SunLine receives highest marks from CHP inspection
THOUSAND PALMS – When the California Highway Patrol (CHP) recently issued its annual maintenance and safety report cards, SunLine Transit Agency received the highest grades possible, announced George Earl, director of maintenance. Required by state law, each year SunLine’s 46-vehicle, compressed natural gas (CNG) powered bus fleet is inspected by the CHP, as well as its fleet of CNG SunDial vans, electric trolleys and SunLink commuter rigs. All vehicles passed the scrupulous inspection.
“We’re very proud of our excellent maintenance and safety history,” said Earl. “Well trained coach operators and technicians are the keys to the successful maintenance department at SunLine.
Compared with other transit agencies, SunLine has one of the highest averages in miles traveled between road service maintenance calls. The transit industry average is about 4,000 miles between road calls each month. SunLine is regularly beyond 29,000 miles, seven times better than the national average.
“We take no shortcuts in maintaining our fleet of buses in as nearly perfect a condition as possible. Our responsibility to the safety of the riding public is our highest’ concern,” said Earl.
Because of its proficiency, SunLine is under contract by other organizations such as the Foundation for the Retarded and Angel View to perform the maintenance work on their CNG-powered passenger transporting coaches.
Any vehicle that carries 10 or more people must be inspected annually by the CHP. If a company fails to pass an inspection, the business can be shut down until CHP safety standards are met or a business could lose its operating license permanently if it consistently fails to perform.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the maintenance efforts, the CHP inspectors do actual mechanical check-overs, review all maintenance records for each vehicle, and inspect the drivers’ records to ensure that all required licenses and endorsements are renewed in advance of their expiration.
On a daily basis, the maintenance schedule includes a pre-trip inspection for all safety equipment and condition of the bus and a post-trip inspection when the bus returns to the yard. At night each bus is fueled, washed and it’s fluids levels checked. Any bus with a safety defect discovered while in service is immediately exchanged. All operations road supervisors have small hand tools to make quick adjustments while the bus is in service for minor deficiencies such as loose mirrors. Each road supervisor carries replacement bulbs for the rapid replacement of burned out headlights, tail lights and brake lights.
SunLine also performs a safety inspection every 14 days which includes inspections of the brakes, steering, suspension, lights, batteries and tire pressure. SunLine also has a strict preventive maintenance schedule it follows on up to 134 separate items at specific mileage intervals.
Although the federal guidelines call for a 12-year life buses, SunLine intends to have all 12 years be as nearly perfect as the first.
SunLine’s Maintenance Department is becoming increasingly computer driven. All of the new fleet requires elaborate electronic testing equipment for all diagnostic work. The parts inventory is computerized, and maintenance records are all maintained within a fleet-controlled computer program which is backed up nightly to prevent record loss.
It hasn’t always been easy for SunLine to adhere to the State’s strict maintenance standards. Prior to 1994, when SunLine became the first transit agency in the nation to convert to 100% CNG vehicles, it operated one of oldest fleet in the nation. Breakdowns were common, especially during the summer.
However, SunLine has never failed a maintenance and safety vehicle inspection in its 22-year history.
“It’s much easier now to comply with safety standards with our efficient fleet of CNG buses,” said Earl. “Due to our extensive maintenance procedures, our staff is working together better to solve issues before they become problems.”
Because of SunLine’s experience with new technologies and the quality of their maintenance staff, the agency serves as the nation’s largest testing site for Cummins Engine Company of Columbus, Indiana. In July the progressive agency will begin road testing a pre-commercial, hydrogen powered fuel cell engine bus for Vancouver based XCELLSIS.
Providing safe transportation since 1977, SunLine Transit Agency has 800 bus stops throughout the desert and rural Riverside County.
Copyright Desert Publication, Inc. and Sharon Apfelbaum Jul 14, 2000
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