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Bus Community In the News

Spanish classes help operators break through ‘invisible wall’ 

| Wednesday, June 03, 2015 1:24:00 PM

Metro Transit operators practice their Spanish at a recent class in St. Paul. During a recent trip on Route 21, operator Ken Peters encountered a customer who spoke limited English but needed help figuring out where to transfer downtown. 

Fortunately, Peters had spent the previous eight weeks studying words and phrases that would help him communicate basic information in the language he suspected she spoke – Spanish. It didn’t immediately click but, Peters said, the information he was trying to convey eventually registered. 

For Peters, the ability to help the customer get where they needed affirmed his decision to expand his Spanish skills beyond the few words he had in his vocabulary.

“I could tell she spoke some Spanish, so I thought I’d get into the wading pool,” Peters said of his recent experience. “It took a few minutes, but it was so nice to be able to communicate and break through that invisible wall.”

Peters is among a group of 18 operators from Metro Transit’s East Metro Garage who have been equipped to begin breaking through language barriers while interacting with customers. Over the last two months, the operators have met each week to review vocabulary, practice pronunciation and recite basic dialogue they could use to communicate with Spanish-speaking customers.

This is the first time formal language training has been made available to Metro Transit operators. A group of Metro Transit police officers recently-completed a similar curriculum that will help them communicate with Spanish speakers.

Among the words operators reviewed during a recent class: “línea” (line, or route), “silla de rueda” (wheelchair), “hora pico” (a slang term for rush hour) and “cochecito” (baby stroller). Operators also practiced how to describe when a bus will arrive, directions and numbers needed to identify bus routes.

“The goal is to just get a few phrases with the correct pronunciation so we can communicate for that 30 seconds and help someone on the bus,” said Teresa Schweitzer, a language instructor who helped lead the operators.

Schweitzer was impressed with the progress operators had made, but stressed they would all need to continue practicing to maintain their skills. Reflecting the fact that the class was more a beginning than an end, operators who completed the course were given study materials and pins that read “Yo aprendo el español” – “I’m learning Spanish” – at the end of the program.

Among those eager to continue learning is dispatcher and part-time operator Marjory Burns, who came into the class knowing little more than how to count to ten in Spanish. Her goal now is to become fluent.

“If anybody spoke to me in Spanish before, all I could really say is ‘si’ or ‘no’” Burns said. “It’s kind of embarrassing when someone asks you a question and you don’t know what they’re saying.”

Operator Bob Glynn hadn’t spoken Spanish since elementary school decades ago and was similarly at a loss when customers attempted to speak with him in Spanish, something he says occurs almost daily (8 percent of Metro Transit’s bus customers identify as Latino, according to the latest Customer Survey).

With his newfound language skills, Glynn is looking forward to establishing deeper connections with the Spanish-speaking customers he interacts with.

“I want them to see we care enough to know their language and that they’re someone we want to communicate with,” Glynn said. “I think that will open the door to a lot of new relationships.” 

   > Fox 9: Metro Transit drivers take volunteer Spanish lessons

   > Star Tribune: Metro Transit police are breaking through the language barrier


Lee esta historia en español...

Clases de Español Ayudan a Empleados a Romper Barreras 

Durante un reciente viaje en el bus con ruta 21, el operador Ken Peters se encontró con una cliente que hablaba muy poco Inglés la cual necesitaba ayuda para saber dónde, como, cuando y a que bus debe transferirse para llegar al centro de la ciudad. 

Afortunadamente, Peters había estado ocho semanas  estudiando las palabras y frases que le ayudarían a comunicar información básica en el idioma que sospechaba que ella hablaba (español). No fue de inmediato, pero, Peters dijo que si fue posible explicarle a la señora como transferirse al siguiente bus y llegar a su destino final.  

 La capacidad de ayudar al cliente, le dió la motivación para decidir ampliar sus conocimientos en este idioma y aprender mucho más acerca de esta nueva lengua. Pude notar que la señora hablaba español, asi que intenté hablarle en español,” dijo Peters acerca de su reciente experiencia. “La conversación solo tomo unos minutos pero se sintió muy bien poder comunicarse en otro idioma y poder ayudar.”  

