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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.

Bus Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Hector Espinoza 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, May 05, 2016 9:12:00 AM

Tired of his erratic hours working as a chef, Hector Espinoza went to the DMV picturing a job as an over the road truck driver. But when he ran into a friend there to get a license to become a bus operator, his outlook changed.

A decade later, Espinoza has earned a reputation as a skilled and well-liked bus operator with experience at a number of local transit providers. He’s spent the last five years working full-time at Metro Transit.

“The first time I drove during rush hour, I was nervous,” Espinoza said recently. “But when I got to the end of the route, the trainer got on the microphone and told the passengers it was my first day and I got a round of applause. Since then, everything has been nice and smooth.”

The transformation has indeed been a good one for Espinoza, who works out of Metro Transit’s South Garage in Bloomington.

Working as a bus operator has provided him a better work-life balance that allows more time with his wife, three sons and a daughter, superior pay and benefits and an optimistic outlook on his career.

    > Metro Transit is hiring operators! Learn more about career opportunities

He’s also developed a passion for working with the public, deliberately choosing busy urban routes where there are ample opportunities to interact.

“When I look in the mirror, I see people reading the paper, listening to music, looking at their phone and I think, ‘They’re all counting on me,’” Espinoza said. “I take that responsibility seriously. But I also enjoy the customers, the interaction, being outdoors and having all of the variety.”

Espinoza is sharing his experience as Metro Transit works to recruit more operators needed to support the agency’s growth and respond to a wave of retirements. He recently visited a south Minneapolis church where he spoke in front of the congregation about career opportunities.

A native of Ecuador who speaks Spanish, he’s particularly interested in letting Latinos know about what it means to work at Metro Transit.

“What I told them is that working here, it’s not just about being a bus operator,” Espinoza said. “If you like it, you can stay a bus operator for the rest of your career. But there are always more doors you can open.”

Many of Metro Transit’s managers and supervisors began their careers as operators; Espinoza hopes to follow a similar path.

For now, though, he’s focused on being the best operator he can be. And he’s doing a good job of it, too.

Espinoza has three years of safe driving and has placed in the top ten in each of Metro Transit’s annual Bus Roadeo competitions. Bus Roadeo tests operator’s skills through a series of driving and written tests.

“The first thing I care about is being safe,” Espinoza said. “Traffic is a challenge, but you just have to take it easy and not get too excited.”

Espinoza also takes pride in keeping a neat appearance, wearing a tie whenever he’s working (his co-workers have noticed, giving him the nickname “Hollywood”).

“I really take my job seriously, and try to be as professional as I can for the customers,” Espinoza said. “I look at it as a career at this point.”

Operator at a Glance

Name: Hector Espinoza

Hired: Feb. 6, 2010

Employee Number: 71095

Routes: Espinoza primarily drives urban local routes, including the 5, 4 and 6.

Garage: South Garage

Hobbies: Espinoza is active in his community, Apple Valley, and serves as a community soccer coach. He also enjoys playing volleyball and soccer and cooking.

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 Light Rail Safety

Operators put their skills to the test in Rail Rodeo 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, April 05, 2016 11:37:00 AM

As the lead singer for the band Capital Sons, Karl Obermeyer is comfortable performing in front of a crowd.

On Saturday, he put on a different kind of show – joining 13 rail operators competing in front of judges as part of Metro Transit’s Rail Rodeo. During the event, operators were closely watched as they went through a series of tests and a written exam.

After the points were tallied, Obermeyer was declared the top-performing operator. And in retrospect, he said, his on-stage experience probably helped him overcome the nerves associated with operating a light-rail vehicle as judges looked over his shoulder. 

“This is something you do on a day-to-day basis, but to have somebody monitoring everything you do brings it to another level,” said Obermeyer, an extraboard operator who has worked on both the METRO Blue and Green lines over the last 2.5 years. “I suppose my experience as a performer did come into play, since I’m used to having people observing me.”

But it takes more than a cool demeanor to safely operate a light-rail vehicle, as Obermeyer and the other competitors displayed throughout the Rail Rodeo.

Walking through a light rail vehicle, operators were given 15 minutes to identify five defects that would need to be addressed before going into service. Moving a train around the storage area at the Hiawatha Operations & Maintenance Facility, judges listened for proper radio communication.

Operating between the Fort Snelling and Franklin Avenue stations, judges assigned scores based on the smoothness of the train movements, adherence to speed limits and station announcements. There was also a written test and a uniform inspection.

The second-leading scorer, Peter Mooers, said the competition was a great way to build his skills and remember why safety is such an important part of his job. Mooers is currently a Green Line operator who spent two years as a bus operator and moved to rail in early 2014. 

“It was a great way to build skills and make you want to improve as an operator,” he said after the competition.

Obermeyer and Mooers will have another chance to test their skills when they represent Metro Transit in the American Public Transit Association’s International Bus Rodeo. The competition will be held in Phoenix, Ariz. in June, and include a similar set of challenges.

“It’s an honor to represent the company I work for on an international level, and I’ll certainly put my best foot forward,” Obermeyer said. “Between now and then, I’ll be doing my homework.”

This is the first time Metro Transit has hosted a Rail Rodeo since 2008; the hope is to make it an annual event. Other operators who competed this year are: Hugo FuentesBill Morris, Lobsang Choephel, Jeremiah Collins, Andy Dolan, Dale Reak, Mohamud Ibrahim, Berhanu Mengistu, Nasreddine Yahiani, Mohamud Ahmed and Bob Tapper. The event was judged by Rail and Safety staff. Metro Transit's annual Bus Roadeo will be held Sept. 17-22. 

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