Battling the Elements

Dave Rugg and his staff are very busy throughout the year. The same can be said for Dave Nyink and his crew.

While both are doing much of the same work on their buses, there is a vast difference in some of their work throughout the year.

Rugg is the manager of bus maintenance for Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority in Buffalo, N.Y., causing him and his staff to spend many of the winter months dealing with all the effects of what can often be a very brutal winter.

For Nyink, fleet and facility program supervisor for Valley Metro in Phoenix, his year is spent dealing with extreme heat, dry conditions and keeping the air conditioning units working are a priority.

“According to the (Federal Transit Administration), Phoenix is considered the same as Buffalo,” Rugg said. “But their conditions are a little dryer, more temperate. Things are a little more difficult here.”


Beating the elements

Temperatures in Phoenix can reach into the 100s on a regular basis. That led Valley Metro to equip its buses with retrofitted Electrical Manufactured Products electric engine cooling systems that have kept engines cool and have proved profitable as well.

“These electrical fans keep the engines within four degrees of the optimum engine operating temperature,” Hyink said. “We have also experienced an average of nine percent fuel savings using the EMP system over the standard hydraulic-driven engine cooling fans.”

Summer months prove more costly in Phoenix. With radiant heat from streets reaching approximately 155 degrees at times, Valley Metro finds the tires and brakes on its buses wear faster and need earlier repairs.

Buffalo offers an entirely different dynamic when it comes to weather. But Rugg and his staff have found that keeping up with maintenance throughout the year makes winters more bearable. Mechanics at NFTA aren’t doing as much last-minute work as the winter months approach due to their work throughout the year to maintain all systems in the bus.

“You used to be always waiting until the last minute to get them ready,” Rugg said. “It’s all about preventative maintenance opposed to crash and rescue. It’s easier when maintaining it year-round, because you don’t have that rush.”

Rugg can remember one year in which that last-minute rush was pushed up slightly earlier.

“On Oct. 13, 2006, when Buffalo got 32 inches of snow and we only had 13 people in the shop, that was rather difficult,” Rugg said. “You don’t want to be running around on that day making sure 313 buses are ready to go.

“That was early – even for Buffalo.”


Keeping temperatures under control

NFTA uses a winter blend in its diesel fuel in the winter months, something vital when the average low is 19 degrees in January and February. The NFTA blankets its passive regenerative filters for the diesel exhaust systems on buses.

“We want to make sure the temperature stays hot enough to go through the passive regeneration system,” Rugg said. “We’ve also got to make sure we’re keeping up with our auxiliary heaters, air systems.”

Heating and cooling systems for buses are maintained throughout the year in all temperatures. Several locations throughout the country require heating and cooling systems, while areas like Phoenix need to do extra work to AC units.

Valley Metro retrofitted an additional air conditioner condenser with fans on top of all buses. It uses 407C Freon because of its capacity for cooling, but summer can cause some issues.

“In the extreme heat of the summer it expands, causing extreme internal pressures and causing the AC system to shut down,” Hyink said. “The additional retrofitted AC condenser provides the added capacity needed during the extreme heat of our summers. The added AC condenser has increased the capacity of the AC system by 60 percent, lowered the system internal pressure by 100 psi and cooled the compressor by 30 degrees.

“This AC upgrade has made the AC systems on Valley Metro buses more reliable and keeping our customers cooler during the Arizona summers.”


Building for the extremes

Reck Lehnert, president of Trans/Air Manufacturing Corp. tries to ensure bus companies are prepared to care for their systems.

“We offer winter kits for skirt-mounted condensers, panels to put over the condenser,” Lehnert said. “Our condensers are designed for the exterior environment, but it helps protect them for the season.

“We also encourage people to visit our website for maintenance suggestions and preventive maintenance.”

Nova Bus manufactures buses that are being used in cooler areas such as Yellowknife, NT, and other buses are used in warmer climates such as Puerto Rico.

“One of the challenges we have in the industry is we have some major temperature variances,” said Jean-Yves Vallée, director of product planning, Nova Bus. “The same product that needs to be used in some markets that go as high as 120 degrees also need to go in areas that get 20 below.In order to make that happen, we need very good insulation because of both climates.” Rugg has found that, more than anything, corrosion is one of his staff’s biggest fights – especially in winter.

“One of our biggest problems from the snow and ice is the fact that all of the streets use a myriad of ice melt,” Rugg said. “It starts having a real horrendous outcome on the metals on our buses and the electrical connections. It’s a constant battle trying to keep the undercarriage clean.

“Things keep changing as ice melts evolve. Probably 60 percent of the problems on our buses is some effect of corrosion, which is mostly from ice melt that comes on our streets. We haven’t found that silver bullet yet to keep it away.”

The biggest help for Rugg and his peers has been the ever-evolving technology bus manufacturers are providing. As technology improves, the maintenance and upkeep on items becomes less and less.

“It’s been huge,” Rugg said. “With multiplex systems on buses, there’s not all copper terminals for everything. Communication wires run through the bus opposed to underneath,” he added.

“We are pretty particular with the manufacturers about where we have some of our ECMs and control units, our subsystems, ABS, engine, transmission. Sometimes they look at me like I have a third eye on my forehead, but there are reasons why we do that.”