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Bus Bus Maintenance

Fareboxes stay the same, but new challenges arise 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, July 07, 2017 3:16:00 PM

Lead Revenue Mechanic Technician Tim Maloy has spent the past 20 years repairing and maintaining fareboxes, a job he says continues to pose new challenges every day. To improve reliability, Maloy has been on a campaign to replace the metal pieces that hold transfer cards so they are less prone to jam. Metro Transit has been using the same fareboxes for nearly a quarter-century.

But even after more than 20 years of keeping them in shape, Lead Revenue Mechanic Technician Tim Maloy says his job is as interesting as ever.

“It’s a little strange to be working with the same piece of equipment after all this time, but there are still days they beat you up,” he said from the Instruction Center, where he and several other farebox technicians work. “There’s never boredom.”

The intrigue comes in part from the fact that the fareboxes are largely mechanical pieces of equipment – carefully-calibrated sets of plastic gears, belts, sensors and circuit boards that pull in cash and coins deposited by cash-paying customers.

With so many moving parts, the margin for error is small. Lint, sunflower seeds and other small debris that comes from a customer’s pocket can easily jam the machines.

The puzzles technicians face aren’t easily  solved by reading a manual or running a quick diagnostic test, either.

“There are things you can look at, but you don’t really have a troubleshooting process,” said Trevor Scholtz, one of two-dozen farebox technicians. “All you can do is take it apart and eventually find out what’s wrong with it. And the only way to test is to put it all back together again.”

More recently, Maloy has been on a campaign to steadily replace the metal pieces that hold stacks of transfer cards in what’s known as a trim unit, which attaches to the coin and bill collecting machine. A slight offset in the old design would cause more than one ticket to get fed into the machine, frequently causing jams that required repair.

“That’s been my main goal, because that was what was contributing to the bulk of our road calls,” said Maloy, whose 37-year career also includes stints as a vault puller and in Central Counting.

The majority of the cassettes have now been replaced, and farebox-related road calls have been cut in half.

Just like any other mechanical failure on a bus, fareboxes that break down while in service can cause a bus to be replaced. Farebox technicians may also be called out to replace parts or make quick repairs during a layover. To prevent those kind of situations, each service garage has at least one farebox technician who spends their mornings repairing fareboxes before pull-out each morning.

Maloy and several other Farebox Technicians at the Instruction Center also focus heavily on preventative maintenance, disassembling, cleaning and rebuilding each machine every six months. Each rebuild takes up to four hours.

“It’s the only thing that keeps these things going this length of time,” Maloy said.

Technicians at the Instruction Center also maintain ticket vending machines that customers use to purchase fares at stations and vault equipment used to securely collect farebox collections when a bus pulls in.

Technicians do not maintain the fare care readers, but they did take the lead on a recent fleetwide replacement and will continue to outfit new buses with the latest technology. 

Like Maloy, several technicians have spent long careers working with fare collection technology, and are still excited about what they do.

Technician Lisle “Butch” Vickerman helped install the existing fareboxes 24 years ago, crawling under buses to detach older machines that accepted only coins and tokens, and weren’t able to count the change. These days, he spends his time repairing circuit boards.

“It’s still fun after all these years,” Vickerman said.

    > Balancing the books between the farebox and the bank

Bus Bus Maintenance

Technician training program gets national recognition 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 29, 2017 1:11:00 PM

Equal Opportunity Consultant Gary Courtney, left, and Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus, Brian Funk, accepted the Model Program award this week at the National Transit Institute’s Transit Trainers Workshop.The Metro Transit Technician Training Program was celebrated as an industry-leading workforce development program this week.

The recognition came in the form of a Model Program award from the National Transit Institute, a Rutgers University-based organization that develops, promotes and delivers training and education programs for the transit industry. The award was presented at the institute’s Transit Trainers’ Workshop, held in Nashville, Tenn.

The Metro Transit Technician Training Program (MTT) puts job seekers on a path to full-time roles as bus or rail technicians through a combination of job and skills training, a paid internship and support toward earning an associate degree. Participants are not required to have any prior experience. 

An initial group of MTT participants pursuing careers in bus maintenance are currently enrolled at Hennepin Technical College while working as interns in several service garages. A second group of participants pursuing careers in rail vehicle and systems maintenance will begin on-the-job training next week.

