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Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Kossivi Loko 

Posted by johnkomarek | Tuesday, September 11, 2018 9:37:00 AM

Kossivi Loko is no stranger to patience, dedication, and community.

As an immigrant from the West African nation of Togo, it took a decade’s worth of patience, dedication, and a desire for community to successfully become a citizen of the United States, unite his family, and secure a job.

“I came here to find opportunity and to build a better life,” Loko said. “I was lucky. I won the immigration lottery.”

Even when he was accepted, however, he couldn’t bring his entire family. His eldest daughter would have to stay in Togo for years until she could be accepted into the country. Today, she is the first of his family to attend college.

“I am so very proud of her.” Loko said. “Her graduation is one of three days I’ve taken off in six years of working here.”

Loko chose Minnesota because a friend already lived here. As they both grew up in a tropical climate, his friend warned him about winter, but Loko looked forward to the change.

“I remember my first snow. It was so white. I was excited to shovel it.” Loko said. “Today, I still love snow, but I’d rather use a snowblower.”

He arrived in Minnesota on a green card in 2003. He initially found work as a truck driver. Eventually, he earned his citizenship in 2010.  Two years later, a call went out for bus operators. In 2012, he put on his first Metro Transit uniform.

After years of driving trucks, the major change was the addition of passengers.

“I like to serve people, and in this job, people need you,” Loko said. “In my interview, I said exactly that: I wanted a job that would serve people and help me to become part of my community.”

Transit is a community, and like all communities, they require relationships, like the one between operators and riders.

“You have no idea what people have been through that day when they get on your bus.” Loko said. “I try to treat everyone nice. And when I’m not having a good day, I remember to take a breath and count.”

At his home base at the Martin J. Ruter garage, he’s found another community: his fellow operators.

“We support each other, and we help each other out.” Loko said. “People care about you. We do our part to make Metro Transit great.”

Loko looks forward to continuing his career at Metro Transit and to growing into new positions.

Operator at a Glance

Hired: Dec. 31, 2012

Routes: 5, 14, 22, and 722

Garage: Martin J. Ruter

Hobbies: Working out, bicycling, traveling

Country of Origin: Togo (West Africa)

Family: Wife and four children, two girls and two boys.

Lives: Brooklyn Park

Memorable Trip: Mount Rushmore with his wife and kids. Was in awe of the craftsmanship of carved faces in the mountainside.

Fun Fact: Although he’s from a tropical African nation, he loves snow and the cold.

Best Advice: Be kind to people. You don’t know what they’re going through or where they just came from.

Bus Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Barbara Mestas 

Posted by Marisa Helms | Thursday, December 07, 2017 10:32:00 AM

When Operator Barbara Mestas walks into the Drivers Room at Heywood Garage, her big laugh and booming voice are a signal to her colleagues that their friend “B,” or “Barb” has arrived. Fellow operators are sure to say "hi." Some will ask Mestas for advice. Everyone knows she's fun to hang out with.

Indeed, during the nine years Mestas has worked as a Metro Transit operator, she's earned a solid reputation as somebody who brings people together. As she puts it, she’s pretty much a “people magnet.”

"I'm very approachable, very friendly, and I’m happy," Mestas said. “Everybody knows they can come and ask me about a route, or anything. Even the new people feel comfortable with me."

On her days off, Mestas and her coworkers get together for dinner or a movie, or to go bowling. "We call it our ‘Heywood family.’ Whoever wants to come, can join," Mestas said. "We try to make everyone comfortable who comes to our garage."

Mestas focuses her infectious optimism and magnetism on all her coworkers, not just her friends at work. She has started a few fundraisers for operators in need, and she regularly takes up collections as part of the Heywood Garage hospitality program to buy gift cards for coworkers who are going through hard times.

When she’s out driving, Mestas brings her friendly, broad smile and positive attitude to every route. She says she likes the challenge of the Extra Board schedule, and she says the routes are great because she gets to do something different every day.

"I love my job," Mestas said. "I'm a people person, so I enjoy talking and laughing with people. Whenever somebody gets on the bus I greet them, ‘Good morning,’ or ‘Have a good night,’ ‘How was your day?’ ‘How have you been doing?’ And people like that. They like to know that somebody cares about how their day was.”

Even with all the different routes Mestas covers, customers recognize her. And they’re about to start recognizing her even more. Mestas is enjoying some notoriety these days as the new face of Metro Transit's operator recruitment campaign. Mestas said Heywood Garage Manager Jay Kluge recommended her for the campaign because she's "always smiling, always happy and always friendly."

