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14. A glimpse behind the wheel
Episode 1420th September 2022 • Storylines • Valley Metro
00:00:00 00:24:45

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Get behind the wheel with Brittany and Madeline as they speak with Bus Operator Ernest "LD" Rumney and Operations Supervisor Maura Espinoza about a typical day in the field.

Valley Metro exists to connect communities and enhance lives, and we need your help. If you’re ready for a career change and want to make a positive impact on your community, view all job openings at valleymetro.org/careers.

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Transcripts

Brittany:

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your daily commute?

Madeline:

Or how transportation impacts the community you call home?

Brittany:

Maybe you want to explore outside your community and don't know where to start.

Madeline:

Well, you're in luck because this is where you hop on.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany Hoffman.

Madeline:

And I'm Madeline Phipps.

Brittany:

We work in communications for Valley Metro and together we'll discover all the ways that public transit enhances lives across the cities we serve.

Madeline:

And we might even make some new friends along the way.

Brittany:

Welcome to Storylines.

Brittany:

Hey Maddie.

Madeline:

Hey Brittany.

Brittany:

Have you ever driven a bus before?

Madeline:

Absolutely not. If I'm driving a bus, something is very wrong. Have you driven a bus before?

Brittany:

Yes! I actually got an opportunity this summer to drive a bus. It was absolutely terrifying! I had a trainer with me walking me through everything. It was a five minute loop around a parking lot, and I was absolutely terrified. You have so many things to think about. You're checking your mirrors, you're making sure you're going in a straight line, you are checking for passengers in the back, there is so much to do. And I did it for five minutes.

Madeline:

And you didn't even have any other cars or vehicles next to you or in front of you or behind you.

Brittany:

No, that would've made it extra hard! I had a full, open parking lot! I could've swerved anywhere and not hit anything! So it was much safer in that situation. But our bus operators have so much to do everyday! It is amazing from start to finish how their day operates and how they operate a bus.

Madeline:

Yeah, it's true. I mean, when we think about how we interact with a bus, you know, you get to the stop you get on for five minutes or 30 minutes, however long, and then you get off and you probably don't think about it. But, obviously there's a whole bunch of people that spend their time at work operating our buses and also supporting people operating our buses and making sure that we're getting from point A to point B safely and efficiently.

So we took the chance to sit down with a couple of those people for this episode of Storylines. We're gonna take you inside a day in the life of a bus operator and a bus operations supervisor.

ator of the Year last year in:

LD:

My name is Ernest Rumney. I go by LD. I'm a bus operator. I've been doing First Transit, I've been here for nine years, and Valley Metro, all in all, 16 years.

Brittany:

So can you walk us through what it's like in a day in the life for a bus operator?

LD:

Actually, it's really simple. I, obviously you show up. Personally, I like to show 15 to 30 minutes early. Have yourself ready. On most days I would take a fresh bus outta the yard. From there it's, it's really simple. Drive back and forth, do whatever route you're assigned to do that day. You come back and you go home. Sometimes they might call you up if they're short drivers to ask you to extend or catch a little overtime in the afternoon, do an express or something, but there's really not much to it. It's pretty straightforward.

Madeline:

Well, I mean to you, there's probably not much to it. To me, it sounds like a job I could never do. Also I was, I wanted to ask to, to like help people understand, how many different routes have you driven and like at any time, could they tell you when you come in, "Hey, you need to drive this route" even if it's one that you're not familiar with, or do you have a set number of routes that you're responsible for?

LD:

For as long as I've been here, I've literally driven every single route. So you could throw me a paddle and say "go do this" and it wouldn't be a issue. In the operator's break room, there are turn sheets for all the routes. Plus with modern technology, we actually have the option, we can pull up a GPS map en route and it'll show us where we need to go.

Madeline:

Why did you choose this job? What made you wanna be a bus operator?

LD:

his. So I moved to Arizona in:

Brittany:

e the Operator of the Year in:

LD:

Well thank you!

Brittany:

Every day when you are aspiring to be the next operator of the year again, what goes into your mindset or what goes into your daily practices that you wanna make sure that you're doing while you're out on the road and before and after your trips?

LD:

This sounds crazy. It's mostly just common sense. I come to work every day. I've had it drilled into me since I was a child. If you're scheduled, do it! I think I've probably in 15 years I've maybe called off 10 times. Like I said before, I'm - I always make sure I'm at work on time, just because. I just do my job. I don't nitpick things, I try to treat the passengers well, that has a big plus to it. Stay on schedule. Just do my job really.

Brittany:

We know you've been here for a long time and you enjoy driving the bus. So what's your favorite part of the job?

