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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 Bus Maintenance Equity

Prospective technicians welcomed, challenged to show ‘grit’ 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, December 06, 2017 5:41:00 AM

Participants in the Metro Transit Technician Training program at the Overhaul Base on Friday, Dec. 1, 2017.Wearing an oil-stained florescent jacket, Ravie Sawh stood before a group of 50 job seekers and their supporters at Metro Transit's Overhaul Base last week.

The group was assembled to hear what their futures could look like as the newest participants in the Metro Transit Technician Training program and, eventually, as full-time mechanic-technicians at the agency. 

“You’re going to have to start motivating yourself every day,” Sawh told the group. “But if you’re looking for a job where you’re never going to be bored, this is the place for you.”

Sawh was among the first individuals to participate in the MTT training program, which combines personal development, on-the-job training and support toward earning a two-year associates degree.

Two years after starting, he and a dozen others from that first group are working as full-time Bus Maintenance interns and looking forward to graduating from Hennepin Technical College next spring.

A second group of MTT participants being guided toward careers in Rail Maintenance are also working as full-time interns after starting classes at Hennepin Technical College this fall.

Now at Heywood Garage, Sawh has already cast his gaze well past graduation: He wants to retire from Metro Transit after 30 or more years of service.

The new MTT participants welcomed last week were encouraged to start envisioning a similar future for themselves, despite the difficult road ahead. Many of the participants have little or no mechanical experience and will have to juggle classes, second- and third-shift work, tutoring and other responsibilities to reach the finish line.

“We need people with grit, people who are going to stay with it,” said Wanda Kirkpatrick, the director of the Met Council's Office of Equal Opportunity. “But why are you going to do it? Because at the end of the day this is going to feed you, feed your family and make sure the place you live is the place you want to live.”

The Office of Equal Opportunity is leading the program with support from Bus Maintenance and the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1005. Several technicians will be tapped to serve as mentors.

Minneapolis-based non-profit Twin Cities R!SE is also a key partner. The participants’ first step is to finish 12 personal empowerment classes offered by the organization.

A group of 20 participants who finish those classes and meet other criteria will be invited to move forward to the program’s next phases, including custom training, a full-time paid internship and support toward earning an associates degree.

Successful participants starting this month will be eligible to apply for full-time technician roles in late 2020. Full-time technicians now start at around $27 an hour, a wage many at the Overhaul Base last week said would be life-changing.

Thomas Scott, who is overseeing the program on behalf of the Office of Equal Opportunity, said the prospect of a good-paying career should be just a part of the motivation. More than 250 people applied for the program.

“Remember how many people wanted this opportunity,” Scott told the group.

Brian Funk, Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus, said the program comes at an opportune time for the agency. Retirements and system expansion are creating more openings while fewer young people are pursuing skilled trades careers.

The program also supports the agency’s equity and diversity goals: Nearly 90 percent of the participants in the new group are people of color. There are nine women. 

“We know we need to do something different than drawing from traditional methods,” Funk said. “Thankfully, that’s why you’re here.”

   > Technicians in training celebrate early milestone

   > Technician training program gets national recognition

   > Aspiring Mechanic-Technicians build skills, confidence

   > Employment at the Council

Bus Light Rail Winter Weather

Riders reminded of importance of Metro Transit during first big blast of winter 

Posted by Kathy Graul | Tuesday, December 05, 2017 1:29:00 PM

Snow and ice-covered roads led to a tricky and long commute this morning after winter’s first big blast hit the Twin Cities overnight.

Light rail and Northstar commuter rail service are not typically impacted by winter weather thanks to trains’ built-in snow clearing capabilities and the special ice-cutting equipment that's also mounted on most light rail vehicles. But, like all other drivers on the road during winter weather events, bus operators continue to put safety first and are face the same heavy traffic we all face when icy and snowy weather conditions strike.  

Despite delays across the bus system, a positive attitude among riders was apparent as the shout-outs rolled in for Metro Transit bus drivers and train operators on Twitter throughout the day. Here, we gather a few of our favorites. Only in Minnesota could there be so much camaraderie and good spirit during such a winter weather mess.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To stay up to date with service information during winter weather events, follow Metro Transit on Facebook or Twitter. “Show my bus” is also a handy feature to track the GPS location of your bus through Metro Transit’s NexTrip service.