Images of Mestas behind the wheel have just started rolling out on buses and in advertisements on the web, on billboards and on social media.

"My kids totally think it's cool," Mestas said. "I think it's fun and I'm glad they picked me."

Operator at a glance
Hired: October 2008
Number: 68299
Routes: P.M. Extra Board driver, some express routes, but mostly all the local routes out of Heywood Garage, including routes 5, 19, 22, 10, 18
Hobbies: Bingo, hanging out with friends and family

To help you better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these 'Know Your Operator' profiles of train and bus operators. To suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

Bus Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Connie Isler 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, August 30, 2017 3:43:00 PM

Metro Transit Operator Connie Isler at Nicollet Garage. Connie Isler doesn’t need prescription lenses to see clearly. But she does sport a unique set of black frames, adorned with a small red bow – a subtle but intentional way of broadcasting the environment she hopes customers step into while riding her bus.

“I try to blend things into the uniform while still showing people I’m a professional and I can do this,” she said. “But it helps if people think I’m a little more fun than not fun.”

The glasses are just a part of Connie’s charm though.

Connie also welcomes each customer on board, uses humor to discourage bad behavior and regularly works in announcements thanking customers for riding and encouraging common courtesy and safe travel.

When a customer needs a transfer, she might say, “Let me get the secretary right on that for you.” Another familiar line lets customers know “random acts of kindness are appreciated on this bus.”

“My goal is for the average person who’s polite enough to put up with a little bit of the stuff that comes with riding the bus to feel safe and welcome, and to maybe even brighten their day a little bit,” Connie said recently from Nicollet Garage.

Connie’s father spent several years as a bus operator. She followed in his footsteps after attending a Prince concert in Minnesota, falling in love with the Twin Cities and moving to Minnesota. After the move, she spent a decade as a substitute school bus driver and trainer before applying at Metro Transit.

“Since I was enjoying this driving people around thing, I thought maybe I should do it with big kids,” she said.

Since joining Metro Transit in 2012, she has made a point of learning from seasoned operators who have excelled and maintained their sense of humor through the years.  

“When I got here, my goal was to find out how best to serve people, to find the ideal recipe and do what I could to match that,” she said.

Connie is already passing the wisdom she’s gained onto new operators, training new hires as a relief instructor at Nicollet Garage. The advice she comes back to the most: be kind.

“Just being humane – that is the key and so important to me,” she said. “I’m really into being respectful because everything starts there.”

  • Name: Connie Isler
  • Hired: Sept. 10, 2012
  • Number: 72342
  • Routes: As an extraboard, or substitute, operator, Connie enjoys all friendly, neighborhood routes
  • Hobbies: Training to complete a triathlon in 2018, technology, music

To help you better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these 'Know Your Operator' profiles of train and bus operators. To suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

Know Your Operator METRO Green Line

Know Your Operator: Alex Abay 

| Wednesday, November 30, 2016 2:59:00 PM

Train Operator Alex Abay at Union Depot Station in St. Paul. Alex Abay wanted to be a part of history.

So as the METRO Green Line approached its 2014 opening, he was among the first train operators to get involved in the light-rail line’s initial test runs. And when opening day arrived in 2014, he made sure to be sitting in the operator’s chair.

While the excitement of that day has subsided, Abay still gets a thrill when he’s on the job.

“It’s just amazing to me, to pull into a platform, see 100 people standing there, and in less than ten seconds  they’re all on board and off you go,” Abay said recently from the Green Line’s Operations & Maintenance Facility, where he and other Green Line operators are based.

Abay didn’t always envision himself working in transit, however.

After growing up in Ethiopia, Abay followed a distant cousin to the Twin Cities to pursue a career in industrial chemistry or finance.

To improve his English, he regularly listened to public radio. He got a job at the Minnesota Science Museum and enrolled at Century College, traveling to and from his St. Paul home on Route 62.

After graduating and landing a job in banking, he looked to transit again, picking up part-time weekend work to help repay his student loans.

“I saw other people driving and just said, ‘Let me try this,’” Abay said. “I was so young and skinny people thought I was a kid. One woman got on, couldn’t believe it, turned around and left.”

Abay stuck with it, though, and after a few years he decided to leave banking behind to go full-time at Metro Transit. He spent the next 14 years as a bus operator.

In 2012, with the region’s light rail system poised for growth, he decided to become a train operator. Abay said he missed interacting with customers but quickly grew to enjoy the different challenges he found at light rail.  

