Giving new buses a lift
Vanishing hydraulic fluid signaled that it was time to replace vehicle lifts in the Los Angeles County Metropolitan (Metro) Transportation Authority’s 11 bus maintenance facilities. A few years ago, many of the 120 in-ground lifts were leaking significant amounts of hydraulic fluid, causing lift failures, environmental concerns and increased maintenance. “It’s important to us that when a bus goes up, it’s going to stay up until we tell it to come down,” says Tim Lindholm, Metro facilities manager. “That wasn’t always the case with the old lifts.”
Additionally, the agency was preparing to deploy hundreds of 60-foot-long articulated buses and needed more in-ground, three-post lifts to service them. Metro surveyed its facilities to identify the equipment to replace first, and in seven facilities found 38 to change immediately because they were leaking or not working properly. Most of them were more than 20 years old. “Our old in-ground lifts were piped to a central hydraulic oil tank. That system provides too many opportunities for leaks,” Lindholm says. “Plus, maintenance workers had to dig in the ground to try to find leaks anywhere between the lift and the tank.”
Metro contracted with Gardena, Calif.-based Peterson Hydraulics to replace the equipment with 28 modular in-ground lifts and 10 parallelogram surface lifts manufactured by Madison, Ind.-based Rotary Lift. The in-ground units are self-contained, with the hydraulic tank and lift mechanism housed together. Because the lifts are modular, they can raise any bus in the fleet, whether a 40-, 45- or 60-foot model. They also have a liquid detection system, so technicians are alerted to any leaks. The parallelogram lifts sit above ground, allowing technicians to access the sides and undersides of the buses. Metro uses the lifts to perform regular maintenance and to steam-clean the vehicles’ undersides.
Metro’s bus maintenance facilities operate 24 hours a day, so the replacement schedule needed to be carefully planned. “We couldn’t shut down too many bays,” Lindholm says. “At night, we’re getting the buses cleaned and serviced so they’re ready to go out in the morning. During the day, we’re doing maintenance. We couldn’t just go in and remove all the old lifts and put in new ones. So, it was a balancing act to replace lifts without interfering with the bays next to them.”
Installation began in 2004 and concluded this summer. To reduce downtime, lifts were replaced two at a time at each facility. Measures were taken to minimize noise, dust and other distractions, and bays under construction were fenced off to prevent accidents. Most heavy-duty vehicle lifts, including the parallelograms, require approximately eight weeks for installation. The in-ground lifts, however, were installed in half the time, which helped the shops get back up to speed quickly.
Metro now has 200 articulated buses in service and plans to begin operating another 400 soon. “Now we have all the equipment we need to do any necessary maintenance,” he says. “We’ve been able to deploy our articulated buses on time without a hitch.”