Peters se encuentra entre un grupo de 18 operadores de East Metro Garage de Metro Transit que han sido preparados para empezar a aprender el idioma, y romper las barreras mientras ayudan a los clientes que hablan esta lengua. En los últimos dos meses, los operadores se han reunido cada semana para revisar el vocabulario, practicar la pronunciación y recitar el diálogo básico que podrían usar para comunicarse con los clientes de habla hispana. 

En una clase reciente, los conductores de autobus practicaron ciertas palabras tales como: "línea" (o ruta), "silla de rueda", "hora pico y "cochecito. Los operadores también practicaron cómo describir cuando un autobús llegará a su destino, direcciones y números necesarios para identificar las rutas de los buses. 

El objetivo es obtener sólo unas pocas frases con la pronunciación correcta para poderse comunicar y ayudar a alguien en el autobús", dijo Teresa Schweitzer, una maestra de idiomas, que ayudó a los operadores. 

Schweitzer estaba impresionada con el progreso que los operadores habían hecho, pero hizo hincapié en todo lo que tendrían que seguir practicando para mantener sus habilidades. A los operadores que completaron el curso se les dió materiales y pasadores que decían "Yo aprendo el español" al final del programa. 

Entre los conductores con ganas de seguir aprendiendo, hay operadores como Marjory Burns, quien ya sabía los números del uno al diez en español pero ahora su objetivo es llegar a hablar espol con fluidéz. 

"Si alguien me hablaba en español antes, todo lo que podía decir era 'si' o 'no'", dijo Burns. "Es un poco vergonzoso cuando alguien te hace una pregunta y no sabes lo que te están diciendo." 

El contuctor Bob Glynn no había hablado español desde hace décadas (desde que estaba en la escuela primaria). Se dió cuenta que había perdido u olvidado sus conocimientos acerca de este idioma cuando algunos clientes trataron de hablar con él en español y el no podía responder. Glynn dijo que esto se produce a diario, debido a que ocho por ciento de los usuarios de autobuses de Metro Transit se identifican como latinos, según la última encuesta al cliente. 

Con sus reciéntes descubrimientos de habilidades lingüísticas, Glynn está a la espera de establecer conexiones más profundas e interactuar más con los clientes de habla hispana. 

"Quiero que vean que nos importa mucho saber su lengua y que son personas con las cuales queremos comunicarnos", dijo Glynn. "Creo que va a abrir la puerta a una gran cantidad de nuevas relaciones." 

Safety Transit Police

Academy tests, transforms aspiring Transit Police 

| Tuesday, May 26, 2015 12:00:00 AM

Metro Transit Police officers doing classroom work during the 2015 Spring Academy.When Metro Transit Police Chief John Harrington addressed a group of new officers at the department’s latest swearing-in ceremony, he told them a "transformation" had taken place.

"When you came to my office as job seekers you seemed a little nervous, a little less sure," he said. "But you have stood tall and you have passed every test that we have thrown at you."

As the department’s newest full-time officers can attest, there were plenty of trials, too.

Before receiving their badges in front of family, friends and colleagues, the officers had successfully completed several weeks of training as part of the department’s customized academy program.  

The department’s academy comes in addition to higher education and state training that all aspiring officers must complete to become a licensed peace officer in Minnesota. The goal is to ground officers in the department’s expectations and help prepare them for the unique challenges they will face working in transit.

Transit Police work in communities around the metro region, patrolling on board buses and trains, in squad cars, on foot and on bike. Transit Police are available to respond to any and all calls in the department's service area.  

To prepare them for their full-time roles, the department's academy includes courses on firearms, combatives and emergency vehicle operations. Officers also spend time learning about community outreach and cultural awareness. 

"We try to give everybody a skill set and ground them in what we believe is right," said Lt. Jason Lindner, who oversees the department’s academy program. "We provide them a good solid base and give them different tools they can build on from there."

Among the dozen officers who completed the department’s spring academy was Michael Affeldt. Though he had already spent more than a year as a Community Service Officer, Affeldt said he felt much more prepared to begin his full-time role after going through the academy.

"I’m feeling very confident in my abilities," he said. "I think that’s one of the best things about the academy – it not only builds your skills it builds your confidence."