“To be given the trust to operate a train, that’s a big responsibility,” Abay said. “The first time, I was sweating. Your brain is always working and you always have to be ready to react.”

Abay’s focus has served him well, though. Since starting at Metro Transit, he’s received 17 Safe Operator awards. 

As Abay’s career has grown, so too has his family. Today, Abay lives in Farmington with his wife and two children. Outside of work, he spends as much time with them as he can, playing soccer, going to movies and attending church activities.

Looking back at the path that’s brought him here, Abay said he knows he was right to leave banking behind. “This was 100 percent the right decision,” he said. “I have absolutely no regrets.”

Operator at a Glance

  • Name: Alex Abay
  • Hired: April 10, 1999
  • Employee Number: #9975
  • Route: Green Line
  • Hobbies: Abay enjoys spending time with his family, going to movies and attending church activities. He also enjoys exercising – outside of work, he plays soccer and during his downtime at work, he can frequently be found playing ping pong (Abay advocated for the ping pong table so he and his fellow operators could stay active in their time between trips.)

To help you better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these 'Know Your Operator' profiles of train and bus operators. To suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

A Line BRT Bus Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Theresa Collins 

| Friday, September 09, 2016 2:26:00 PM

Metro Transit operator Theresa Collins.When Theresa Collins applied to be a bus operator, buses didn’t have power steering and the hiring manager thought she’d be too small to capably maneuver the vehicle.

She quickly proved otherwise.

Nearly 20 years later, she’s earned a reputation not just for safely and capably operating a bus but for having an outsized personality that makes passengers feel more like friends than customers.

Collins built particularly strong bonds on routes 21 and 14, where she spent much of her career until moving to the A Line when it opened in June.

The connections are built through simple gestures – greeting everyone with a smile, learning the names of frequent riders, handing out candy on Halloween and Easter and wearing a Santa hat for the holidays.

It also helps that she understands her audience. Collins used transit growing up in Minneapolis, became interested in the profession while commuting by bus in adulthood and frequently uses transit when going out.

“I want people to feel special when they board my bus,” Collins said from South Garage after a recent shift. “It’s all about customer service. That’s such a huge thing in this job.”

One sign that Collins takes pride in her work can be found on her right bicep, where her operator number, #1378, is tattooed and surrounded by roses, a nod to her middle name.

Another, slightly less permanent indication, is that she has printed more than 1,000 postcards with a photo of her at the Bus Rodeo so she can hand them out whenever she’s about to bid a frequent customer farewell.

“They just love it,” Collins said. “I’ve had customers tell me then have my picture on the fridge, which is kind of cool you know?”

Collins has also filled a bin with the cards she’s received, like the handmade card that came from students who rode with her all summer to swimming class.

Especially grateful was a customer who narrowly avoided being hit by an approaching vehicle; Collins jumped out of the bus and got the fast-driving motorist’s attention, leading her to slam on the brakes and miss the customer by inches.

The customer recently boarded Collins bus, gave her a big hug and thanked her for saving her life. 

Similar quick-thinking helped Collins alert two young boys who were also at risk of being hit while moving through a crosswalk in front of her bus. 

“When I sit at a red light, I’m not daydreaming – I’m always looking around,” Collins said.

Another memorable experience was the time she brought a woman in labor to North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale.

Because A Line customers buy fares before boarding and can get on through the front or back doors, Collins has fewer interaction than she used to. But she still sees some of her old customers and is getting to know some of the new riders as well.

And after spending years in Minneapolis, she is having fun seeing a different part of the metro. A Line buses run between the Blue Line’s 46th Street Station and Rosedale, largely on Snelling Avenue.

“I know Minneapolis like the back of my hand, so it’s been fun learning a new city,” she said. “Every day is an adventure.”

While Collins’ might have heard doubts when she started, she said the career she’s built has been anything but a surprise to her.

“When I started, I felt like I had hit the jackpot,” she said. “I knew I was going to have this job until I retired – I just knew it.”

Operator at a Glance

  • Name: Theresa Collins
  • Hired: Nov. 19, 1988
  • Employee Number: #1378
  • Route: A Line
  • Garage: South
  • Hobbies: Collins enjoys reading, movies, attending concerts and plays and dining out. She also enjoys decorating her home for the holidays, traveling, collecting foreign currency and attending garage sales. Earlier in her career, Collins rode a unicycle – to work.

To help you better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these 'Know Your Operator' profiles of train and bus operators. To suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

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