The training program was developed in partnership with the Amalgamated Transit Union-Local 1005, Twin Cities R!SE and Hennepin Technical College. Mechanic-Technicians have also served as mentors. Funding has come from the state and the Federal Transit Administration.

   > Learn more about career opportunities at Metro Transit

   > Metro Transit Awards and Recognition

Bus Bus Maintenance

Aspiring Mechanic-Technicians build skills, confidence 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, August 01, 2016 12:10:00 PM

Jason Johnson was newly-unemployed, discouraged and facing an uncertain future when he walked into Urban Ventures’ Minneapolis offices looking for help finding a new job.

His visit came at an opportune moment: that afternoon, representatives were there promoting a new program that would offer a path toward a full-time role as a Mechanic-Technician at Metro Transit.

It had been 20 years since Johnson graduated high school and worked as a mechanic with the U.S. Marines. He applied with little expectation it would amount to anything.

But more than a year later, he found himself standing alongside 18 other participants who had successfully completed the first phase of the inaugural program to celebrate how far they’d come.

“It’s a second chance at life I never expected to get,” he said after the program, held amid the sounds of power drills and other activity at Metro Transit's Overhaul Base. “It’s been such a huge boost – to my confidence, to my happiness. I have no idea where I’d be without this.”

The transformative experience is precisely what Metro Transit and partnering agencies hoped to provide in creating the Metro Transit Technician program last year. An industry first, the program combined empowerment training, tutoring and 300 hours shadowing current Mechanic-Technicians.           

Metro Transit, Twin Cities Rise!, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005 and Hennepin Technical College collaborated on the effort. Funding came from the Federal Transit Administration.

With the first phase completed, participants will now begin a customized, two-year degree program at Hennepin Technical College while continuing to work full-time as Mechanic-Technician interns at Metro Transit.

The hope is that the additional training and education will lead participants to long careers at the agency, helping fill a worker shortage that is expected to grow as more Baby Boomers retire and fewer people enter the industry.

More than half of the 439 Mechanic-Technicians who work at Metro Transit are over the age of 50.

“The industry wasn’t supplying us the skilled workforce we needed, so what we’ve done here is essentially take it upon ourselves to build the workforce of the future,” said Gary Courtney, who managed the program on behalf of the Office of Equal Opportunity.

Several longtime Mechanic-Technicians who helped guide the participants said they were proud to have played a part in introducing the participants to a profession they love. Many of the participants had no prior mechanical experience.

Among those who provided guidance was East Metro Mechanic-Technician Nate Allen, who has been at Metro Transit for more than 32 years. As a mentor, Allen handed over his daily work orders, putting participants in a position where they had to ask him questions and get engaged in the work with him.

“I’ve really enjoyed this from beginning to end,” Allen said. “You could definitely see the improvement, which was very rewarding.”

The program is now being held up as a national model that could expand opportunity while helping transit agencies across the country address a growing need for skilled workers. Metro Transit has also received state funding to offer the program to another group of participants who will begin as early as this year.

For participants like Ronnie Walker, who came to the program unemployed, the focus is also on what lies ahead.

“Right then and there, I knew this was for me,” Walker said of the moment he learned about the program. “I just went with it and haven’t turned back. The focus is there.”

Metro Transit Technician Program completion ceremony

    > Learn more about becoming a Mechanic-Technician at Metro Transit

Bus Bus Maintenance Retro Transit

Jan Homan: 40 years of service and a legacy that will last a lifetime 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 23, 2016 9:52:00 AM

The first night Jan Homan reported for work – Christmas Eve 1975 – he was asked to do nothing more than keep an eye on the new Shingle Creek bus garage.

A warehouse that would eventually be home to buses, mechanics and operators was for the moment an empty building on a dead-end street.

Left alone on second-shift, Homan took his responsibilities seriously, locking every door in the building and preventing his replacement from entering the building.

“There really wasn’t much to do but he wanted to do it right,” said Bill Porter, who gave Homan that initial assignment and spent several years as his supervisor and colleague. “And that’s been Jan his whole life.”

That first evening might have been the only quiet moment of Homan's 40-year career.    

