The state Mass Transit Administration likes its buses well-groomed. So after each workday, the vehicles get baths, so to speak, before they're tucked in for the night.
Yesterday, some Baltimoreans who visited the MTA's Northwest Bus Division stood in the middle of one of those bus baths -- really not much different from automatic car washes except for their striking grand scale.
Buses are run through the washer every day, division superintendent Mike Hannan told visitors at an open house yesterday sponsored by the MTA. The MTA is one of 24 agencies participating this month in a "See Your Government Work for You" public relations campaign.
Opened in 1987 in the 4400 block of Mount Hope Drive, off Wabash Avenue, the Northwest Bus Division is the "crown jewel" of the bus system, said Helen Dale, an MTA public relations manager.
With storage for 250 buses, the northwest division is the only one of four that can store all of its buses inside -- a benefit on cold or wet mornings when preparation of buses parked outside takes much longer.
Vehicles are not the only thing the MTA wants well-groomed. Above the mirror in a women's restroom at the northwest facility a sign reads, "Appearance Projects Image," a reminder to MTA drivers.
The MTA also drives home the messages of safety and courtesy to passengers, Hannan said.
"Most of the time they're the only contact with the MTA that the public has," he said.
"Driving the vehicle is the easy part," said Vertis Park, MTA's manager of supervision, who has been with the agency since 1964. "Dealing with the people is hard.
"The same person who'll get on the bus Sunday morning to go to church and say, 'Bless you, brother,' will cuss you out on Monday morning because they think the bus is late."
To better monitor punctuality, MTA is about to conduct a six-month test of a new computer-tracking system that, officials say, would be unique in the nation.
The system, part of which was on display yesterday, would enable supervisors to see almost the exact location and speed of a bus, to receive immediate notification of emergencies from drivers and to monitor the number of passengers who have boarded.
In his 36 years with the MTA -- which was called the Baltimore Transit Co. before the state took over in 1970 -- one veteran employee said he has seen things come full circle.
"Nothing is truly new," said Bertram Dailey, the MTA's acting manager of bus divisions,