Bus From the GM Minneapolis

Nicollet Mall revamp puts transit back at the center of downtown 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Thursday, November 30, 2017 10:34:00 PM

From General Manager Brian Lamb

For the past two years, construction has prevented us from using one of the most important and popular features of our transit network – Nicollet Mall

Moving six of our busiest local bus routes to Hennepin Avenue – bringing 800 more daily trips to a street already full of buses, cars, pedestrians and bicyclists – brought its share of challenges.

I want to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who moved with us from Nicollet to Hennepin, and to all those have stuck with us through all of the road and light rail construction downtown in recent years. 

Hopefully, like me, you’re excited about what all this work means for our city center. 

The Nicollet Mall project has brought new lighting, more than 200 trees, public art and other improvements, creating a much richer and pedestrian-friendly environment. Later this year, we’ll build on the city's reconstruction efforts by putting in a dozen new shelters with heat, light and real-time displays.

Hybrid buses and free rides on some routes will also remain features of our Nicollet Mall service. 

And while the remake of “Minnesota’s Main Street” is significant, transit improvements are being made throughout the downtown area. 

We’ve added to our downtown shelter network and spruced up our light rail stations. We’re putting the finishing touches on track and system improvements that will improve light rail operations downtown. And we’ve worked with partners like the Downtown Improvement District on creative placemaking efforts at several of our busiest stops. 

There’s more to come, too. 

Next year, construction will begin on a new transit-only access ramp that will make it easier for express and Orange Line buses to get in and out of downtown. Our next two rapid bus lines, the C Line and D Line, will also provide faster, more frequent service to and from downtown. 

These improvements come at an opportune time. 

Increasingly, downtown is not just a home to major employers but a place to live, dine, shop or take in a show. The Super Bowl and other future large events will also bring more visitors and attention to our downtown area. 

With so much going on within just a few square miles, transit is more than a nicety, it’s a necessity. 

Thank you again for sticking with us through all the recent construction. We hope our customers enjoy the new Nicollet Mall and join us in looking forward to all the other improvements that lie ahead. 

Nicollet Mall History

Nicollet Mall opened in 1968, championed and largely funded by a group of downtown business owners intent on competing with suburban shopping centers like the newly-opened Southdale Mall. It was the first of many transit malls that would eventually be built for similar reasons in large U.S. cities. 

When Nicollet Mall opened, it was served by routes 17 and 18. Several other routes later operated on the mall, including Route 10, and express buses to Richfield, Bloomington and Minnetonka. 

Nicollet Mall was also briefly home to a downtown circulator known as Quick Transit, or QT, which began in 1971. The propane-powered QT minibuses ran along Nicollet Mall until 1980. 

To reduce the number of buses traveling on the mall, express routes were moved to Marquette and Second avenues nearly 20 years ago. Today, the mall is served by routes 10, 11, 17, 18, 25 and 59. Prior to construction, there were around 12,500 average daily boardings on Nicollet Mall. 

Free rides have been available on select Nicollet Mall routes since 2010 (southbound routes 10 and 59 and northbound Route 18).

Bus Good Question Light Rail Shelters Winter Weather

Good Question: Why do shelter heaters need to be replaced so frequently ? 

Posted by Marisa Helms | Thursday, November 16, 2017 10:26:00 AM

When the cold weather hits the metro area, customers who wait at hundreds of bus shelters and rail platforms have access to on-demand heaters that allow push-button activation when the temperature drops to 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.

The heaters improve the customer's waiting experience, but they are fragile, subject to vandalism, and require constant care and replacement from maintenance staff.

Manager of Facilities Mike Maddio said every winter the 1,500 heat lamps throughout the system must be replaced again and again. This winter is no different, and Maddio estimates replacing the vandalized heaters has cost the agency tens of thousands of dollars over the past few years.

The heaters are made from one or more 12-inch glass tubes, and are targets for vandals, especially in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul, Maddio said. Since early October, he said a staff of four electricians have replaced more than 400 heat lamps and are scheduled to replace another 800 in the coming weeks.

"It's daunting," Maddio said. "We fix one heater at 7 a.m. and by 2 p.m. it's destroyed again."

Catching vandals in the act isn't always possible, but, Transit Police Lt. Troy Schmitz said police will pursue criminal charges if they're are able to obtain video of the vandalism and identify suspects.

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