In the decades since the lanky 20-year-old pulled into the Shingle Creek lot driving a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, Homan continued to take on new challenges and built a reputation for being an engaged, thoughtful leader who was eager to break new ground both individually and as an organization. 

Upon retirement, Homan is also being remembered as a caring leader who set high standards, but also supported people in pursuit of those lofty goals. The result: a dramatic transformation of Metro Transit's bus fleet, and a legacy that will last a lifetime.

###

Long before he was tapped to lead Metro Transit’s bus maintenance and transportation divisions, Homan’s career began the same way it did for many in Bus Maintenance – as a Cleaner sweeping buses for $4.28 an hour.

As a trained mechanic who replaced his first engine at just 15-years-old, it wasn’t the kind of work he was looking for. But what co-workers at the Sears Ridgedale auto shop saw as a step backwards, Homan saw as an opportunity. And in less than a year he was back to being a full-fledged mechanic, working out of the old Northside Garage in Minneapolis.

Homan’s aspirations didn’t end there, either.

In 1979, Homan put his name in to lead maintenance efforts on Metro Transit’s fledgling non-revenue fleet. The job was given to someone else, but his initiative was rewarded with an opportunity to become a foreman at Nicollet Garage. The decision to say yes, he said, “changed his life.”

Homan’s younger brother, Matt, remembers Homan being a manager from a young age – even doling out tasks as they worked together on vehicles at home. But his first experience as a supervisor still had a defined learning curve.

New in his role, Homan asked a group of fuelers to stop playing pool. The team returned to work but buses were soon mysteriously backed up for a full city block. The lesson, Homan said, was to “find out what’s worth taking on and what’s not worth taking on.”

And while he might have learned to be selective, he still found plenty to take on. “Ever since then, I was totally engaged and my days just flew by,” he said.

###

Homan’s arrival at Metro Transit coincided with another fateful point in the organization’s history: the purchase of more than 300 AM General buses. Built by a former defense contractor entering the transit industry for the first time, the buses quickly proved problematic.

“Basically, the whole fleet was going down,” Homan remembers. “And as our buses were breaking down left and right, Bus Maintenance really became the stepchild of the agency.”

Homan wanted to be a part of the solution. So he continued looking for other new leadership opportunities where he could effect change.

The ambition led him to a role overseeing a group of high-seniority mechanics at Overhaul Base, and later to a job as the Maintenance Manager at Heywood Garage – the largest and most challenging of Metro Transit’s five garages.

Homan remembers being intimidated by his growing responsibilities, but embracing them as opportunities to see how much he was capable of. “You do something for a while, make your contributions, and then it’s nice to do something new – to stretch yourself and contribute in another area,” he said.

And contribute he did.

At Heywood, Homan introduced new concepts that allowed mechanics to specialize in specific areas and to work more stable schedules. He also helped re-define the inspection process, moving from crisis repairs toward an emphasis on preventative maintenance.

Just as Homan was getting comfortable, there was a twist: needing to fill a leadership role in Service Development, Homan was tapped to temporarily lead Metro Transit’s Scheduling Department.

He spent the next nine months absorbing information on a subject he admittedly knew little about. And as he had done before, he thrived. “I knew what I could contribute, but I also knew the strengths of others and how to leverage that,” Homan said.

Challenging others to push themselves in the same ways he had would become the hallmark of Homan’s late-career.

###

Twenty-five years after Homan began his career in transit, he found himself leading the department where he got his start. And it was in this role, as Director of Bus Maintenance, that he began thinking about how he could help nurture the careers of others with similar ambitions.

To do so, he championed programs that gave front-line workers without supervisor pedigrees the opportunity to gain the kind of experience they needed to move up in the company. He also challenged mechanics to learn new skills and earn certifications and formed a partnership with his alma mater, North Hennepin Technical College.

Among those who benefited from these efforts was Bill Beck, who participated in what was known as the STEP Program. Beck is now a manager at the Overhaul Base.

“It changed my whole career path and gave me the chances that I have today,” Beck said. “I can’t say enough how much appreciate Jan’s thinking and allowing me to be a part of it.”

Regardless of where someone was at in their career, though, Jan had a knack for encouraging them to aim higher.

