CTA revs up its bus cleaning

When a potential biohazard is identified, bus servicers are required to tell a manager so that special equipment can be used, officials said.

Each bus servicer must clean about 26 buses per night for the daily maintenance, which includes sweeping bus floors, wiping down seats and handrails, and performing other duties, Cavelle said. The average time per bus is 18 minutes for a standard 40-foot bus and 20 minutes for a 60-foot bus with an articulated midsection.

Meanwhile, four hours are allotted to a single servicer to complete the in-depth floor-to-ceiling general cleaning of a 40-foot bus and six hours for a 60-foot bus, officials said.

Before the new rules, 2 1/2 hours was spent on each bus, Cavelle said. "It wasn't anything in depth," he said.

CTA supervisors fill out an 11-point score card for each bus. Regarding the interior, categories include graffiti and chewing gum as well as the bus operator's area, passenger seats, windows and panels.

A bus servicer may scrape off more than 100 pieces of gum stuck under seats and hidden elsewhere, but if an inspection turns up three or more "traces of gum," the servicer receives a zero score on the gum criterion, said Richard Feliciano, a CTA pump manager in charge of general cleaning at the Kedzie garage.

Feliciano said his duties go far beyond making sure his crews have the proper supplies. His focus is motivating them to "get their heads in the zone."

"We communicate great with each other. I find out what their state of mind for the day is, and I find ways to motivate and reach them to find solutions so we get the job done," said Feliciano, 38, a former rail mechanic who has been with CTA for 15 years.

One of CTA customers' most common complaints over the years has been the look, feel and smell of bus interiors.

In a cost-cutting move in 2010, the CTA laid off more than 1,000 employees, including bus servicers, and reduced the amount of time spent cleaning buses. The move occurred as the transit agency was also increasing the size of its bus fleet and extending the number of hours buses were on the streets.

The result was predictable. The decline in bus appearance quality showed up in inspections the CTA carries out at each garage as part of a monthly performance review. The evaluation of the bus and rail systems checks on things such as service delays, safety problems and equipment failures. The scores for interior bus cleaning often missed their targets, lagging behind other performance categories.

Last summer, CTA officials increased the bus cleaning requirements and also toughened the inspection criteria for bus servicers to receive a high score. The scores nose-dived.

But in recent months there has been a turnaround. The March score card showed a 73.5 percent performance, which still missed the 85 percent target by more than 10 percentage points. April's performance rose to 78 percent, and the score increased again in May, to 84 percent, records show.

"The only way we are going to be better is to do the job the right way," Cavelle said.

This might be asking too much, but it would also help if some riders didn't treat the buses like a personal garbage truck or port-a-potty.

Contact Getting Around at jhilkevitch@tribune.com or c/o the Chicago Tribune, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611; on Twitter @jhilkevitch; and at facebook.com/jhilkevitch. Read recent columns at chicagotribune.com/gettingaround.

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