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Posts in Category: Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator Light Rail METRO Green Line

Know Your Operator: DJ Gonte 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Friday, March 15, 2019 8:24:00 AM

Train Operator DJ Gonte at the Green Line's Operations & Maintenance Facility in St. Paul.

Growing up in Ethiopia’s capitol city, DJ Gonte didn’t live far from a train station.

Watching the trains pull in and out gave him an early and deep love for railroading. Years later, it would also lead him to what he now describes as his dream job.

Seeking new opportunity, Gonte moved to Minnesota in 1996. He went to school, earned an associates degree in computer networking and took jobs at a computer company and as a school bus driver.

After a few years, he found a role at Medtronic. The company’s Brooklyn Center offices are just east of Metro Transit's Martin J. Ruter Garage.

“I would pass by the front of the garage and say, ‘One day, I’m going to work there,’” Gontesaid.

In late 2009, he realized that vision and began as a part-time bus operator. While he liked the work, Gonte knew from the beginning that what he really wanted was to drive a train.

He got that opportunity in 2014, when the METRO Green Line opened. Gonte was among those who made the inaugural trips on opening day, and he’s been carrying passengers up and down University Avenue ever since.

The job is just as enjoyable and rewarding as he imagined, too.

“I just love it. Every time I go out it’s like a whole new experience,” he said. “When I’m away from work for a few days I’m always excited to come back.”

The job does have its challenges, though. While he’s learned to anticipate the actions of drivers and pedestrians, moving through the corridor still requires constant and undivided attention, Gonte said.

Nearly five years after realizing his dream, Gonte said he’s proud of what he does and has no plans to stop any time soon.

Besides liking his job, he appreciates the benefits and a schedule that allows him and his wife to share parenting responsibilities and enjoy weekends together as a family (Gonte has two children, ages 3 and 9).

"When you like what you do it just gets better and better," he said. 

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Kieyonn Bogan 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 13, 2019 1:47:00 PM

Nicollet Operator Kieyonn Bogan, who began at Metro Transit in 2004. After putting in an application to serve as a school bus driver, Kieyonn Bogan headed home on a Metro Transit bus and passed Nicollet Garage.

Bogan grew up near the south Minneapolis garage and regularly took the bus to Roosevelt High School and to the Roller Garden in St. Louis Park. Despite that exposure, she said it wasn’t until that moment that she considered what it would be like to work for Metro Transit.

Bogan went with that thought, applied and quickly found herself following a new career path.

She began as an operator in 2004 and, after overcoming some initial hesitation, has come to truly enjoy the work. Her favorite parts of the job, she says, are interacting with customers and getting a unique view of her community.

“I get to see the city wake up and I get to see the city go to sleep, all within a climate-controlled environment,” Bogan said.

Bogan has spent her entire career at Nicollet Garage, a small, close-knit garage where she sees her co-workers as family. While she’s familiar with lots of routes, staying at Nicollet has also led to an affinity for one of Metro Transit’s most popular routes – Route 21.

“I see a lot of the same people who always say hello, or just ride for the social aspect,” Bogan said. “People like that really make your day.”

Customer service isn’t Bogan’s only strong suit, either.

She has a 14-year safe driving record and, for the past four years, has helped train new operators as a relief instructor. Bogan says the key to safe driving is to not focus too heavily on the schedule.

In the future, Bogan hopes to continue growing her career at Metro Transit. She’s particularly interested in serving as a Transit Supervisor, helping operators and customers navigate planned or unplanned detours and other issues.

Whatever happens next, Bogan said she’s grateful to represent Metro Transit and for all the benefits of working for the organization. Since starting, she’s purchased a home, traveled and raised two boys, now ages 17 and 12.

“There are a lot of opportunities that may not have happened if I didn’t stick it out,” she said. “I’m really glad I’m here.”

We're hiring! 

Learn more about becoming a bus operator and support available to bus operator applicants at metrotransit.org/bus-driver-hiring

Help us recognize great operators

Help Metro Transit recognize great operators by submitting a commendation through our website or by sharing messages on Facebook or Twitter. If you don't know your operator's name, include the operator number on their shoulder so we can share your feedback with them.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: David Williams 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, February 18, 2019 11:25:00 AM

Better late than never.

More than twelve years after a chance mention, David Williams took the advice to apply to Metro Transit.

It was a man installing carpet at his parent’s house who told an 18-year-old Williams about Metro Transit.

“I heard him but didn’t give it another thought until I was 30-years-old,”  Williams said. “Looking back, I wish I would have applied a lot earlier than I did.”

It was after receiving the news that the company he worked as a baker was downsizing that he remembered that conversation.

“I’m glad I remembered it and applied,” Williams said. “It’s a great job with lots of opportunity.”

Throughout the years, he found the interactions he had with riders to be the most rewarding, and they did, too.

“I remember one rider telling me that she wasn’t going to take this route anymore because I was moving to another route,” Williams said. “It’s interactions like that which make you truly enjoy your job.”

He credits those interactions for helping maintain a good atmosphere on the bus.

“If someone is giving you a hard time, your riders will stand up for you,” Williams said.

Compared to when he started in the early 90s, Williams thinks it’s a good time to apply to be a bus operator. When he started, it took him two years to move from part- to full-time. Today, it’s possible to go full-time in six months.

“Time goes by fast,” Williams said. “And with it more seniority.”

