How do they do that?

Metro bus wash; photo by David Daniels/Metro.

How do they do that? is a new 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 wash those tall buses?

It’s a good soap-water-and-wax cleaning for Metro buses, which pass through massive bus washers followed by blow dryers like those we use for our cars. But that’s where the similarities end. For one thing, the buses are washed daily. For another, their very size makes hand drying impossible. A typical 45-foot bus is 11 feet high and weighs 19 tons. A 60-foot bus is 11 feet high and 21 tons.

Each of Metro’s 11 bus maintenance facilities has at least one bus washer, maybe two, depending on the number of buses assigned there. Maintenance facilities are sprinkled all over L.A. County to make them more accessible to the 2,000-plus buses in Metro’s fleet as it navigates 1,400 square miles of service area.

Kings center Anze Kopitar gets a facewash, courtesy of a Metro bus wash. Photo by David Daniels/Metro.

The special bus washing machines are constructed on the spot, just for Metro. Most have bristle brushes — so out of fashion for our cars but so good for buses, which are constantly out in sun, wind, weather and traffic. Buses are washed once a day. And every four months or so they go in for a detailed cleaning, sort of like the detailing we get for our cars.

To clean the interiors, service attendants use high-pressure air to blow out the debris. The debris is then sucked into a giant vacuum and deposited into a trash compactor that makes a large paper ball out of what can be a significant amount of refuse … despite the fact that no food or drink is supposed to be consumed inside the buses.

The attendants hand clean the bus interiors with soap and water and towels, with window cleaner for the glass and stainless steel cleaner for the metal surfaces. It takes approximately 20 minutes to fuel, blow and wipe out the interiors, drive through the bus wash and park. And it means an average of 120 Metro employees on any given day are working to keep the buses clean.

17 replies

  1. It’d be nice if Metro would allow bus operators to do their job and not let people who on who refuse to stop doing the things that are posted on the signs like eating food, consuming drinks, leaving behind trash, avoid paying the fare, etc. As it were, because bus operators pretty much let just about anyone on the bus, it’s no surprise that you get people who leave behind trash, food, and even bodily waste at times that doesn’t get handled until the next day when the bus get cleaned up.

  2. Everyone wants cleaner buses and trains.

    The question is how much are you, as a taxpayer, willing to pay for that service?

    Nothing is free in this world.

  3. In fairness, the buses are usually quite clean… until people get in them.

    LACMTA doesn’t have the luxury of operating like Foothill Transit or other agencies. It might be worth considering that an LACMTA bus indeed could be on the streets for up to twenty hours at a time as it rotates through a work week. LACMTA has to cover greater distances, greater passengers loads, and yes, a far more “diverse” type of patron.

    By the way, Mr. Roberts… I’ve been on buses that just went into service at 9:00pm smelling and looking wonderfully clean. Since that bus clearly will work through the night, picking up all the night-crawlers and homeless who only ride the buses to get warm. Maybe that’s their trash and filth you see when the bus picks you up early in the morning?

  4. I know the post says the buses are cleaned daily , I truely do not think so. I am wondering if Steve has ever boarded an MTA Bus.

  5. I’m surprised that the buses are only cleaned thoroughly once every FOUR MONTHS… No wonder there’s trash on the floor of the buses… Please keep our Metro buses and trains CLEAN and free of graffiti!!! And I do agree with Peter people should clean the trains at the stations…

    • Hi Lance;

      The post says that the buses receive a “detail” every four months. They are cleaned daily.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  6. What we need are some service attendants at the terminals on the rail lines to clean our trains! I am talking about service attendants with actual cleaning supplies and even a mop and bucket. They should be ready to tackle the “gifts” left behind by some patrons, not just walk through and kick left over newspapers on to the tracks. What is the point of keeping trains clean in the yard if they get dirty on the mainline?

  7. I also want to comment here because I really wish that cleaning the interior of the buses would be improved.

    I usually take three lines from where I live to my place of work, namely: 92, 780, and 302/2. I noticed that the 92 and the 780 are always dirty and sometimes smells like urine. If they are washed everyday, I don’t think it’s gonna smell bad especially in the morning. I also see small cockroaches sometimes. Well, you can’t really wait for the next bus because you will be late. I really hope that all the buses would receive the necessary cleaning so that riding the metro buses will be enjoyable.

  8. Perhaps a silly idea, but if the upholstery was of the right materials, I’m imagining just spray washing out the interior floor every night. I’ve almost always had a clean bus above the floor and every bus not so clean on the floor. Just park at an incline to drain. 😉

  9. I take the bus to work and the first bus I take is at 5:20am and they are usually filthy dirty. Lots of paper, cans, bottles and other stuff I don’t want to go near are all over the floors of the bus I take. I have no choice as there is no other bus running on that line at that hour. And the drivers are sullen and rude. Too early for them I guess.

    • Hi Bruce;

      Which bus line do you take and where are you boarding? I’d like to pass the information along to Customer Relations.


      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. Hi Steven,

    FYI, the most recent occurrence was yesterday Dec 4, 2011 morning when I boarded a southbound Line 260 at Fair Oaks Ave & California Blvd at about 07:59am. That was southbound Line 260 Run #10, which was scheduled to arrive at Fair Oaks Ave & Colorado Blvd at 07:51am.

    Jason L.

  11. I am just wondering how effective is the “high-pressure air to blow out the debris” in the bus interiors, or the “soap and water and towels”. From time to time, I can see human feces on the floors of the bus.

    • Hi Jason;

      That’s the first time I’ve heard such a complaint and I’m skeptical that’s even an uncommon occurrence.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source