" Sound advice from MCI Emergency Roadside Assistance "
By Richard Cunningham
Supervisor, MCI Technical Call Center, Louisville, KY
This year the American Bus Association (ABA) board of directors and staff initiated a rather revolutionary program to supplant the industry’s ubiquitous anger toward rogue operations.
ABA is now ranking coach operators every 90 days with regard to the FMCSA’s SAFER system database and expels any company that has an “Unsatisfactory” score. ABA allows companies showing a “Conditional” score 180 days to bring the scores up to “Satisfactory” or face removal from the membership roster. According to ABA Membership Director Roderick Lewis, by late 2012 the association had identified and immediately removed nearly a dozen companies.
ABA President and CEO Peter J. Pantuso says ABA decided to take this step to demonstrate how seriously it regards all safety issues.
“We wanted to respond by doing something more concrete and lasting,” says Pantuso. “We wanted to let the public know that if anyone boards a motorcoach belonging to one of our ABA members, they will have the assurance in knowing they are working with a well-run, compliant company with safe, well-maintained coaches and properly trained drivers.”
Lewis says ABA also found 25 companies operating in conditional status and informed them of the 180-day period to bring their scores up to the satisfactory level.
“We tell companies in this situation how they can improve their score,” he says. “ABA can and will assist in whatever way we can by working with well-established companies in the Bus Industry Safety Council (BISC) and using other resources we can recommend.”
Dan Ronan, ABA’s senior director of communications, says none of the companies removed from the roster have returned to ABA.
“We take this responsibility very seriously,” says Ronan. “The fact ABA has culled out member companies proves this is a course of action we will pursue.”
He says the ousted operators are but a small fraction of companies operating in the U.S. and Canada, and represent about 3 percent of the ABA membership that has faced safety-related issues.
Judging from the calls that come into the MCI Emergency Roadside Assistance and Technical Support Call Center, we cannot say enough about reliability and systematic preventative maintenance. The tendency to ignore potential problems is clearly the greatest threat. Equipment that goes neglected can very well mean the end of a company. Though newer is usually better, the reward of routine maintenance lies in high resale values and greater equity in the equipment. As we all too often see parts going ignored until they fail, we offer these steps to ensure a more reliable and longer life for older components and equipment.
Frayed or cracked belts
Carry a full set of belts on each bus. It is unlikely the right belt will be available in Cut Bank, Montana, at 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday night. We get calls from operators stuck for a day or more waiting for a simple belt to be air freighted. To be safe, don’t let the belts get bad enough to fail.
Noisy idler pulleys and bearings
Listen closely to idler pulleys and other belt-driven accessories such as alternators and fan clutches. Understand the noise while the engine is running as part of the post- or pre-trip inspection.
Leaking wheel seals
Do not ignore your wheel ends. The loss or lack of wheel lubricant is outright dangerous. Even the rookie vehicle inspector understands this can cause wheel bearings to seize or spin and damage a spindle or axle tube. This type of failure is extremely expensive and puts a vehicle out of service for days.
Damaged or loose battery cables and terminals
Every operator has seen new batteries ruined with the posts burned off. Replace terminals and bolts that will not tighten properly ASAP before the worst happens. This is a good summer chore; a lousy one in the winter — especially if it has to be done in an emergency in the middle of a cold, desolate parking lot.
Unfamiliarity with DPF engines
Drivers, particularly part-time drivers, must receive training on the care of EPA-mandated engines before getting behind the wheel. Every driver must be capable of performing a manual regeneration when the situation arises. Drivers as well as dispatchers need to know that any yellow “check engine” lamp that stays on can interfere with the automatic or manual regeneration process, even at highway speeds. In many cases it will cause the DPF lamp to eventually light up and shut down the engine. Never dispatch a bus with the “check engine” lamp lit. If the light comes on during a long trip, the driver may have to take pre-emptive action and have the engine checked out in the closest service center as soon as possible.
Don’t send out a broken bus on the weekend
It is expensive enough to fix equipment at home, but facing weekend rates out on the road is even worse from mechanics only trying to help, but with no experience with motorcoaches. Then add in the cost of replacement buses and wrecker services.
It is surprising how many times we hear the driver was having the same trouble the week before the weekend breakdown occurred.
More steps to take
Employ many sets of trained eyes to be on the lookout. Everyone on the front lines — drivers, mechanics, dispatchers and wash crews alike — should always be watching for problems and situations and reporting them promptly. This alone will reduce the number of breakdowns.
Operators can always call MCI’s Emergency Roadside Assistance program (ERSA) 800-241-2947 for 24/7 assistance anywhere in the U.S. and Canada.bership or has a clear-cut code of ethics about business operations.