Bus mechanic keeps transit fleet rolling

“State of Good Repair” has become a buzzword for maintaining bus and rail systems, a priority highlighted by the MBTA crisis this past winter. Proper fleet upkeep is crucial for safe and reliable transit service, and even private operators like Paul Revere Transportation – which is also contracted by Massport and other state agencies – have been keeping a close eye on vehicles. Paul Revere buses drive hundreds of miles, taking passengers and employees to Logan Airport, while private charter coaches make daily runs to Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Many of the company’s buses and shuttle vans – about 187 vehicles total – are maintained at the company’s 24-hour garage in Chelsea, where they are also washed, vacuumed and fueled by an overnight crew. Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene spoke with lead mechanic Eldon Livingston, 78, who has worked for Paul Revere Transportation for more than two decades after retiring from the MBTA almost 25 years ago.

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“The expected life of a bus is about 12 years, although an overhaul or rehab will extend a buses life. We have some buses with a million miles but it depends on the bus, of course – we have the workhorse intercity buses by Motor Coach Industries Inc. (MCI); ElDorados, and other models. The highest mileage buses are the coaches that go out 24/7; the local transit buses are out only 2-3 hours in the morning and then again in the afternoon. On an average week we could work on heating and cooling problems, motors, transmissions, steering and suspension, air rides, exterior and interior lights, doors, windows, windshield wipers, wheelchair lifts and brakes. Recently it was so hot that we had eight vehicles come in for air conditioning issues and maybe three with hot engine problems. That was a busy day. Most people don’t know that Logan airport has one of the largest natural gas bus operations in the US and they outsource maintenance to Paul Revere. To repair a natural gas bus, you must shut off gas supply to the engine and use up the gas that is in the engine. These buses have certain gas regulating valves, spark plugs, coils, and sensors that that diesels engines don’t have. But no matter what bus type, we try hard to keep all our buses properly maintained – when there is a rare breakdown, a dispatcher quickly sends a replacement bus to pick up passengers. Breakdowns are usually caused by a defect that could not be found on inspection. I’m a foreman now, so I’m scheduling the jobs, but for our mechanics, things like electrical components can be a challenge, like locating a wire in a harness that has 50-60 wires bundled together. I also am constantly making sure that mechanics aren’t cutting corners – one time I was on vacation and came back and a bus was not driving straight. It turns out that the mechanic put a 35-foot torsion bar on 40-foot bus. That was something I had never seen before. It’s my job to make sure the bus is completely safe. My biggest reward is taking something that is broken and making it work.

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