For many people, taking a bus is a simple matter. You wait at a bus stop, a bus arrives, you take a ride, and you disembark when you’re close to your destination. However, have you ever thought about the massive effort that goes behind getting that bus to you in the first place?
A single passenger only sees a small part of the huge daily operation that Valley Metro undertakes every day to deliver bus service across the Phoenix metro area. There are 103 bus routes covering an area of more than 520 square miles every day. Hundreds of buses are in operation throughout the day, and that massive fleet requires a small army of technicians to keep them on the road and in operation.
I talked with Michael Thomas, the Assistant General Manager of Maintenance at First Transit, about what keeps bus operations running smoothly. First Transit manages dozens of bus routes under the Valley Metro banner. He said that on a typical weekday, there will be nearly 40 technicians on the job providing inspections, servicing buses and making repairs. Thomas mentioned that First Transit prefers technicians who have graduated from technical school or who have a military background with experience in compressed natural gas and diesel engines and air brake systems.
Thomas remarked that there’s never a slow day in bus maintenance. Every bus goes through a servicing and preventative maintenance inspection every 45 days. That inspection is quite thorough. It’s a front-to-back examination of every major system, from the steering to the tires to the engine and even the decals. Thomas said there’s not really a most common issue when it comes to bus maintenance, but safety-related systems are always the biggest priority. Also, with the extreme heat that we’ve been having over the summer, the AC systems always get a lot of TLC.
I had the opportunity to check out First Transit’s Maintenance facilities personally, and it is amazing. It’s a lot like a garage where you might take your car for a tune-up, but of course, everything is super-sized. There were buses up on lifts, exposed engines that looked very intimidating (at least to this desk jockey) and rolling cabinets that seemed to have thousands of parts, each organized in its own compartment.
Of course, having a functioning bus is one thing, but it needs fuel if it’s going to do its job. That’s another vital part of bus operations. Thomas said First Transit uses more than 12,000 gallons of fuel every day, including diesel, compressed natural gas and liquefied natural gas. Fueling and cleaning the buses is covered by the 16-member First Transit’s Fleet Care crew.
Yes, it might be easy to think that your daily bus commute is the result of just a single bus and a single operator. That’s the most visible part of Valley Metro’s operations. Behind that, there is a legion of technicians who have dedication and use their expertise to support Valley Metro’s mission to connect communities and enhance lives.