The Bi-State Development Agency/Metro in St. Louis had been experiencing three decades of ridership decline when things were “bad” said Chief Operating Officer Ray Friem. “Third-World-Bogot bad. You couldn’t pay people to ride.” And when it comes to providing a service, he said, “It has to start in maintenance; your product is your cornerstone.”
Metro provides transportation to the St. Louis Metropolitan region, including St. Louis and St. Charles counties in Missouri, and Madison, St. Clair and Monroe counties in Illinois. It covers about 3,600 square miles.
During a recent Metro maintenance facilities tour Complete Coach Works invited “Mass Transit” to, Chief Mechanical Officer Carl Thiessen said his division is responsible for all buildings, trains and all vehicles on wheels — revenue and non-revenue — including buses, vans, bikes and wheelbarrows.
The fleet consists of 370 diesel buses with an average age of 9 years, 120 paratransit vans with an average age of 3.5 years and 87 light rail vehicles with an average age of 15 years.
With multiple facility locations, the old objective was to create some competition between the facilities because competition was thought to be good, would keep everyone at the top of their game. One of the first things Friem did when he came on board in 2000 was to stop the competition and change it to one team adding that if someone was going to get shot, he was going to stand up and take the shot.
With Friem’s plans to completely redesign fleet maintenance procedure, Thiessen said he wasn’t received with a warm welcome. “We did what he wanted, thought it wouldn’t work and hoped he would get fired.”
Friem said, “I didn’t tell them to lower their budget. I asked them what I was buying.”
Creating a Plan
A redesign to fleet maintenance and moving to preventative maintenance meant controlling operating costs, managing life-cycle costs and reducing customer complaints. Thiessen said with the old ways, they had a capital problem. They had to have 15 years, 300,000 miles for the expected life of a bus. “The way we used to do maintenance, a bus was shot at 10 years.”
As part of the new maintenance plan, standard procedures were developed and set intervals for a maintenance plan were established. Today, each bus goes through a bi-weekly driver pre-trip inspection, 6,000-mile oil changes, 10,000-mile inspections, planned minor maintenance at 50,000-mile intervals and planned major maintenance every 100,000 miles.
With the inspection program checklist, they are spending a majority of their work between the 200,000 and 600,000 miles instead of at the end of the vehicle’s life.
A New Process
Each month an 18-month report for the vehicles is delivered, along with a 30-, 60- and 90-day outlooks. The reports list buses that are going to be worked on, what all is going to be done. And as Friem said, there’s no not doing them. The storeroom is expected to have those part kits set up, ready and waiting. And, with the regular updates, he said, “Ask any one of these guys what’s the status of this bus and they all know; everyone has the information.”
The kits are assembled in the storeroom on palettes and sent to the maintenance facility. For common work orders, some vendors are required to provide a specified number of kits each month.
The new maintenance plan has helped Metro Transit better control capital costs. While there used to be peaks and valleys of expenditures, they now have a more consistent plan, which is much easier to budget for.
Metro has also significantly reduced its operating costs. Fifteen years ago, before the plan was implemented, they operated at $.85 per mile while now, it is down to $.45 per mile.
The preventative maintenance program has reduced the cost per mile to maintain a bus, coming in at about $.13 per mile over 800,000 miles.