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Reading the book…

November 22, 2013, 11:15 AM

So to bring everyone up to speed on the employment situation, I am still between engagements.  That’s not to say that I’ve not been diligently submitting tons of applications and going to the occasional interview, but I still have yet to land a new full-time job.  However, there’s been a shift in my thinking.  I had an “aha” moment not too long ago when it came to what I wanted to do.  Everyone has said, considering how much of a transit nerd I am, that I should get into public transportation.  I talked it over with my family, and they all think it’s a great idea, so I’m taking steps toward making that so.  I want to get in on the ground floor and then work my way up.  After all, I love transit.  I can’t get enough of it.  So why not make it my career, already?

That said, I’m currently reading the Maryland CDL Manual with the intent of getting a commercial learner’s permit so that I can learn how to drive a bus.  So far, I’ve read Section 1, which is a general overview of the manual and the whole CDL process, as well as a list of many of the various offenses that would cause you to lose your CDL from a period ranging from a few months to life depending on what sort of offense and number of offenses.  I’ve also read Section 2.1, which discusses the pre-trip inspection.

The pre-trip inspection is something that, if you didn’t know to do it, you might not think to do it, but it makes perfect sense considering what you’re doing.  After all, these are very large vehicles that we’re talking about here.  Compare the size of a bus to that of a regular car:

UTS bus on the UVA campus (pardon me, "grounds"), passing by a few cars.
UTS bus on the UVA campus (pardon me, “grounds”), passing by a few cars.

Harrisonburg Transit bus making a passenger stop on the JMU campus next to an illegally-parked car.
Harrisonburg Transit bus making a passenger stop on the JMU campus next to an illegally-parked car.

We all know that regular cars can cause a lot of destruction if things go wrong with them.  Imagine the destruction that a vehicle that is many times bigger and many times heavier (and thus packing many times more momentum) could cause.  Thus why it’s important to make sure that the vehicle is in good working order before you take it out.  Additionally, if you’re driving a bus, there are a lot of people that need to get to work, and they expect that the bus that they touch their SmarTrip to is going to take them to the place where they need to go.  After all, the public is entrusting you with getting them to their destination safely, and that is not something to be taken lightly.  Additionally, you may not have been the last person to use that vehicle, and even if you were, the condition of the stuff may not be the same as it was when you left it.  This happens, even in a well-maintained vehicle.

That said, there’s a lot to the pre-trip inspection.  First thing you do is give the bus (I realize that this also applies to other commercial vehicles, but for my purposes, we’re talking about a transit bus) a general once-over as you approach it, looking for things like fluids on the ground, any damage, a lean to one side, etc.  Likewise, look at your surroundings to see what conditions are around the bus, and what hazards to navigation exist.  After that, you’re supposed to review the last inspection report for the bus.  If there were any defects noted, the agency is obligated to fix them and sign off on the repairs upon their completion.

After that, it’s time to go under the hood (which on many transit buses, is in the back), after making sure that the bus is completely immobile via the parking brake and/or chocking the wheels.  There, one verifies the levels of all the various fluids in the bus, like oil, coolant, steering fluid, washer fluid, transmission fluid, and battery fluid (if applicable), as well as checking for any leaks.  Additionally, one should check the belts to ensure that they are at the proper tension and in good repair, and make sure that any wiring is in good condition.  After all, the bus needs to be able to get where it’s going safely, and fluid leaks or bad wiring could cause a breakdown, or worse, a fire.

Finishing that, it’s time to get in and start the bus, after ensuring that the parking brake is set, and the bus is in “park” or “neutral” (depending on whether it’s an automatic or manual transmission).  There, verify the ABS light, and the gauges for oil pressure, air pressure, voltmeter, coolant temperature, engine oil temperature, and finally, all warning lights and buzzers (which should be off if all is well).  Then verify that the controls are in good shape, including the steering wheel, clutch, accelerator, brakes (foot brake, parking brake, and retarder controls), transmission controls, the interaxle differential lock (which I had to look up), the horn, all lights (headlights, dimmer switch, turn signal, hazard lights, parking, clearance, identification, and marker lights.  Then check the mirrors and the windshield to verify that they are clean and free of damage or obstructions.  Then you verify that you have all of your emergency equipment including spare fuses (unless equipped with circuit breakers), three red reflective triangles, and a fire extinguisher.  There may also be tire chains and tire changing equipment.  And of course, check the seat belt to ensure that it is in proper working order.  There should also be a list of emergency phone numbers and an accident reporting kit.

With the running check complete, then you turn the bus off, take the key, turn the headlights on (low beams), turn on the hazard lights, and exit the bus.  The first order of business is to verify that the headlights work, and that the hazard lights work.  Then verify the high beams.  Then turn off the headlights and hazard lights, and turn on parking, clearance, marker, and identification lights.  Finally, turn on the right signal and begin the walkaround inspection.

The walkaround inspection involves checking everything that you can possibly check, including windows, latches, wheels, tires, brakes, steering system, suspension, glass, wipers, lights, reflectors, fuel tanks, the battery, all visible engine parts, bearings, and all locks and securements.

After that, it’s time to get back in, turn off all the lights, turn on the stop lights (taillights, from what I can tell), and turn on the and put on the left turn signal.  Then get out and check those lights, and then get back in.  This is the time to check for all necessary paperwork and securing any loose items that may shift when the bus is moving.

And then it’s time to start the engine again and check other systems.  Testing hydraulic brakes involves pumping the pedal three times and then holding it firmly for five seconds.  It should not move (and if it does, there are leaks that need to get fixed immediately).  Then the parking brake needs to be tested, which involves setting the parking brake, putting the bus into gear, and gently press the gas pedal to ensure that the parking brake holds.  If it’s not, the bus is unfit for service, and needs to get fixed.  Likewise, the regular brake needs to be tested to ensure that it functions as expected.  To do that, you bring the bus up to 5 mph, and then stop.  If anything unusual is observed, then it needs to be fixed.

And that’s what a pre-trip inspection involves.  Then of course, keep an eye on the vehicle’s systems during a trip and if anything unusual comes up, it needs to be checked out.  Better to inconvenience the passengers a little bit and have them wait for the next bus than to endanger them by moving them around on a bus that’s getting ready to blow.

I will be honest with you – this part makes me nervous.  I’m nervous about having to answer questions regarding the pre-trip inspection on the MVA tests to get the learner’s permit, having never done one before, and then I’m also nervous about having to do one for the testers when it’s time to test for the full license.  They give you 45 minutes to do the pre-trip inspection, and so there’s a lot to do in it.  I’m confident that once I do it enough times, it will come to the point where I could do it in my sleep, but I’m hoping that I have the opportunity to get to that point before testing time.  I want to nail this.  That’s why I’m going through it here on the website.  It’s kind of like taking notes in college.  There’s a certain validity to “learning through your hand” and writing it down.  It helps implant it into the brain.

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