How Critical A Scheduled Vehicle Maintenance Program is To Keeping Your Paratransit Vehicles on the Road

By September 4, 2019

When it comes to the increasingly competitive world of microtransit, paratransit, and NEMT provision, there are plenty of things your organization can do to make sure that the bottom line is solid and you remain competitive. 

While making sure you have great dispatch software, a solid understanding of the funding landscape, and well-trained drivers are all important components of a smooth-running transit business, there’s more. The vehicles themselves are the workhorses of the organization and should be treated accordingly. For this reason, most agencies or companies that operate one or more commercial vehicles put a dedicated PM (preventative maintenance) schedule into company policy as a standard operating procedure.  

For transit agencies, keeping vehicles well-maintained requires some forethought, pre-planning, and not-insignificant financial investment. The upfront costs of doing this, however, will pay off later⁠—when your passengers aren’t left stranded by the side of the road after a timing chain snapped. 

Although it may be tempting to cut corners in terms of consistent, preventative maintenance, remember that this is essentially a “roll of the dice” that could come back to haunt your company with negative reviews from frustrated passengers or even worse⁠—a critical safety incident. 

Ultimately, preventative maintenance is just a good investment that will prolong the life of the vehicles you’ve invested considerable amounts in.   

What Kind of Preventative Maintenance Schedule Do I Need? 

The primary difference in PM schedules relate to whether you have a “light duty” or “heavy duty” vehicle more akin to a bus. Then, you need to consult with the maker of the vehicle to determine what kind of checks need to be done. These checks are generally designated from “A” meaning basic safety/maintenance check, all the way down to B/C/E/D etc, with each lower letter designating a higher complexity (and longer intervals of time between checks). 

For an “A” check, typical components will include a safety check, lubrication/fluid level checks and replacement as needed, and quick inspection of brakes, lights, tire condition, etc. For most vehicles, the A check should be done about ½ the regular oil change interval for the vehicle. For a light vehicle, this means the check should be done about once every 2,000 miles; for medium- to heavy-duty vehicles, this number could more than double to about once every 5,000 miles. 

Although it may be tempting to put off getting an official long-term maintenance policy written and put into place, dealing with a little complexity now might save you a huge headache (or even a lawsuit) later. When deciding and standardizing the schedule of all of the “B/C/D” and up maintenance processes, it’s smart to both talk to the manufacturer and a mechanic who is experienced with whatever type of vehicle you are using. Manufacturers tend to be conservative with their estimates, and mechanics may be able to provide some astute real-world observations based on their lived expertise in the field.   

For larger operations, with dedicated storage/maintenance facilities, consider making some form of safety check a weekly or even daily occurrence to maximize both the lifespan and efficiency of your vehicles.    

Special Maintenance Considerations for NEMT/Paratransit Vehicles  

For commercial vehicles with special ADA-compliant modifications like hydraulic lifts, keeping these components functional is imperative and slightly more complex than a typical vehicle maintenance mechanic may be knowledgeable about. You’ll need a provider who is specialized in hydraulics to periodically test the mechanisms and make sure they are still operating in a safe and reliable manner.

It’s important to note that the specialized nature of these mechanics is yet another reason to schedule preventive maintenance ahead of time⁠—it may be harder to find a hydraulic mechanic on-demand after a component has failed while transporting passengers.     

It’s also important to keep up with any safety recall information from the manufacturer of your vehicle. This is good practice across the board, but especially for your industry. The stakes are often a bit higher in the case of NEMT/Paratransit vehicles, due to the higher likelihood of carrying potentially extremely flammable components like oxygen tanks. 

Best Way to Schedule and Keep Track of Preventative Maintenance Dates and Details 

If you’ve invested in good operations software for your company, there may be a way to notate the details of the PM schedule that you and your mechanic come up with directly in the program. This is ideal because then all drivers, managers, and accountants can be on the same page when it comes to what maintenance needs to be done, as well as a good record of what was done and when.

 If this feature doesn’t seem to be immediately available, it’s worth reaching out to your software provider to see if there’s an easy workaround that can centralize all of this information. If you’re still struggling in an office that is running things “old school” with paper tickets and the like, coming up with a centralized maintenance schedule is yet another reason to get good, industry-specific NEMT business software. Learn more about switching over here.