LD:

Meeting all the new people. You meet so many interesting people out there. And you hear all the horror stories about crazy passengers. Honestly, that's probably one out of every 20. And with that last question about doing my job and taking care of my passengers, I found that I really don't have a problem with trouble passengers, because if you take care of the good ones, they take care of your issues for ya. The other cool thing about this job is, like I told you, I moved to Arizona to go to culinary school. But, it's interesting, all the people I work with, how so many people came from different professional backgrounds and they're all now driving buses and some of them for many years, like myself.

Madeline:

So we've talked about the good stuff, but what's the most challenging part of your workday?

LD:

Driving the bus! Yeah, driving the bus during the rush hour, especially. Because you've got tons of traffic, you're trying to keep the bus and the passengers safe, traffic is backed up, you're running behind, probably need to use restroom, you're picking up somebody, it seems like at that time of day, you're always picking up. Every stop there's somebody getting on or off, so you're falling farther behind and... it has its moments where it's like, is this ever gonna end? It just makes for a long day. Once you get caught up and you're like, oh, that was nothing. And then tomorrow you go through the whole same thing!

Brittany:

So, being out on the road and meeting all those new people, do you have any interesting stories to tell us about?

LD:

So I, like I said, when I first started this job, I knew nothing. The biggest car I'd ever driven at that point was like a little Honda or little Toyota compact. So I... I'm actually in this room, we're doing all the classroom stuff.

And three, four days in training, they take us out to our bus yard here, and there's like five or six of us in the class. And the trainer points at me and goes, "all right, you. Get in a seat." All I had to do was drive once around the bus facility here. You know, I'm going like five miles an hour and I'm just shaking. So we do that all day.

And then we, I think it was like a day or two later, they took us out to, to do the obstacle course. So he sets the bus up and it's like 50 feet long with cones on either side. And, you know, and I'm looking at it thinking, my goodness, you can't put a bike through here, nevermind this bus. And he's like, all right, drive through.

Okay. You got that part. I get to the end. He's like, "all right, back it up." Well, I knocked over all the cones. We spent the next couple weeks at the obstacle course, and at the time they had just dug up all of downtown Phoenix cause they were putting in the light rail. Well, that's where I did all my training, was driving through all the construction in downtown Phoenix!

Brittany:

I'm glad that we got to use our construction zones for something else!

Madeline:

Yeah, seriously!

Madeline:

Well, since you are so experienced and you are a recent operator of the year, what advice do you have for someone who is thinking about becoming a bus operator?

LD:

Don't be afraid of the bus. It looks big and it's scary, but once you start doing it, it's really easy. One of the big things I, I learned was just remember that the front tires are right behind you instead of right in front of you. It's a very rewarding job. I'd do it all over again.

Brittany:

That's so nice to hear that you would do it again. I know some people look back and go, oh, I wish I would've done this in my career or done this, but that's so exciting to hear. Do you have any regulars? I know you get to see some of your friends when you drive through your old neighborhoods and stuff, but do you have regulars that you build relationships with or...

LD:

Yeah, actually, depending on the route, there are people who I... Actually, it's funny. There's a guy I pick up most mornings. I've been picking him up for probably as long as I've been doing this route. And I see him all over the place. And, actually it was funny after all these years, he actually said hi back to me like a month ago. It's, he actually talked to me. He's one of those real quiet people. He just gets on the bus and runs his card and goes and sits down.

Brittany:

So you did it. You finally got him to say hi back!

LD:

I did! I did!

Brittany:

Another eight years maybe and you know, he'll say hello or more words.

Madeline:

Maybe he'll tell you his name.

LD:

Yeah. Right, right. No, I I've definitely periodically I'll pick somebody up and they'll recognize me or I'll recognize them from a past route.

Brittany:

That's awesome.

LD:

Yeah.

Brittany:

Maddie, exactly how LD felt on his very first drive, that's how I felt on my very first drive. So it's good to know that that's a normal state for operators when they're first getting behind the wheel.

Madeline:

So maybe you should just stick with it and eventually you could be the one driving the bus.

Brittany:

Well, as LD said, he expected to do it later on in life. It just started a little bit earlier for him. I think that'll probably be my next role in transportation.

Madeline:

There you go! Well, stick around cause we're gonna talk to someone else who makes our bus operations happen day in and day out and who also has some experience of her own behind the wheel too.

Peter:

Wanna save some gas and earn a chance to win prizes? Try Share the Ride! It recommends partners for vanpooling, carpooling, or taking public transit. Log your trips to enter contests throughout the year. Visit ShareTheRide.com to get started today.

Alex:

Looking to plan a trip? Use the Valley Metro app! It'll show you the best routes to get you where you want to go. And you can even track buses and light rail trains in real time. Search for the Valley Metro app on the Apple App or Google Play stores.

Peter:

Your fare on Valley Metro Rail is covered when you have a ticket to any event at Footprint Center. Just keep your event ticket handy if you are asked for proof of fare by a fare inspector. Find out more by visiting valleymetro.org/railride.