After 29-years of service and counting, he’s starting to think about retirement. It won’t be for a few years, but the thought reminds him that one day he won’t be behind the wheel.  

“It will be odd not being in a bus anymore. It’s been my mobile office,” Williams said. “I’m comfortable here.”

Operator at a Glance

Name: David Williams
Hired: March 1990
Routes: 14, 61
Garage: Heywood
Hobbies: On special occasions, he returns to an old passion: baking. He baked the cakes for his daughters’ weddings.
Family: Wife, four kids, and four grandchildren.
Lives: Brooklyn Park
Best Advice: “Make eye contact with your riders and always say hello.”

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: Joseph Sturdevant  

Posted by John Komarek | Thursday, January 17, 2019 12:16:00 PM

After 20 years serving as a police officer, Joseph Sturdevant left the force and began to make a difference in his community at Metro Transit.

Ever since, his riders are thankful he made the switch. He is among Metro Transit's most-complimented operators.

To Sturdevant, the transition from police work to bus operations was easier than he imagined. Riders have noticed it the way he approaches his work, too. Passion, gratitude and respect are among Sturdevant's hallmark attributes. 

“Both jobs require patience and awareness of the people you’re serving,” Sturdevant said. I always remember that a rider’s problem is usually not about me, but another situation they’re experiencing.”

Sturdevant said he learned long ago that life is about relationships with people. He credits his praise to simple things like saying hello. Sturdevant said he didn’t think twice about such gestures, but that he now sees how they can make a rider’s day.  

One rider told him, “You drive well” then got off the bus. He didn’t think twice about that conversation until he later received a glowing review from that rider who compared his bus ride to the comfort of sitting on his couch at home.

As he continued to read his reviews during this interview, he needed to take a moment to let them sink in.

“I’m really glad I got the time to read these,” Sturdevant said. “They really make me feel good.”

He takes his role as a bus operator seriously because of the big responsibility it requires. A bus operator is often the first and last person a rider sees during the day.

“If you’re behind schedule or not in a good mood, your actions can have a compounding impact on someone’s day,” Sturdevant said. “I’m responsible for every single rider on my bus, and they’re depending on me.”

Currently, Sturdevant works a part-time split-shift, beginning at 4 a.m. He plans to grow into other positions with transit and has no plans to leave because he loves its democratizing affect.

“Whether you’re low- or high-income, feel powerful or powerless, everyone who rides the bus is treated the same: with respect and courtesy,” Sturdevant said.

Operator at a Glance

Hired: November 2001
Routes: 19, 721,781, 782
Garage: Martin J. Ruter
Lives: Fridley
Family: Wife and a daughter and a son – they’re twins!
Best Advice: “Be patient and aware – a rider’s problem is usually not about you, but a situation they’re experiencing.”

Help make an operator's day with a commendation

Submit a commendation for good work on our website or on Facebook or Twitter. If you don't know your operator's name yet, check for their operator number on their shoulder. It helps us get the good news to the right person.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Shamara Baggett 

Posted by John Komarek | Sunday, December 09, 2018 1:37:00 PM

After years of exhaustion working two jobs to make ends meet, Shamara Baggett decided to upgrade her career to achieve a work/life balance as a Metro Transit bus operator.

Whether she put on the uniform of a nursing assistant, private care provider or school bus driver, her weeks would consist of working eight hours overnight, then followed by six during the day.

“I made it to work, but I was exhausted,” Baggett said. “It got to the point that my life was work, and I couldn’t remember the last time I slept well.”

It was in one of those tired moments she remembered Metro Transit and the good pay and benefits they offer.

“It’s something a lot of young people just don’t think about,” Baggett said. “Being able to work one job and go to the doctor are very important, especially as you get older.”

She started the application process, but quickly found out that even with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and school bus experience, becoming an operator can be difficult. “It was a lot harder than I expected, but I was determined to get this job,” she said.

It took three tries to earn her uniform, but she was bound and determined to get the job -- and the set hours, good benefits and pension that came with it. Becoming an operator allowed Baggett to to purchase her first home.

Baggett's persistence served as an inspiration for a customer who similarly aspired to land a job as an operator. While driving Route 4, a regular rider named Willie Moses shared his story about failing the operator test and said he was going to give up.

“I told him I failed it three times before passing, but I learned from it, and I’m here now,” Baggett said. “I told him to go back, that he can pass it!”

Years went by and she started to wonder what happened to Moses. By a stroke of fate, as she was walking down the hall in South Garage, she stopped and did a double-take. She was standing across from Moses and they were both wearing Metro Transit uniforms.

“A big smile immediately came to my face,” Baggett said. “He made it!”

They still see each other often on the job and are happy talk about the conversations they’d have when she drove him home each night on the Four.

However, she likes their new job-related arrangement better. “I’m glad he’s driving someone else now. Maybe he can inspire another person to keep trying, too!”

Operator at a Glance

Name: Shamara Baggett
Hired: May 2013
Routes: 14, 113, 134 and a Relief Garage Instructor
Garage: South
Lives: North Minneapolis

Family: A 4-year-old daughter; expecting a second child in 2019

Hobbies: My daughter is my life and it’s great! Whenever I’m not at work I spend time with her. We love going to the park or the Children’s Museum.

Best Advice: “Persistence pays off” and “Don’t hold on to things – let them go.”

Learn more about becoming a bus operator at Metro Transit

 

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