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Posts in Category: Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Pao Xiong 

Posted by John Komarek | Wednesday, October 16, 2019 12:44:00 PM

After the Vietnam War ended, an eight-year-old Pao Xiong chose to immigrate from Laos to the United States.

“It was a courageous decision to take that jump by myself,” Xiong said. “The older community members were telling me, ‘Don’t go. You don’t know what’s over there.’”

Xiong said he had faith that in 1976 he was making the right decision. Today, as a part-time operator with a work-life balance that gives him time for family, he reaffirms that decision.

“Operating a bus wasn’t my first career choice. I used to be an electrical engineer and traveled a lot,” Xiong said. “But after many years, my wife and I decided that family needs to come first.”

In fact, it was his uncle who works for transit who told him about the opportunity. For Xiong, transit is literally family: he has two uncles and four first cousins here. However, it took him until 2008 to find not only family, but work-life balance with transit.

When he arrived in the states, his first stop was an Amish community in Morgantown, Ind. “It felt familiar because I came from a place with no electricity, but it was also difficult,” Xiong said. “I was the only Hmong person there.”

After two years, he moved to St. Paul, where he lived with an uncle and was happy to join a supportive Hmong community. “We’d look out for each other and push each other to excel,” Xiong said. “Not being a native-English speaker presents lots of hurdles.”  

He remembers the difficulties he had when he first used transit, as a rider on the old Route 8 – and problems non-native speakers can have understanding the schedules and the service. That’s a perspective he continues to bring to his job today.

“In my journey, I’ve been through a lot, and I know others have, too.” Xiong said. “So, I make sure to help my riders anyway I can.”

Operator at a Glance

Name: Pao Xiong
Country of Origin: Laos
Hired:  March 2008
Routes: 850, 760, 766 (Maple Grove Transit)
Garage: Ruter
Hobbies: Shredding Van Halen and other 80s rock tunes on the electric guitar
Family: Wife and eight kids, ages 8-25
Lives: Brooklyn Park
Best Advice: If you point a finger at someone else, remember you’re pointing three back at yourself! So, ask yourself what you can do to improve yourself first.

We're Hiring!

If you like working with people and want to make a difference in your community, come help us run our growing transit system! Learn more about what it takes to become a bus operator at metrotransit.org/drive.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Nikolay Mshar 

| Thursday, September 19, 2019 12:28:00 PM

After moving from Belarus to the United States, Nikolay Mshar noticed a lot more people walking around with smiles. Soon, he started wearing one himself.

“In Belarus, I drove buses like I do here,” Mshar said. “The only difference is that here people smile more and are less rude. Culturally, people don’t smile there much.”

Mshar immigrated to the United States in 1992 and began at Metro Transit in 1998. With his prior experience, becoming a bus operator was an obvious career choice. He’s been good at it, too. In 2018, Mshar was recognized for 20 consecutive years of safe driving, a rare accomplishment.

But from the beginning Mshar saw the job as more than a paycheck. Becoming a Metro Transit bus operator, he said, helped him find his way in a new country.

“On a bus, you talk and interact with people,” Mshar said recently from South Garage. “This helped me become part of this country.”

While learning a new language was stressful, he was determined. With help from his wife and a job that immersed him with English-speaking customers, his abilities improved.

“I didn’t want to depend on someone like a translator,” Mshar said. “Those first five years, I soaked up language like a sponge.”

Today, Mshar lives in Shakopee with his wife. He’s raised three daughters in Minnesota and plans to spend the rest of his career with Metro Transit.

While his life has changed, interacting with customers remains his favorite part of being a bus operator.

“If you enjoy what you do, other people will enjoy what they’re doing, too,” Mshar said. “I enjoy driving the bus, and because of that my customers enjoy their ride.”

We're hiring!

If you like working with people and want to make a difference in your community, apply to become a Metro Transit bus operator. All Metro Transit train operators begin as bus operators. Learn more about applying at metrotransit.org/drive.

 

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Lobsang Choephel 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, August 22, 2019 10:04:00 AM

Train Operator Lobsang Choephel.

Lobsang Choephel fell in love with driving in India, where he drove cabs and spent hours shuttling tourists to and from Delhi in a large coach bus.

So when he arrived in the United States, it wasn’t a surprise that he found himself back behind the wheel.

He worked as a school bus driver and spent nearly a decade transporting passengers and equipment for Abbot Hospital. In 2006, a friend suggested applying at Metro Transit.

After three years as a bus operator, Choephel received more advice. This time, his co-workers were encouraging him to become a train operator.

Choephel wasn’t sure about the idea but decided to give it a try. The first few years were admittedly tough but, after a decade on the Blue Line, Choephel now says he’s found his calling.

“I can’t describe how much I love it,” he said recently from the Blue Line’s Operations and Maintenance Facility. “I’m addicted.”

Choephel is grateful to have found a career he enjoys. And he’s thankful to have found it in Minnesota, too.

In the late 1950s, Choephel’s family immigrated from Tibet to India, where he was raised as a Buddhist Monk. In his early 20s, Choephel found himself searching for new opportunities.

After securing an American Visa, he traveled across the globe unsure but hopeful.

In Minnesota, he connected with fellow Tibetans who helped him find work and adjust to his new life.

Nearly 30 years after landing in the Twin Cities, Choephel and his wife are raising two children and can’t imagine a better life.