The department’s next academy is tentatively scheduled to begin in mid-September. To learn more opportunities at the Metro Transit Police Department visit metrotransit.org/police.

    > Star Tribune: Metro Transit police welcome new, diverse class

Bus Community Safety Shelters

On West Broadway, shelters get a steward 

| Friday, May 15, 2015 8:38:00 AM

There are a few more watchful eyes making sure transit shelters along West Broadway Avenue are staying clean and safe.

The West Broadway Improvement District has adopted more than a half-dozen shelters along the North Minneapolis corridor, which stretches about two miles from the Mississippi River to Sheridan Avenue.

Clean-up crews hired to help maintain the special service district pick up litter at and between the shelters three times a week, supplementing maintenance performed by Metro Transit’s Public Facilities staff. If there are issues like broken glass or graffiti, crew members are encouraged to inform Metro Transit.

Crew members come from Better Futures Enterprises, which provides employment opportunities for adults who have faced challenges in their lives.

To recognize the Improvement District’s commitment, the group’s name and logo is featured on the adopted shelters.  

Board member Tara Watson, who owns two West Broadway businesses, said the adoptions are part of a broader mission to make the corridor a vibrant destination.

“In order to make change you’ve got to have your hands in certain things, and this is one of those things,” she said. 

After receiving approval from the city last year, the West Broadway Improvement District began providing services in January. In addition to cleaning the right-of-way, the district will support a branding effort through banners, holiday lighting and decorations. The district’s initiatives are supported through a special assessment on property owners. (Property owners voted overwhelmingly in favor of the assessments.)

More than 60 shelters have now been adopted through Metro Transit’s Adopt-A-Shelter program. The adoption of several sites is unique.

Businesses, individuals or groups that adopt shelters alert Metro Transit to special maintenance needs, report vandalism or other repair needs. Some adopters go beyond this commitment by performing light maintenance like litter removal.

Bill Hultberg, who manages the Adopt-A-Shelter program for Metro Transit, said assistance from adopters is critical to maintaining Metro Transit’s network of more than 800 shelters.

“Having those extra eyes and ears available to tell us where we’re needed is extremely helpful,” he said. “With the help of our adopters, we can quickly identify and address issues and ensure our shelters are safe, secure and clean.”

Bobby Hardimon is one of several crew members who works for Better Futures Enterprises. A 30-year resident of North Minneapolis, he said the clean-up efforts have already made a noticeable impact.

When he started going out a few months ago, it wasn’t unusual for him to come away with several bags of trash. The load gets lighter every week, Hardimon said.

“People are starting to get more conscious about it,” he said during a recent trip up the corridor.”I’m even starting to see people do it on their own.”

The shelter adoptions come amid the West Broadway Transit Study, which will identify future improvements on the corridor. Residents can learn more about the study at an open house at 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 21, at the North Community YMCA.

Photo: Bobby Hardimon, of Better Futures Enterprises, picks up litter near a shelter at Broadway and Sheridan avenues. Hardimon is one of several crew members who work on behalf of the West Broadway Improvement District to help keep the corridor clean.

Bus Bus Maintenance Community

Introducing aspiring mechanics to a career in transit 

| Tuesday, May 12, 2015 12:00:00 AM

When Tony Harmon was in high school, he knew he wanted a career that involved computers. But after graduation, he found himself working at an auto repair shop where his days were largely spent performing oil changes.                                 

After 18 months, Harmon realized he needed to make a change if he was going to spend his days working with technology.                         

So, in 2014, Harmon came to Metro Transit, enrolled in Hennepin Technical College’s Medium/Heavy Truck Technology program and spent the next two years working while pursuing an Associate’s Degree.

Harmon now regularly uses computer-based diagnostics to troubleshoot and repair steering and suspension systems on Metro Transit’s buses. With the prospect of advancement and a stream of new challenges, he hopes to continue working at Metro Transit for the rest of his career.                         

“Once I got in here and saw what the mechanics were doing, I was completely sold,” Harmon said.

During a recent visit to Osseo High School, Harmon and other Mechanic-Technicians shared their experiences with about 30 seniors and juniors in the school’s introductory and advanced auto technology classes facing a similar crossroads in their young lives.

