Saturday, October 18, 2014

Clean Buses or Dirty Deacon?

A spotter once told me a grand total of three (out of 200+) buses at our garage get "cleaned" each night. This would entail wiping down every surface and washing the floors. Normally, a bus is emptied of garbage and sent back out into service the next day. But "cleaning" a bus at this rate, it takes about 10 weeks to get to each of them. Given that, you could say each bus is in-service nearly three months before it gets cleaned again. Taking it even further, that would mean each bus is cleaned an average of four times a year. Considering the personal hygiene habits of many of our riders, that just adds to the "yuck factor".

I'm not saying this is entirely true. Questioning my fellow drivers, however, revealed there are a grand total of six bus cleaners district-wide. Each is reportedly given eight minutes to clean a bus. When doing so, they are dressed for it, unlike the operators who spend 8-12 hours driving the germy monsters. Most buses seem to make it through the wash rack on a regular basis, so they appear clean. But that's only aesthetics; the interiors are often mold-infested, bug-crawling germ factories.

One driver reports, "The sickening reminder comes as I'm walking back to my car, after a long day's work, and I see the brother and sister cleaners wearing full gloves, respirator masks, and practically dressed in hazmat suits just to get, safely, though their eight minutes!"

My trainer suggested using wipes to clean surfaces an operator touches as part of the pre-trip. This made sense, because the first time I sat in the seat, my first reaction was "eew" when I first gripped the greasy steering wheel. I took this wise advice, and I routinely wipe not only the operator controls, but the rails, stanchions, door handles and stop buttons near the back door. Each time, my wipe comes up black with grime. Some days, it takes two or three wipes before I feel relatively "safe", and even then I still seem to catch every bug that walks through the doors.

Other operators take their pre-trip to elevated heights. Several wash the interior windows (at their own expense). In one video, a driver shows a clean wash rag prior to washing one interior passenger window. After he's done, it's black with grime.

There's simply no time, or personal finances available, for drivers to clean all surfaces. The seats are usually the dirtiest. While older buses have cloth seats, the dirtiest, the district touts plastic seats on the new models as cleaner. This has long been an issue. But if each bus is cleaned only a handful of times each year, bacteria will build up when not properly sanitized. This 2011 news report gives an example of just how dirty bus seats can be: Dirty Seats Report.

Our district cut the number of cleaners at some point, while later granting non-union employees generous raises and working to charge us for health insurance. Dirty laundry here, but it's abusive to expose us to long hours in unhealthy working conditions, then making us pay for going to the doctor when our very job makes us sick.

I wonder what our passengers would think if we donned haz-mat garb to protect ourselves from germ-laden "offices" while we work? We're already exposed to whatever pathogens our customers bring with them. Another fellow operator states, "I have never been as sick as many times since I started working here".

It isn't the fault of those dedicated, masked souls who try to clean up after the hygiene-challenged who ride public transit. But next time you ride a bus, you'll wonder, "when was this bus last cleaned?".

Eew, indeed.


  1. Another superb essay by the Deacon! Keep it up

  2. Again, like I wrote the words myself!!!! Great job!!!

  3. Terrific story.

    I retired from another large-city transit agency. I used to take a spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol and spray any part of the driver's compartment that I thought needed some sanitizing. My fellow drivers would laugh and tell me that it would do nothing. However, I rarely got sick. In fact, in over thirty years, I called in sick just once ...and that was because I cut my hand and had the whole thing bandaged up. Not that I never had a cold or flu but when I did it seemed to happen on my regular days off *argh*

    Sure, spraying rubbing alcohol on every surface I touched probably did not do much but psychologically, it probably did a lot to make me "think" it was doing a lot to keep me healthy.

    Some of my co-workers warned that I should be worried that a manager would think I was drinking on the job but I assured them that isopropyl smells more like a hospital ward than anything else. In fact, many passengers would make that comment "gee, it smells like a hospital in here" as they boarded.

    Another thing that probably helped more than spraying everything with alcohol was that I kept my driver's window wide open at ALL times. It would not matter if it was day or night, raining, snowing, or 10-degrees out, my window would be wide open. I also kept the foot vent open and both the defroster fan and auxiliary dash fans going constantly. I figured that keeping the air moving around the driver's compartment would in turn keep the germs away.

    Who knows whether those precautions kept me so healthy through my bus driving career or if it was just coincidence.

  4. Eww, gross! But I believe it! Have you ever ridden the El in Chicago? Smells like pee and vomit! ALL THE TIME!

  5. I do the same thing in my train cabs! Everything gets wiped down with Lysol or Clorox wipes!! I can't work in the dirty ick!!! Love your blog!