“He was really a master at stretching people,” said Joe Reichstadt, Assistant Director of Bus Maintenance. “There wasn’t any team member that wasn’t challenged to think outside the box or normal process and we were thankful for that.”

###

Homan’s ability to identify and encourage leaders is a defining part of his legacy. But Metro Transit’s fleet also serves as a testament to his career.

With more than 1,000 buses, Metro Transit’s fleet is among the largest in the nation. It’s also among the most reliable.

In 2015, buses traveled an average of more than 7,500 miles between service road calls – a key measure of fleet reliability. The number has more than doubled over the last decade.

And it might be even higher if Homan hadn’t insisted that all road calls be counted, whether or not Bus Maintenance could identify an issue, to better reflect the customer experience.

Thomas Humphrey, Assistant Director of Bus Maintenance, worked closely with Jan to monitor bus performance and use the data to drive decision-making.  “It was all about that core value of holding ourselves to a higher standard,” he said.

Homan also led efforts to embrace new technology. In 2002, Metro Transit became one of the first agencies in the country to incorporate hybrid-electric buses. The agency is also home to two Minnesota-made clean diesel buses that get better fuel economy through the use of all electrically-operated components and propulsion.

Hybrid buses now make up 15 percent of Metro Transit’s fleet, and the agency is exploring the potential for fully-electric buses.

The fleet is also known as being one of the cleanest in the country and for standing up to harsh Minnesota winters.

“We have one of the outstanding fleets in the country – 1,000 buses in the toughest conditions – but we still set the standard for appearance and reliability,” said Vince Pellegrin, who preceded Homan as Director of Bus Maintenance. “When I think of Jan Homan, I really think of the icon of the bus maintenance industry.”

###

In his final chapter, as Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus, Homan oversaw both the maintenance and transportation divisions. The move gave him an opportunity to shape not just bus maintenance but all aspects of bus operations, including operator training, garage management and street supervision.

While it was unknown territory, Homan immediately immersed himself in the transportation side of the business. “He took the time with us to really understand what we do and how important our operators are to the success of Metro Transit,” said Christy Bailly, Director of Bus Transportation.

In this role, Homan helped re-organize the department so leaders could focus exclusively on training, street operations and garage operations. He also helped implement a new employee performance management system that helps managers efficiently monitor operations and stay on track toward short- and long-term goals.

And he continued to be a career-builder, working to re-launch a program that gives staff the managerial experience to advance and initiating a first-of-its-kind effort to create a path to full-time employment by combining skills training, formal education and internships.

The Metro Transit Technician Program launched in late-2015 as a partnership between Bus Maintenance, the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Amalgamated Transit Union 1005. Currently, 24 young people are completing internships and earning associate degrees that will put them in a position to apply for full-time jobs at Metro Transit.

Shortly before retiring, Homan spoke with the group about his own career, telling them that “from now on, you’re going to be learning until the day you retire.”

For Homan, that day has finally arrived. And while he certainly learned a lot along the way, Homan will likely be remembered more for playing the role of teacher.

Ask Homan about the achievements he’s had over his four-decade tenure, though, and you’ll get a characteristically humble response.

“In all my years, it’s never really been about titles but about being able to contribute in a different way,” he said. “And for most part that meant putting great people in place to execute ideas – coming up with a concept and letting them make it a better reality.” 

Jan Homan retires from Metro Transit on April 1, 2016. In retirement, he plans to spend time with his family, including wife Mary, son Sam, and two daughters, and to continue improving his property in northern Minnesota.  Brian Funk, who most recently served as Director of Light Rail Operations, will serve as the next Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus. 


Reflections on Jan Homan’s career

“Jan has grown to be really one of the founding, institutional people in this organization over the last 40 years…Clearly the fingerprints of the improved operations and really the design of the 21st century bus has a lot to do with Jan Homan’s direct involvement and engagement. Beyond that it’s really the way Jan’s engaged people to be the best they possibly can. In the old school, it was more punitive, that you have to do this. Jan’s approach is much more human, which is 'We can do this together.' And I think that’s something that will live beyond Jan’s reign here at Metro Transit and is hallmark of how we want to do business here in the future.” – Brian Lamb, General Manager

“Jan has always let you know what his expectations are, but he also brings you along. He’s been a very good coach over the years…has always liked to bring people along He looks for the good in people, and really brings out the best in them. – Rob Milleson, Director-Bus Maintenance

