the winter, and then dialed back in the summer. Wash agent use in the warm months may be 1 part soap per 40 parts water versus 1 part soap to 20 parts water in the winter. This indicates that the soap use in the summer months is cut in half.

To have a system that the owner can control with only knowledge of a standard personal computer, and without having to attend training classes, saves them time and money. If a vendor-employed technician had to be called every time an adjustment was required, it could be days before a simple adjustment was complete, not to mention costs that could be incurred. The ability to decrease soap when a high soap content is not needed can add up to a large cost saving.

In addition, the ability to modify the output of the RO system can be helpful. Using as little RO water as possible will help keep operating costs low.

The new system was required to fit in the same space as the old system. This was one reason they elected to use an RO water rinse in lieu of burst air drying.

Other space-saving techniques included keeping brush modules as compact as possible, yet allowing for enough space to remain between the chemical arch and high pressure sprayers to allow time for the wash agent to work properly. Space was at a premium, but all elements of the new wash fit into the old wash location without much difficulty.

The Rapid now has a bus wash that does the job it needs it to. It is a hybrid system, is capable of washing all its vehicles, utilizes a reclaim system, operates with a reverse osmosis final rinse and offers owner controllability. Thanks to its nightly maintenance wash with this new system, the fleet meets The Rapid’s cleanliness expectations. The end result is the first step to offering a clean and healthy environment for its passengers.

Seth Horton is a project manager with Progressive AE.

More Related Information:
Archived Article: Going Green in the Maintenance Department
Mass Transit Buyer’s Guide: Vehicle Washers, Cleaning Systems