(Left to right) Bus Trainees Linda Wilke, Erica Young, Steve Gartner and Patricia Young join Instructor Ken Johnson for a chance to drive a bus on a closed course.
Before they can pick up any customers, new hires on their path to becoming bus operators must get behind the wheel and show they’re capable of handling what may be the largest vehicle they’ve ever driven.
For prospective operators who have never driven a bus before, passing the required road test and earning a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) can be a significant hurdle, potentially disrupting an otherwise promising career just weeks after it began.
To help address that barrier, Metro Transit is now providing unfamiliar, prospective operators the chance to spend several hours driving a bus on a closed course before taking their road test.
The hope is that this experience will help participants earn their CDLs and continue in their training.
“This is just to give you a feel of the bus and to get the jitters out,” Relief Instructor Ken Johnson told a group of new hires who gathered last week at a Metropolitan Council facility, where a parking lot became a temporary, asphalt classroom.
The group that assembled last week was the first to get some practice in before taking their road test. None of the participants had driven a bus before or had yet obtained a Commercial Driver's License (CDL).
Among those who participated in the new five-day program was Linda Wilke, who found herself needing to compensate for a bit of a lead foot. “It’s not like driving a car at all,” Wilke said. “The brakes and the gas pedal on a bus are far more responsive.”
Patricia Morgan was surprised to find the turn signals by her feet, and to learn that moving from forward to reverse meant pushing a button. “Now when I get into my car I start looking for the right buttons to push on my dashboard to put it in drive,” she said.
Another big takeaway, participants said, is how strongly safety is emphasized.
“Drivers out on the road take lots of tight, fast turns,” Steve Gartner said. “With a bus, that back wheel is a lot farther back so you learn to take a wider turn, which is much safer.”
Instructor Johnson talks through an alley back-in with trainee Young. This is one of the more difficult maneuvers in the CDL test.
Providing more hands-on experience is part of a larger effort to make the path to becoming a bus operator at little less daunting.
Job seekers can get help completing their applications and studying for their Commercial Driver’s License Permit, a prerequisite to getting a CDL. New hires are also being matched with experienced operators through a mentorship program.
Erica Young is among those benefiting from the extra support.
Young tried to get her CDL on her own but came up short. But after taking a CDL study course provided by Metro Transit, she earned her CDL permit and found herself among those taking the wheel of a bus for the first time last week.
While there’s a long road ahead, her confidence showed as she put the bus into reverse, correcting course to avoid hitting a cone. Backing up is one of the more difficult maneuvers in the CDL test.
“You did well,” Johnson, the instructor, told Young. “You were able to see and adjust.”
Johnson debriefs Young with a thumbs-up after the alley back-in.
Attend an upcoming application event to learn more about becoming a bus operator with Metro Transit. Learn more at metrotransit.org/drive