Bus Maintenance Staffing Calculator

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Bus maintenance is an important part of a transit agency's operations. Source: Kecko

Introduction

Buses used to be relatively simple, so a bus-to-mechanic ratio was sufficient to determine if a transit agency had enough staff to maintain its fleet. But today, with the proliferation of digital technology, new fuel systems, and accelerated maintenance schedules, it’s more difficult to determine how many employees will be required to take care of a fleet. A team working for Transit Cooperative Research Program developed the Excel-based Maintenance Staffing Calculator to help agencies calculate optimum staffing levels.

How it Works

The Maintenance Staffing Calculator is an Excel tool consisting of seven worksheets. An agency employee very familiar with the fleet and maintenance should use the tool, because its accuracy is dependent on getting accurate, detailed information. Input cells are clearly labeled and color-coded. The sheets are:

Fleet Inventory

The first sheet contains information about the agency’s fleet. This can be as specific as the agency wants, with vehicles broken down by broad category (35-foot buses, cutaway buses) all the way down to year, manufacturer, or other specifics. The detail entered here will be reflected in the detail of the tool’s outcomes.

If an agency does all its maintenance in one location then using the tool once is sufficient. But many agencies conduct maintenance across locations or use a mix of in-house and contracted work. In these cases it might be a good idea to perform separate analyses for each location.

Existing Staff

An example of a completed Results - Staffing Sufficiency sheet. Source: [http://www.trb.org/Publications/Blurbs/173927.aspx Maintenance Staffing Calculator

Here an agency can enter information about its full-time and part-time employees. This only includes bus mechanics and technicians, not facility maintenance staff, mechanics who deal only with non-revenue vehicles, or supervisors. It is important that the staff listed here directly match the vehicles included in the first sheet.

Required Hours - Core Maintenance

This is where the bulk of the calculator’s work takes place. It contains annual hours needed for core maintenance like preventative inspections and brake relines, as well as unscheduled maintenance. It also includes average hours spent on follow-up repairs.

Required Hours - Heavy Repair and Overhaul

Maintenance activities not included in the previous sheet are entered here. This will generally be heavy repairs like body work, brake machining, and small component rebuilds. Remember that only repairs conducted by employees in the existing staff worksheet are included, so outsourced work should be left out.

Results - Staffing Sufficiency

These next two worksheets present the results of the tool’s calculations. This one calculates the required number of hours and full time equivalent (FTE) employees and compares this data to the actual existing staffing levels. Ideally, the calculated levels should match the actual levels.

Results - Staffing Comparison

This sheet compares an agency’s existing staffing levels to that of peer agencies. The data is broken down into statistics like vehicles maintained per technician, FTE technicians per vehicle, and annual maintenance hours per 10,000 vehicle miles.

Benchmarks

The final worksheet provides a summary of data for all peer groups.

Methodology

The calculator was created by first analyzing fleet and staffing information from the 2010 National Transit Database (NTD). This showed some broad trends in regards to agency size, duty cycle, and spare ratio, but there was significant variation between agencies. To investigate these discrepancies, the research team conducted two rounds of interviews with transit agencies. The first round of interviews was extremely detailed and covered agency profiles and service data, profiles of maintenance facilities, fleet inventories, maintenance times and requirements, maintenance workforce roles, and training practices. This level of detail proved to be difficult to collect, so the second round of interviews involved a streamlined questionnaire. In total, more than 60 agencies of varying size were surveyed.

Even with the responses to the surveys, the study yielded limited correlative data. There was evidence that large agencies have proportionally more staff than smaller ones (likely due in part to performing more heavy repairs in house), and that more complex fleets require more maintenance. However, there was significant variation across agencies in regards to most variables examined. As such, the results of the calculator should be considered to reflect broad comparisons rather than objectively “correct” staffing levels. Regression analyses were performed, and results include standard deviations to help judge how closely peer agencies perform on various measures.

Applications

The calculator can help agencies perform three mains tasks:

  • Comparing staffing levels to peer agencies - The tool’s main value lies in its ability to benchmark agency performance against other agencies of similar size.
  • Planning for necessary staffing levels - Agencies can add potential new vehicles to the inventory worksheet and see what effect this would have on required staffing.
  • Modeling the effects on staffing levels of possible changes in maintenance policy - By changing the data on routine maintenance practices, agencies can what effect these policies have on staffing.

The calculator can be used by all sorts of agencies; survey participants had fleet sizes ranging from 10 vehicles to more than 1,000. Entering basic operations information into the calculator will provide a quick snapshot of the agency's staffing needs, but it is also possible to go into much more detail.

Bus Maintenance Staffing Calculator

Additional Reading

Mall, K., & Sekera, J. (2016). Maintenance Staffing Calculator User Guide. Transit Cooperative Research Program.

This user guide explains how to use each worksheet included in the calculator.

Mall, K., & Sekera, J. (2016). Maintenance Technician Staffing Levels for Modern Public Transit Fleets. Transit Cooperative Research Program.

This report details the methodology used to develop the calculator. The research team analyzed NTD information and conducted two rounds of interviews with transit agencies.

Roman, A. (2016). 2016 Bus Maintenance Survey: Shops Still Dealing with Electrical Learning Curve. Metro Magazine

Metro Magazine conducts a yearly survey of transit agencies about bus maintenance issues. While less detailed than TCRP's work, it does provide an interesting look at broad year-to-year trends.