The students also heard from a representative of the union that represents transit employees, ATU Local 1005, about the job’s benefits – a starting salary of more than $24 an hour, medical coverage and a pension – and got a closer look at what working at Metro Transit might be like.

Panels and seats were removed on a bus so students could see the inner-workings and a series of exercises were set up to provide hands-on experiences that mimic work done by Mechanic-Technicians. (In the most popular test, students were timed using an impact drill to secure a ring with lug nuts.)

Similar events will be held at a handful of area schools this month as part of a first-of-its-kind effort to generate interest in transit, a field that isn’t always top of mind for young people considering a career in vehicle maintenance. The focus is on students who are participating in the Automotive Youth Educational System, which includes courses in basic automotive and diesel technology. 

For high schoolers approaching graduation, the events also offer an opportunity hear about a new training program that combines customized college readiness coursework, a Metro Transit internship and a scholarship to Saint Paul College, where they can earn an AAS degree.

The hope is to put promising students on a path toward a full-time job at Metro Transit, filling the agency’s growing need for mechanics while giving young people a head start on their careers. Metro Transit employs more than 250 mechanics and more than a third of them are above the age of 55.

“Across the industry, skilled mechanics are in short supply,” said Rob Milleson, Metro Transit’s Director of Bus Maintenance. “With a large number of our mechanics approaching retirement, it’s critical that we introduce a new generation to transit.”

Matt Beukema, who teaches auto technology classes at Osseo, said the exposure provided during the recent visit is invaluable to students deciding their next move. Students in his classes work on donated used vehicles and visit dealerships, so the chance to view a bus up close is unique eye-opening, he said.

“For these students to be able to see this is huge,” said Beukema, whose background is in auto repair and over the road truck driving. “A lot of them just don’t know what’s out there, and this isn’t necessarily what comes to mind.”

Among those who came away with a new appreciation for buses was Osseo senior Dontae Frazier, who grew up riding the bus but without realizing all of the components involved in making it run.

“I found out there is a lot of electrical work, which is actually something I want to get better at,” Frazier said.

Though he’s still not exactly sure what his future holds, Frazier said he is open to learning more about transit, particularly since it would give him more room to work.

“I didn’t think I was going to like it, but this was a great opportunity to learn about what you could be able to do,” he said. “Plus, I’m a big dude. I need space, and this has that.”

Metro Transit is hiring Mechanic-Technicians. Applicants should have graduated a two-year vocational program in diesel mechanics or related field or have a high school diploma/GED and two years of full-time vehicle diagnostic/repair experience. Learn more and apply here. To learn more about the training-internship program with Saint Paul College contact Aaron Koski at aaron.koski@metrotransit.org

Bus Bus Rapid Transit Good Question

Good Question: How are the back doors on buses controlled? 

| Wednesday, May 06, 2015 12:00:00 AM

In most cases, Metro Transit encourages bus passengers to exit through the rear door so boarding customers can get on quickly. But customers who use the rear exit often wonder why the doors don’t always immediately open.

For safety reasons, the rear doors are locked when a bus is in motion. Keeping the doors locked also prevents them from being unnecessarily opened at bus stops where no one is exiting, which helps control the interior temperature on the bus. (Doors on light-rail trains are kept shut until a customer presses the open button for the same reason.)

At bus stops, operators are instructed to open the front door and to unlock the rear exits. 

When unlocked, customers using the back exit can open the doors by placing their hands on or near the "touch here" stickers. On newer buses, the doors will automatically open when motion is detected -- the doors do not need to be physically pushed. Older buses use an air-pressure system that is engaged when a customer presses on the door handles.

If the rear door does not open right away, customers are encouraged to say “back door” loud enough for the operator to hear. This can happen because it is sometimes difficult for operators to see customers who want to exit on a full bus.   

On the METRO Red Line and in the future on the METRO Orange Line customers can board and exit at either the front or the back of the bus. Customers can use either door on these Bus Rapid Transit routes because the buses have fare card readers in both locations.

Note: Certain express routes are designated as Pay Exit. On Pay Exit routes, customers board but do not pay until they exit at the end of the route. To pay their fares, customers on these routes exit out the front door. 

    > Good Question: Why go out the back?

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