Brittany:

It was great hearing how LD loves driving the bus and loves meeting people and wants to do it for a really long time. But what about that next step in your career? Now we're gonna talk to an operations supervisor who helps operators while they're on the road before and after their shift. And she has some history behind the wheel too.

Maura:

th,:

Brittany:

Walk us through a day of what it's like being an operations supervisor.

Maura:

So usually I start my day, always a good morning because that's how we walk into the building. My usual shift is three to 11. I get set up, I start my computers, get my emails checked. Then I check with dispatch to get all the open work if we have open work and then get all the paddles printed.

So during my day, my coworkers and I take care of the events grid. Okay. We assist operators before and after pullout. Any open work, down buses, accidents, passenger assistance, we communicate with dispatch, road supervisors, management, maintenance, safety, and police department. We all work together as a team to keep the buses rolling. As always, service is our number one goal. And with always keeping in mind, you know, safety comes first. And usually after my shift, I'll grab a bus myself and then go out there and drive myself. So, you know, it's usually a long day for me almost every day.

Madeline:

Will you just explain what your job is? Cuz I know you use some different terms and things that a lot of people aren't familiar with knowing what they mean. So will you just tell us in your own words, what is it that you do every day?

Maura:

We help operators, assist operators along with dispatch, helping them get out with morning pull out, evening pullout. We assist operators when they're out there in the field, any questions regarding any accidents, any assistance that we need, passengers sometimes need, you know, fare box issues. We send the road supes... We just make sure everything runs smooth throughout the day after dispatch gives them their buses. So, that's where we jump in.

Brittany:

So you've been with Valley Metro and First Transit for six years. How did you choose this job?

Maura:

It's kind of a crazy story. I started driving buses when I turned 21. So I'm almost what, at 17 years now? I decided my kids and I needed a new place, you know, a new beginning, so I went for interview with LA Metro. They usually do about three interviews. So I did the first two and I was on my way for the third one.

On my way, I had a major accident. No biggie, you know, we walked out of it. We were so happy we made it. So the accident happened like around 11 o'clock at night. And, we didn't get done till like four. My interview was at nine that morning. I still made it. So I made sure I made it.

Of course I was all bruised up when I walked in and I looked like horrible. It, it was just horrible. Well, the person doing the interview actually asked me, why should I hire you? Give me a reason why I should hire. So I told him, it takes a dedicated person to come up to you in front of you all bruised up, looking like somebody beat me last night and still sit here and make it on time for my interview. So that shows you how much I really want this job!

So, of course everything went through. He was really happy, amazed at my response and being that I had just gotten off a accident. Usually, like he said, I usually get a call off or a reschedule.

But I was sad too, after my letter, that they approved me and everything. I had to turn it down because I didn't have a car. No vehicle to go all the way up there. I lived in Tucson. So, a couple of my coworkers had just moved here and I was just happen to tell somebody that I was gonna move to LA and they're like, why don't you just stay local? Try coming over here, you know, you're gonna like it. It's bigger, you know, and you gonna learn everything you learn really quick and you're gonna enjoy it. It's great. So I did, I applied and I got hired as an operator, a bus operator.

So, of course, I didn't know my ways around. I never got outta Tucson, so I was lost a couple months, but I got through it, you know, you learn your ways and the routes. You get used to the people, you get used to, you know, your coworkers, everything around you is just perfect. It was just, for me, it was great. So I finally moved my girls down after a whole year of traveling back and forth to Tucson. Ever since then, I mean, I've just enjoyed every minute of it. So that's, that's why I'm here. I just love the learning experience.

Brittany:

So you had a full year where you were a bus operator in Phoenix and your family was in Tucson. And so you made the commute to be with them when you weren't working?

Maura:

Yes, every day. I had a 12 hour day. Usually I would come in at five in the morning and then leave at seven at night, and still get home around 9, 9 30, and still being able to at least say goodnight to the girls and my son. And it took a lot of dedication for me, but I really wanted it. And it got to a point that I actually needed my family to be here. So I could do a little more with the company. So that's where I'm at.

Madeline:

Wow. You've shown us a lot about your dedication and your passion, but what is your favorite part of your job?

Maura:

Assisting others. I think making a difference has always been my priority. From my point as an operator, because I still consider myself an operator, cuz I always go out there, I like to assist passengers. Sometimes just a simple smile from them or just a simple laugh. When you communicate with them, when they get on the bus, you know, you don't know how their day's gonna be. You don't know how their day started. So you're the first face of the company, and that's what they see. And sometimes you're the first person they see all morning, you know, and bringing a smile to them and making a difference out there is like, that's what I do. I enjoy, as a bus operator, driving a vehicle. Always keeping in mind safety first. You live and you have a lot of experiences out there. You're out there in the open, driving a huge vehicle. So yeah, it's a huge responsibility, but I enjoy it. That's what a lot of us do.

