Cleaning Crews: The Unsung Heroes Of The Motorcoach Industry

By James Wang, Contributor

Sometimes I like to say that a motorcoach is like a cruise ship on land. Ok, it goes without saying that cruise ships are very different in comparison to a motorcoach, but the reason I relate those two very different vehicles together is because — when it comes down to the people who ride on them and those who operate them — the expectations are very similar.

A motorcoach is designed to be a luxury mass transportation vehicle that takes passengers to their destinations in comfort. Motorcoaches usually are hired to travel longer distances, so they are usually built to be larger and equipped with different forms of entertainment in order to pamper passengers until they arrive at their destination.

So, when you think about it, that is very similar to cruise ships. And because they are considered a luxury form of transportation, drivers as well as staff take pride in keeping them in pristine condition. Passengers who pay the bills to book their trips expect no less.

The one thing I always remembered when getting into a coach as a kid was, they always smelled like a really clean hotel. Well, it takes a lot of work to keep them that way.

What Does It Take To Keep Them Clean?

When it comes to cleaning a motorcoach, different companies have their own variations of how they go about doing this important task. For a company like Peoria Charter, with a fleet of 60 coaches, the company hires and trains what are often referred to as sanitizing teams or wash crews. These are people responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the coaches before they go out the next day.

Usually working overnights, due to the fact that most of our fleet is out and about during the day, Peoria Charter’s sanitizing teams take turns being responsible for different areas of cleaning on the coaches every night.

The Fueler

The first person who boards the coach to begin the process is the fueler. This individual usually starts his/her shift an hour before everyone else on the wash crew arrives for work. As drivers return to base, they usually park the coaches in a queue. Once the drivers complete their post-trip work, gather their belongings and disembark, the fueler will drive the coach to a diesel pump. Motorcoaches have large fuel tanks, ranging from 200 to 350 gallons — depending on make and model. This means that the fueling process may take awhile.

The fueler is also responsible for such tasks as checking exterior lights, wiper and washer fluid, taking out the trash, making sure the coach is stocked with such items as trash bags, masking tape, a spill cleanup kit and a first-aid kit.

The fueler is also responsible for restocking pamphlets and brochures on each coach, as well as checking and logging lost-and-found items from seats, overhead compartments, and undercarriage luggage bays. One would be surprised the type of things passengers leave behind from their journeys.

Finally, when all of this is complete, the fueler is responsible for documenting how many gallons of fuel the coach took that night.

Interior Cleaner

After the fueler is finished, he/she will pull the coach away from the pump and into the wash bay, then move on to the next coach in the queue, so that the rest of the team can do their part.

The person responsible for the interior will enter the coach and start cleaning. With 55 to 57 seats on board, depending on make and model, the person working the interior really gets a workout.

Unlike sweeping and mopping your home, the seats on a motorcoach are mounted to the floor and are not movable. So, to make sure little Johnny’s bag of spilled Skittles aren’t still rolling around the coach when the next group boards, the person working the interior is usually subjected to a lot of contortions, pushups and squats to make sure nothing is left hiding under the seats.

Besides sweeping and mopping the passenger cabin as well as the lavatory, the person working the inside is also responsible for spraying all plastic and stainless-steel surfaces, as well as handrails and grab areas, with disinfectant.

While cleaning the restroom, the interior team member makes sure toilet paper is refilled, the hand sanitizer bottles are full, and the trash receptacle in the restroom is emptied.

While working in the restroom, a team member will coordinate with another team member who is working the exterior rear of the vehicle to dump the lavatory waste tank. In order to dump the waste tank, the rear end of the bus must be lined up with the waste dump hatch in the wash bay. This is usually done when the coach is driven in by the fueler, so that the coach does not have to be moved anymore until the rest of the wash crew is finished.

When ready, the person working the outside will pull the pin releasing waste from the tank into the sewer. While this is being done, a water hose is usually fed into the restroom through the emergency exit window, and while the tank is still open, the interior team member turns on the hose to flush the lavatory system.

Once completed, the exterior person will re-plug the tank, making sure it’s tight and secure so that no waste will leak out. At this point, the person working the interior will fill the toilet with water mixed with blue toilet chemical — making it smell like bubblegum again.

The person working the interior is also responsible for resetting seats, arm rests, and foot rests in the upward and stowed positions, while also cleaning the driver’s area, windows and mirrors. He/she is also checking to make sure that all emergency exit decals are present and not faded, and that seats are not broken.

The Exterior

The exterior of the coach is handled by several wash crew members. Their responsibilities include pressure washing and scrubbing the exterior of the coach as needed. They also clean and squeegee the exterior of all windows, and check to see if any fluids, such as motor oil, coolant and washer fluid, need to be refilled.

These employees are also responsible for replacing lug nut covers as well as checking the coach undercarriage storage area for such supplies as spare belts, diesel exhaust fluid, engine oil and antifreeze, as well as making sure safety triangles are present.

The Shifts

When it comes to working on the wash crew at Peoria Charter Coach, how long the nights are depend on how many coaches are scheduled to return from their trips on a particular day. On average, it takes a full team 30 to 45 minutes to get through one coach. On slower nights, the wash crew will have around 5 to 8 coaches pulling in to be detailed. On busier nights, the crew could see 14 to 18 coaches.

During the warmer summer months, working on the wash crew is often laid back and the work can even be considered fun when the team gets a good rhythm going. During the winter nights, the job becomes a bit more difficult. Due to often frigid Illinois winter temperatures, team members are often exposed to constantly alternating warm interior and cold exterior temperatures every time bay doors are opened.

It also usually takes longer to get all the salt and road grime removed from vehicles, after they return from a trip, as well as de-icing them once pulled into the garage from the bus lot.

When it comes to passengers giving accolades to a job well done after a successful journey, the wash crew is almost always overlooked and under-appreciated.

Overnight Trips

On overnight trips when motorcoaches are hundreds of miles away from base, drivers usually take over and perform most of the cleaning tasks. It’s important to remember a driver is only one person, and usually by the time he/she starts cleaning, has already been on the road for an entire day. Drivers also work with limited resources, as they are usually cleaning a coach at a truck stop or hotel parking lot. Despite such challenges, drivers do a good job making sure their passengers have a clean bus to get into the next day.

Some drivers returning from trips voluntarily give part of their tips to the wash crew to show their appreciation. Drivers and managers have also been known to treat the wash crew to pizza at night during their shift. It’s a way to show crew members that their hard work, which is a vital part of the company’s success, is not forgotten amongst co-workers, even though the public rarely notices their work — unless they have something to complain about.

For all the bus companies out there with the luxury of having a wash crew— because not all companies do — it’s good to recognize these people and thank them. They truly are the unsung heroes of the motorcoach industry.

James Wang is Director of Operations at Peoria Charter Coach. He can be reached at Jwang@peoriacharter.com. Peoria Charter Coach is a family-owned company that was started by Walter Winkler in 1941. He sold his car and borrowed money from his sister’s chicken egg business to buy his first bus. Today, Peoria Charter Coach, based in Peoria, IL, has a fleet of 50 buses, and is still proudly operated by the Winkler Family to carry on Walter Winkler’s legacy.

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