In late-2018, frustrated by repeatedly repairing on-demand heaters customers use while waiting for a bus or train on cold days, Electrician Jim Davis came up with an idea.
What would happen, he thought, if the heat-creating bulbs, frequently smashed by vandals, were guarded not by skinny metal rods but by custom-fit pieces of expanded stainless steel?
The answer: They’d stop breaking, allowing Davis and Metro Transit’s five other electricians to spend less time fixing heaters and more time tackling their seemingly endless to-do lists.
Over the past 18 months, Davis can only recall heaters outfitted with the new grates being vandalized two or three times. Previously, electricians replaced 1,000 broken bulbs a year, at times dedicating entire weeks to repairing heaters.
“I like steady work, but that was getting pretty old,” Davis said this week from the Green Line’s Victoria Street Station.
The switch is saving both time and money. Each new bulb costs $40, so replacement costs were adding up to around $40,000 a year. The new grates, built by technicians in the Body Shop, cost $20 to $25 a piece. “If we can save one bulb, it’s already paid for itself,” Davis said.
So far, Davis and other electricians have installed the new grates on around 600 heaters on the Green Line, and hundreds more on the Blue Line and in downtown Minneapolis. The new grates were installed in METRO C Line shelters as part of its construction.
New grates will be added to more existing locations over time and will likely be incorporated into any new Bus Rapid Transit or light rail station.
While Davis has answered his original question, he now finds himself asking a new one: How long can the bulbs last when left unharmed?
“We don’t really know what the lifespan is because we’ve never gotten that much out of them,” Davis said.