Brittany:

That's amazing to see how you can take your lessons learned from being a bus operator to then using that and your new role as an operations supervisor and creating that bond with the operators, because you've already lived it. You have experienced that. So having that trusted person to go to, I'm sure that there are lots of operators that are very thankful that you're in your role, already having that tons of experience.

Maura:

Yes, and I appreciate them as well, you know, because they do come in with the stories and their personal experience. Cuz you have a lot of drivers that have been here longer or been driving longer than I have. So I learn from them as well, and it's just a huge family. That's how I see it.

Brittany:

So with families, there's always challenges. What is one of your challenges that you deal with while being an operation supervisor?

Maura:

A few of the challenges, especially being a controller... I would say accidents. When you don't get the quick response, when you wanna know if they're okay. Or like detours. Unexpected detours. You don't know what's going on. You call PD. They're like, "oh, we don't know. We, we just, we just got a call. We don't know if it's gonna be closed or not." And then, having supervisors on the road being busy and not being able to accomplish certain things, it makes our job challenging because we can't get to ten buses in the matter of an hour or two. It's just for one person, for two people to be out there on the road, it's a lot of work for them by themselves. So it's challenging for me, because we have to deal with accidents, detours, operators when they have little issues here and there that need fixing. For example, you know, the pull cord or the headlights went out or, you know, and we can't get to them real quick. That's for me, that's the stressful and challenging part of my day.

Madeline:

So you've had, I'm sure a lot of great experiences working as an operator now as a supervisor, do you have any memorable or interesting stories from on the job that you can share with us?

Brittany:

Is there any interesting passengers you encountered?

Maura:

Yes. So I had a regular. My 30 route I used to do on Sundays. I have a regular that I already expected him and he would tell me the stories about Valley Metro, you know, the new updates every week. So, I don't remember his name, but he always wore his ASU shirt cuz he was a proud ASU graduate and always getting off at the same stop, getting off at Baseline in 32nd, always with, "I'll see you next week same time" you know, with the smile on his face. And on his way back, I would always catch him.

I had a couple weeks ago, RPTA called with the concern that two passengers couldn't pay their fare at the Chandler Park and Ride. They were asking for help in assisting the passenger, they were on a bus trying to get to a job interview. Now, a job interview, you already know how that is. So we jumped on it real quick. They were able to get a ride going southbound to Chandler. The Chandler bus, we got in contact with that operator and he said, yeah, I'll take 'em to ASU PolyTech.

I called our road supe and asked him for help. So he was able to catch up with them in ASU, where they were gonna catch the 184 and gave them two passes just so they could be able to make it in time. It was just the teamwork for me. We all made it happen and the passengers were okay.

Brittany:

So it sounds like you obviously have years of knowledge, but have also learned from those of you who have been here even longer. So what advice would you give to someone who wants to be either a bus operator or line controller, or find themselves helping and providing bus service in some way?

Maura:

I mean, it takes more to think that it's just a job. For me, it's a wonderful career, and it's full of learning experiences altogether. I have learned a lot throughout the years, from dealing with kids to adults and being able to be out there and learn new things within the company.

It's an amazing experience. It's a full, dedicated job. I mean, always keeping in mind, you know, safety is our number one priority. It's wherever you want to be. It's inside as a controller, a dispatcher, road supervisor, coach operator, it takes patience, motivation, dedication. And, if you picture yourself in it, you are already there. That's what I always say. So just picture yourself in it and that's me right there.

Brittany:

So after hearing from LD and Mora, do you think that you're ready to be a best operator now?

Madeline:

No, I think I'm really happy that people who are so skilled and passionate about being operators are our bus operators.

Brittany:

If you wanna be a bus operator or a light rail operator or a mechanic or a supervisor, we have so many options available! You could even join customer service! There's plenty of jobs available at our job fair that you can come apply to. It's October 5th and October 12th. Make sure you stay tuned and learn more information at valleymetro.org/careers.

Madeline:

Thanks for listening to this episode of Storylines. Don't forget to subscribe wherever you listen to your podcast so you never miss an episode. And if you've got time, drop us a rating or a review.

Brittany:

While you're there, you can take a listen to all of our past episodes of Storylines as well. And if there's new topics you wanna learn about, we wanna tell you about them. So email us at podcast@valleymetro.org with all your suggestions.

Madeline:

For Valley Metro, I'm Madeline.

Brittany:

I'm Brittany!

Madeline:

Thanks for riding with us.

Brittany:

We'll meet you at the next stop.

Madeline:

Storylines is produced by Peter Corkery, Alex Tsotsos and Dane Ryals. Taylor Dunn is the executive producer. I'm Madeline Phipps with Brittany Hoffman. Thanks for listening.

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