“He has got the biggest hands I’ve ever seen – strong, rugged hands. I think people follow him because of that. He takes their hand and they are just going.” – Wanda Kirkpatrick, Director-Office of Equal Opportunity

“I consider him to be a quiet leader. If you think of Gandhi, that saying some leaders lead from in front and some lead from behind…He has taken on that responsibility and that role of leadership quite well. And he doesn’t wield it or anything. He’s just very gentle with it, but he gets his point across.” – Marilyn Porter, Director-Engineering & Facilities

“The first time he came into my office to get acquainted – and he’s a very tall gentleman – he sat down at table and he tried to make himself more my height. He stuck his legs out a little, moved to the side. And I think he did that for a purpose – to be more even with me, to speak with me at my level. I think it’s very telling. He’s very respectful and wants everyone he encounters – whether it’s a cleaner, a mechanic, a bus operator a manager, a supervisor a director – to be comfortable around him.” – Christy Bailly, Director-Bus Transportation


Jan Homan’s Career At a Glance

  • > December 1975 – Cleaner-Shingle Creek Garage (now the Martin J. Ruter Garage)
  • > November 1976 – Mechanic-old Northside Garage
  • > March 1978 – Senior Mechanic-old Snelling Garage
  • > November 1979 – Foreman-Nicollet Garage
  • > June 1985 – Foreman-Overhaul Base
  • > June 1992 – Maintenance Manager-Heywood Garage
  • > October 1998 – Manager of Maintenance Administration
  • > December 2000 – Director-Bus Maintenance
  • > March 2013 – Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus
Bus Bus Maintenance Community In the News

Friends turn retired bus into RV, drive across U.S. 

Posted by Kathy Graul | Tuesday, September 15, 2015 2:00:00 PM

Have you ever thought about what it would be like to turn something unconventional into a house? How about a Metro Transit bus? That's exactly what a couple of friends from the Twin Cities did this summer before embarking on a journey in the retrofitted vehicle to San Francisco.

Kao Choua Vue was laid off earlier this year, and her friend Peter Kane was working on building a new startup business. Kane was also looking for a new place to call home, and he had his eye on the San Francisco Bay Area. Because of the high cost of rentals, he needed an alternative living space.

Kane stumbled upon a Craigslist ad for a retired Metro Transit bus. In June, Kane and Vue went to view it and “immediately fell in love." They purchased the bus from a private owner in St. Cloud and immediately got to work, spending day and night renovating it into a living space. They incorporated two mattresses and one couch, making room for about three people.

Kane and Vue decided on a Hmong name for the bus, Chao Moua, and later they both realized it rhymed with Vue’s name – Kao Choua.

A third friend would ride along with the pair to San Francisco - Tyler Hayes, who happens to be from Oakland, Calif. The group left the Twin Cities in early August.

Their 2,380-mile trip took them from the Twin Cities to Denver to Los Angeles and eventually San Francisco. The bus is now parked in Oakland, not far from Hayes’ home. Vue says that’s handy for taking showers, since the vehicle is not currently equipped to run any water.

“Driving Chao Moua was the best feeling, with a panoramic view of the open road and getting a perfect view of the sunset in the countryside, including the vast star-filled sky,” says Vue. “Almost every vehicle on the road with us would gaze with smiles while passing by Chao Moua. Whenever we gassed up along the way at the truck stops, Chao Moua was always the cool one.”

The bus needed some repairs when they hit Barstow, Calif., and the group was glad to leave the city’s 115-degree weather. But now that they’re settled in the San Francisco area, the bus has been a big hit.

“Nearing San Francisco and in the middle of their traffic, more than 10 drivers commented that we have a sweet ride. They love Chao Moua in San Francisco!” says Vue. “There's no one on the road that we saw that was as unique as Chao Moua and everyone noted that with glee.”

While many retired buses are sold for parts or acquired by private bus companies, others have been used for alternative spaces such as outbuildings, a petting zoo and gardens. Based on regional and federal guidelines, the regular service life of a transit bus is 12 years. To prepare the buses for auction, all ads, logos, the bike rack, the fare box and the equipment for the overhead signs are removed.

 
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