By Elaine Tran, Internal Communications Specialist
SamTrans sets itself apart from other transit agencies by offering unique training opportunities and continuously improving its standard operating procedures while providing exceptional transit service to the community.
My visits to our bus bases often fill me with new and interesting information about how SamTrans handles bus transportation and maintenance. As touted by both the superintendents and the Transit Operations Training Department, I often hear about, what is commonly coined at the bases as “the SamTrans way. ”
As a testament to the SamTrans way, I got the opportunity to spend an afternoon at South Base with both Utility Maintenance Supervisors, Alex Meraz from North Base and Tai Sevelo from South Base. The two supervise their respective teams of utility workers and oversee the cleaning and servicing of all SamTrans buses at both bases.
The utility maintenance teams are the first to handle all the incoming buses returning from their assigned service routes. Everyday starting at 4 p.m. the utility maintenance team starts its shift and each utility worker is assigned up to 25 buses. Unlike some other transit agencies, where each utility worker specializes in only one task, the SamTrans utility crews are well versed in all aspects of cleaning, servicing and maneuvering a bus. Their assignments are rotated based on their weekly schedule put together by their Utility Maintenance Supervisors.
Each bus is driven to the fuel island for fueling, fluid and tire inspection and documentation of vehicle mileage. It’s during the drive there that the utility worker will be able to detect if a bus is not driving properly. In the event of operational failure while testing the wheelchair lift/ramp or a leak is found in the engine compartment during fluid inspection, then the utility worker will immediately notify their supervisor, who in turn will notify the mechanic shop onsite about any issues. Typically the mechanics will not fix a bus unless the utility team reports any problems and a work order is created to ground the bus until it is fixed.
While the bus is being fueled and inspected on the outside, another utility worker is assigned to clean the bus interior, which includes sweeping the entire floor. Meraz noted that South Base uses brooms while at North Base they use a vacuum air gun to blow out all the trash to the front of the bus. During my visit with Meraz and Sevelo, I saw the same utility worker mop the entire floor too.
And depending on the number of passengers on any given route, along with accommodating inquiries made by bus operators and fulfilling special trip requests, the utility team will go the extra mile to deodorize and steam clean all the seats.
SamTrans has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to gum and graffiti and any buses found with damaged seats or graffiti during the interior inspection will be scheduled for repairs. If the seats are cut, or if it comes to the point where a seat cannot be cleaned using a steam cleaner, then the whole seat is replaced with new cushions that same day.
After fueling and cleaning the interior of the bus, the worker will drive the bus over to the brake inspection pit for undercarriage inspection. Meraz and Sevelo noted that the entire fleet at both bases is inspected on a weekly basis and they dedicate two consecutive days out of the week to check for any irregularities.
Following brake inspections, each bus is driven through the automatic bus washer. It is then parked in its assigned parking stall in the yard.
Shifts end once the final bus arrives at the yard for cleaning and servicing, which is usually is between 12:30 a.m. – 1 a.m.
As noted by Superintendent of Bus Maintenance, Elliot Rivas, the maintenance department has many standard operating procedures (SOP) in place that establish best practices and performance standards. The procedure he considers the most important is the M-9 Revenue Vehicle Servicing and Cleaning Procedure, which sets the fleet cleanliness standard that the utility workers work so hard to achieve.
Rivas said utility workers are the “hard working unsung heroes of bus maintenance” as this team endures some of the most difficult working conditions of any job in the District.
“Imagine it is late on Christmas Eve, it is cold, the wind is howling, and the rain is coming down sideways. The ground is wet and slippery. You can barely see out of the windshield and you have eleven more buses left to service,” he said. “The utility workers are diligently working outside in these conditions to get the buses ready for the 5 a.m. morning shifts – safely and on-time every day.”
Much like the Golden State Warriors, both Meraz and Sevelo liken themselves to Head Coach Steve Kerr when it comes to leading their respective utility worker teams. And much like Warrior stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, Meraz and Sevelo say their teams are in fact the ones who do the hard work that makes them look good at the bases.
The utility team understand that it’s their work that going out to the public and there is a lot of pride knowing that they are providing the public with a safe and reliable bus that is comfortable and enjoyable to ride.
About Tai Sevelo
Sevelo grew up in Hawaii and continues to have a presence as in the restaurant industry. He lives in San Mateo County and he continues to pursue his passion for cooking as head chef at The Pantry in San Mateo.
Sevelo joined SamTrans in 1993. A former Utility Maintenance Supervisor retired and Tai was promoted from utility worker to supervisor for South Base.
About Alex Meraz
Meraz graduated from Skyline College with a certificate in criminal justice and was focused on going into a career in law enforcement. While going to school, Meraz worked at a gas station where SamTrans currently fuels and services its Redi-Wheels fleet. It was there where Meraz met the previous supervisor before him and said they’d alert him to any openings at SamTrans. Once got Meraz got his foot in the door, he said he really loved the people he worked with and decided to put everything else on hold and solely focus on SamTrans. He joined four years ago as a utility worker and from there worked his way up the ranks and got promoted to lead and now to supervisor at North Base.
Interestingly, Meraz‘s father was a bus operator for MUNI for 33 years. Meraz used to take SamTrans to school as a kid and would go on rides when his dad drove his routes.
“It was funny the way it worked out but it all worked out for a reason,” he said.
Despite working at separate bases, the two work closely together as they communicate on a daily basis and help each other should there be a shortage on supplies or an assigned bus from one base arriving at the other for cleaning and service.
To be a utility worker, knowledge and a background in mechanics is preferable, as both Meraz and Sevelo encourage their team to continue to get proper training and as noted by both supervisors, “Everyone who became a mechanic all started out as a utility worker. As we encourage our guys to move up, we want to be the first supervisors that they knew who showed them the SamTrans way,” said Meraz.