“When I won the immigration lottery it was as if I won the actual lottery,” Choephel said. “That was my Powerball.”

We're hiring!

If you like working with people and want to make a difference in your community, apply to become a Metro Transit bus operator. All Metro Transit train operators begin as bus operators. Learn more about applying at metrotransit.org/drive.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Angela Wilson 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, July 29, 2019 1:44:00 PM

Angela Wilson moved from Chicago to Minnesota in search of opportunity. She found it at Metro Transit.

“I didn’t know I was going to end up here this long!” Wilson said. “It allowed me to grow with the agency.”

As an operator, Wilson spent 17 years on Route 5, Metro Transit’s busiest route. She’s also spent time on routes 4 and 515.

Recently, she was among a select group of bus operators recognized for going 20 or 25 straight years without a responsible collision. To celebrate the achievement, an interior card with Wilson’s photo will appear on buses for the next year.

While she’s an accomplished operator, Wilson now primarily serves as a dispatcher, assigning operators to trips that originate at Bloomington’s South Garage.

At first, Wilson said she was worried about moving from behind the wheel to spending most of her day at a computer.

As an operator, she enjoyed befriending customers like Ms. Kathy, a 78-year-old woman who boarded at the corner of north Fremont and 33rd avenues at 7:33 a.m. every day

“She’d hug me every time she got on and off the bus and always gave me a card on my birthday,” Wilson said. “So, for her birthday, I got her balloons!”

While she doesn’t interact with customers as much as she used to, Wilson’s friendly demeanor is just as present in her new role as a dispatcher.

“I’m a talker and I like meeting different people,” she said. “Just like on the bus, I greet everyone who comes in. Those relationships help me find drivers to fill trips.”

Before becoming a bus operator, Wilson supported her three children by working at fast food restaurants and big box stores.

The father of her two daughters passed unexpectedly in his forties and her mother’s declining health required more of her attention. Instead of holding multiple jobs, her cousin urged her to apply at Metro Transit. 

“I started part-time and still worked fast food,” Wilson recalled. “When I figured out I only needed this job, I gave my notice.”

As the years roll on, she’s starting to think about retirement and is thankful she was able to build a career at Metro Transit. “This job has put me where I want to be financially,” she said.

Operator at a Glance

Hired: November 1998
Garage: South
Routes: 4, 5 and 515
Hobbies: Spending all my time with my family
Family: 3 daughters, 7 grandchildren, and my mom
Lives: Crystal
Best advice: "Just treat people as you want to be treated."

Celebrating Metro Transit's safe operators

Be on the lookout for these interior cards (the advertisements inside the bus) featuring several of Metro Transit's consecutive year safe operators! These bus operators were recognized at Metro Transit’s 2019 operator awards.

Clockwise from top left: Kent Knutson, South; Carrie Boekhoff, Nicollet; Marshall Freeman, East Metro; John DeCarlo, South.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Henry Bridges 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, June 10, 2019 2:55:00 PM

Henry Bridges said he’d never move to Minnesota. Today, he’s a senior instructor at Heywood Garage.

As a native New Yorker, Bridges was used to the big city and lots of people. Occasionally, he’d visit family in Minnesota. To him, the difference was stark.

“I thought it moved too slow and there were no people,” Bridges said. “But things change. Minnesota’s my home and so is Metro Transit.”

After arriving in 1985, Bridges worked several jobs as a machinist, including one that helped finish the bricks used to build Target Center. But at the end of every year, he and his fellow employees were laid off, then rehired. The instability took its toll on the father of four and he started looking for a new line of work.

“After seeing an ad, I remembered my childhood watching the bus drivers in New York and being interested in their job, but not the people,” Bridges said. “But like my move to Minnesota, things change!”

Bridges started as a part-time weekend driver while continuing to work as a machinist. But after two years, he saw that he could focus exclusively on building his career at Metro Transit. As an instructor, Bridges helps newer operators learn the trade. 

“I love driving bus, but it’s even more rewarding to help other bus operators,” Bridges said.

This year, he's had a new assignment -- teaching operators how to drive electric buses now in service on the METRO C Line. While similar to their diesel-fueled counterparts, electric buses have enough differences to require separate training.

“It’s a great bus and it’s the future of our industry,” Bridges said. “It’s a great time to be in transit.”

Over the years, his work has not gone unnoticed. Bridges received the honor of driving the inaugural electric bus on the C Line's opening day. With lots of cameras at the ready, he was ready for his close-up. “It’s like being a movie star!” Bridges said.

But the best part of his day didn't happen until the bus stopped at the Brooklyn Center Transit Center (BCTC). Oliver, one of the inaugural bus riders, told his dad he needed to meet the driver. His dad said he didn’t stop talking about meeting Bridges until he fell asleep that night.

"It's moments like that, which make me love my job even more," Bridges said.


Bridges meets with a boy named Oliver who insisted on meeting the bus driver of the first electric bus.

Operator at a Glance

Name: Henry Bridges
Hired: July 21, 2001
Garage: Heywood
Routes: Instructor, but drove Route 19 many years
Hobbies: Fishing, bowling and basketball
Family: Three sons, a daughter and soon to be married
Lives: Fridley

We're hiring!

If you like working with people and want to make a difference in your community, come help us run our growing transit system! Learn more about what it takes to become a bus operator at metrotransit.org/drive.

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