WHITTIER, Calif. -- Pupil Transportation Cooperative (PTC) Director Dan Ibarra has implemented an inventive way to prevent vandalism on school bus windows - a method that has almost completely eliminated window graffiti, he said.
A clear, plastic film applied over the window pane protects the glass from scratches and acid etching. Marks made on the plastic can be removed by replacing the film.
Ibarra brought the idea with him from his experience as an employee at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. When he began his career in pupil transportation, Ibarra found a vendor for the film, which is applied to the windows with a solution of water and baby shampoo.
When a new bus is added to the fleet, the lower panes of all the windows are covered with the film in the bus' interior. Three employees at PTC are trained in applying the protective film, which is 4 millimeters thick.
The goal is to remove graffiti as soon as it is discovered, Ibarra said. "Graffiti begets graffiti. If somebody sees a tag, they cross it out and put their tag. So the trick is to get it taken care of immediately."
Ibarra said students have been caught with all manner of sharp objects used for etching on the glass, from box cutters, pocket knives and nail clippers to old manual dental tools.
"For a while there, they were doing it with acid," Ibarra said. "I don't know if they were buying it at hobby shops or what. But it was some type of acid that they would sponge onto the window and there's no taking that off."
Keeping the windows free of graffiti promotes a clean-looking bus and saves on the cost of having to frequently replace the glass, Ibarra says. Not only is the process of replacing glass time consuming - requiring the disassembly of the aluminum frame - but enough replacements would make it necessary to replace the entire frame.
With labor and supplies, the total cost of replacing a window could be as much as $80, Ibarra said. With the protective film, the cost of parts and labor add up to only about $8. The replacement process only takes about 15 minutes, making it possible to remove graffiti after a morning run before the bus goes out again in the afternoon.
The program has been so successful that one of the local junior high schools contacted PTC to receive training in applying the protective film to the door of the district office, which had been a target for student graffiti on weekends.
Ibarra also conducts a program to deter damage to school bus seats. Drivers who spot students marking or cutting seat upholstery report the incident to a PTC supervisor, who photographs the damage and sends the photo to the school served by that bus.
PTC then works with the school to determine the identity of the student who damaged the seat. "In some cases, the driver will know who the student is," Ibarra said. "In some cases, because of the graffiti moniker the student left, the school will know who the student is."
Once the student is identified, a bill for the repairs is sent home to his or her parents. Based on their ability to pay, parents can pay it off in installments or have the student work it off by fulfilling community service hours at school. "It seems to be a pretty good deterrent," Ibarra said.
"Now, our fleet looks really good," he noted. "In fact, you have to look long and hard before you find any [graffiti]. The drivers are happy, it saves us money and we think it's a pretty good program."