How do they do that? Remove graffiti from the buses

Andre Williams peels off film being tested to protect bus windows from graffiti. Photo by Jose Cordova/Metro

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they do that? Remove graffiti from the buses

How much does graffiti removal cost Metro each year? In fiscal year 2011, bus and facilities maintenance spent $8.23 million to clean up graffiti. And that doesn’t include the cost of the Sheriff’s deputies needed to protect the buses and property and pursue graffiti vandals.

Every evening and into the night, about 160 Metro employees over two shifts work to remove graffiti from the buses because that’s when the buses are free for clean up.

Although we tend to think of graffiti vandalism as something that occurs in the dark of night, on buses the vandals often work during the day when the bus operators are busy driving and assisting passengers.

Laureen Cox removes an etched bus window. Photo by Jose Cordova/Metro

The most common targeted area is the rear of the bus, usually behind the back doors. On articulated buses, vandals mostly target the space from the accordion to the back of the bus. These are areas of least visibility for the operator, especially when the bus has a full load of passengers.

Although Metro does not track graffiti prevalence by bus line, Divisions 15 (Sun Valley), 8 (Chatsworth), 5 (South Central), 3 (CypressPark), 1 (6th between Central andAlameda) and 2 (east 15th and San Pedro) have the highest graffiti-related costs.

The most common types of graffiti vandalism on Metro buses are done with markers and slap tags, but etching and paint also are used to destroy surfaces. Etching cuts the material on a bus and is impossible to clean. It’s a constant battle to remove the markings and make the buses look good again.

The cleaning crews use chemical cleaners for marker and paint removal. A grooved scraper removes gum. No other special tools are used. If the bus is etched, repairing it may require removal and replacement of the bus part. Some parts can be repaired by heavily sanding and painting over the area. Etched windows often must be removed and replaced.

But Metro is currently testing a product that is actually four layers of film applied to windows. Once installed on glass, the graffiti removal team can grab the destroyed top layer of film and pull it off. It’s so tough it can even withstand etching.

Seat destruction is another common problem. In 2005, Metro changed the design of the bus and train seat covers to multi-colors to camouflage graffiti and make the seats more difficult to mark. But vandals are starting to use new tools to more effectively mark up the seat covers.

What is the penalty to getting caught destroying a Metro bus or property? It varies significantly depending on whether the person is a juvenile or an adult, on the person’s criminal history and on the cost of the damages. An adult could spend time in L.A. County jail facilities.

There is a hotline for reporting graffiti/tagging on buses and trains, as well as in your neighborhood. Contact the Graffiti Hotline at (800) 675-4357. This hotline is available with live operators 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

For more information on what the Sheriffs are doing to combat graffiti, check out this page.

5 replies

  1. You want graffiti to be removed, make it harder for them to graffiti by aligning the seats to face the aisle only on the trains so it makes it harder for vandals to etch things onto the window.

    The way it is in cross seat positioning, those sitting next to the windows have this room of privacy to do their deed. The cross seat positioning also makes it hard for others to see their vandalizing acts. But if you align the seats to face the aisle only, obviously the vandal will stand out since they are in plain sight of everyone.

    The one-time cost of aligning seats aisle-ward only would cost much less than asking taxpayers to foot close to $9 million each year. Besides, our trains are getting crowded these days. We need more aisle space for standing passengers.

    • Tim,
      Here are some stats from L.A. County Sheriffs:

      The following numbers refer primarily to graffiti violations against Metro, although not entirely. But we can begin to get a picture of the scope of the problem. In 2011, L.A. County Sheriffs served 345 search warrants resulting in more than 170 misdemeanors and 150 felony arrests. Fine amounts were not available.

      But perhaps the more interesting numbers are comparative. In the past 5 years or so, utilizing new investigative techniques, graffiti technology databases and revived attention to graffiti crimes, Sheriffs have been able to reduce graffiti from $13.1 million in damages per year in 2007 to $8.2 million in 2011.

  2. Cost to taxpayers to clean up graffiti: $8.23 million/yr
    Cost of law enforcement and investigations to go after 345 search warrants: _________
    Recuperated cost of fines: N/A

    I agree with Y, it’s better for Metro to just re-align the seats to face the aisles to prevent/make it difficult for taggers from doing their mess than dealing with this for years and years to come.

    One time taxpayer cost to realign the seats to make it harder for taggers to deface Metro property should go a long way in helping Metro’s budget woes in the future.