September 23, 2014
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Why Buses Can’t Kneel When It’s Below Zero

It’s not because the buses don’t want to. The operators aren’t in a rush to get the doors closed because the cold air is pouring in. Buses, just like all other vehicles, can have performance issues in severe weather.

Below Zero, Don’t Be a Hero

Country Fair, bus, 0332

0332, from the oldest bus buy in our fleet, serves Country Fair.

A kneeler is used to lower the front of a bus to help passengers with physical disabilities board and alight easier. If the ramp is needed for a wheelchair, stroller, or cart, the operator kneels the bus before deploying the ramp. You can hear if a bus is kneeling because a beep sounds for the entire task (both deflating and inflating).

The kneelers are controlled by air valves. When kneeling, the air valve opens to release the air in the airbag to then lower the coach. The problem occurs not in the releasing of the air, but when the bag needs to be refilled with air. Ice can build up around the valve and prevent the bag from re-inflating.

The control valve arm, which enables the movement, is also susceptible to damage when it gets close to the ground upon kneeling. It can get stuck in snow/ice, which get packed up around the tires, and can also get caught in the snow/ice covering the ground. The control arm can get stuck or detach completely, which puts the bus out of service.  The cold temperatures make the arm more susceptible to these conditions.

The operating policy fleet-wide states, “At zero degrees and below the kneelers on MTD vehicles are not to be used.” Once outside temperatures warm, the kneelers can immediately be used again.

“This policy ensures continuity of service,” says Dave Moore Maintenance Director. “With conditions like these there is a five to ten percent chance of a bus getting stuck. But with 90 to 100 buses on the street – that’s four to ten buses out of commission. It’s a risk not worth taking.”

kneel, control arm, air bag

A view of the air bag that kneels the bus. The control arm is visible and is colored blue.

Moore is pleased with the performance of MTD’s 102 bus fleet in the severe weather the area has seen in December and January. MTD currently has 55 diesel-electric hybrids and and 47 diesel buses. The oldest buses, the diesels, were manufactured in 2003. The fleet of the not-too-distant past had many more diesel buses that were built in 1993 and 1994.

“Before we retired those coaches, we couldn’t kneel them if it was under 32 degrees. The buses from the 90s had mechanical kneelers that were even more at risk to weather like this,” Moore explained. “Our current fleet is handling the weather real nice, coaches are staying nice and warm, no complaints of freezing up – we’ve had few issues.”

Thanks to all those who are affected for bearing with us. All we can hope for is a good word from Punxsutawney Phil this weekend.

Freezing Bike Racks

Passengers attempting to load their bike on a bus are encountering bike racks that are frozen shut. Operators and passengers are unable to release the spring to bring the frame down.

The cause is our bus wash. After washing, buses are stored indoors in above freezing temperatures but that doesn’t keep water from dripping into the nooks and crannies of the bike rack (a.k.a. pivot pins). The buses hit the street and in these temperatures the water makes a frozen seal.

MTD Street Supervisors are equipped with de-icer spray to crack open affected bike racks. Once opened, the racks no longer have issues. Operators need only call their radio dispatcher to get a Street Supervisor to meet them along route to service the bike rack.

So how are you fairing in these frigid temperatures and heavy snow fall? How do you think MTD is performing?

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About Amy Snyder

Amy Snyder is the Customer Service Manager at the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. She writes and manages content for this blog, The Inside Lane, as well as the social media pages for CUMTD.
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2 Responses to Why Buses Can’t Kneel When It’s Below Zero

  1. Jason Elliot Benda says:

    I’ve been on a bus once which couldn’t un-kneel because of a mechanical failure. It was a substantial service disruption for that route. MTD has their procedures in place to minimize disruptions to service.

    I remember those “no kneeling below 32°F” buses, too; that could get very problematic at times. Another good reason that CUMTD invests in fleet upgrades while still maintaining their vehicles so they can have many many years of service (and in some cases, be sold to other agencies and have service after they leave CUMTD).

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Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District
1101 East University Avenue
Urbana, IL 61802-2009
(217) 384-8188
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