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Posts in Category: Know Your Operator

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.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Latchman Bhagwandin 

Posted by John Komarek | Friday, April 26, 2019 8:00:00 AM

Latchman Bhagwandin waited eight years to enter the United States. Today, he makes sure METRO A Line riders don’t wait more than 15 minutes for a bus.

As a child in French Guyana, he lived with relatives while his parents worked in New York. In 1981, he finally got the call that he would be reunited with his parents in the Bronx.

“I never experienced flurries until I arrived in New York,” Bhagwandin said. “I also never witnessed seeing a car being jacked before my eyes outside my window.”

In 1997, after visiting some relatives in Minnesota, he and his wife decided to move to the Twin Cities.

“It was the best decision I ever made,” he said. “Two years later, I started driving for Metro Transit.”

Bhagwandin said he applied after seeing advertisements that cheekily suggested bus operators enjoyed an “office with a view." Even then, he had some hesitations.  

“You hear horror stories about being a driver,” Bhagwandin said. “But after seeing the people who drive every day, I knew they can’t all be true.”

When he got behind the wheel for the first time, he remembers that he struggled a bit. A mentor at South Garage helped him overcome those early hurdles, he said.

“I wouldn’t have made it without Bob Benson’s help,” he said. “From my first day behind the wheel through today, he’s been a resource for me.”

Benson was a longtime garage coordinator at South, retiring in 2019 with more than 43 years of service. 

After 20 years of service, Bhagwandin has operated nearly every route out of South Garage. However, he’s found potentially his last route -- the METRO A Line. The Bus Rapid Transit line opened in 2014 and runs between Rosedale Center and the METRO Blue Line's 46th Street Station.

To speed up service, A Line customers buy their fares before boarding and can get on using front or rear doors. Those and other features, Bhagwandin make it preferable to driving a regular route bus. 

“I wanted to drive the A Line from the get-go,” Bhawandin said. “I plan to drive this route every year I can. It’s an easy-going route. What’s not to like?” 

Operator at a Glance

Name: Latchman “Jerry” Bhagwandin (Bag-wan-din)
Country of origin: French Guyana
Hired: 1999
Route: METRO A Line
Garage: South
Hobbies: Loves to go estate sale shopping to look for art.
Family: Wife and two daughters
Lives: Apple Valley
Best Advice: If you have questions, ask them. Never leave the garage without feeling confident.

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.

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