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On Off The Clock

On/Off the Clock with Billy Le 

Posted by John Komarek | Thursday, August 08, 2019 9:00:00 AM

Name: Billy Le
Lives: Richfield
Job: Schedule Technician
Years of service: 5

How did you come to work at Metro Transit and what do you do?
After earning a degree in civil engineering, I entered the job market during the Great Recession in 2009. I eventually found myself working for the Downtown Improvement District (DID) as a dispatcher and a trainer and as a part-time weekend bus operator for Metro Transit. Even though I got a degree in civil engineering, as a lifelong transit rider, I always felt like transit was calling me, even taking a course in transit planning.

So, I decided to pursue one job at Metro Transit. After being promoted to a full-time bus operator for about five years, I grew into a new position that supports bus operators: schedule technician.

A schedule technician takes data about trips and organizes them into blocks that then become the new bus schedules that appear every quarter.

As a former bus operator, I’ve been on the receiving end of scheduling and understand the frustrations operators can sometimes have. As a schedule technician, I work to lessen those instances with good schedules for the routes I work on. Specifically, I help schedule work out of Martin J. Ruter (MJR) garage.

Where are you from originally? Tell us a little bit about your background.
I live in the city where I grew up in riding transit: Richfield. My wife doesn’t drive, so we made sure to buy a house near transit offerings like the 5, 18, and the 515. As a kid in Richfield, my mom didn’t drive either, so I would take the bus everywhere around the city. My routes were the 4, 6, and the old 15. I continued my bus riding throughout college until I got behind the wheel myself. I enjoyed my part-time weekend work, and even more so my full-time extra board work, which puts you on-call for open work on any route, which gave you something different every day.

What is your favorite part about working for Metro Transit?
My coworkers and managers. Whether it’s in a garage or in the office, there’s always someone there who can help answer any questions. I’m still new to the scheduling team, just under two months in, but there’s people with decades of experience who are more than happy to help whenever I come across a problem. And, the little kid in me that loved to ride the bus is still grinning that I found a job in transit.

What are your favorite activities when you’re not working or “Off the Clock”?
My childhood hobby has become an adult obsession: Legos. Once I got this new position, I treated myself to a new Lego set to help decorate my new office. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, so most of my collection are Star Wars ships. I just finished a Y-Wing, which now proudly sits in my office next to a Tie Interceptor. It took a while to complete this 2,000-piece set, but believe it or not, I’ve done more, like a Star Destroyer, which has more than 3,100 pieces and is four feet long.

And my passion is rubbing off on my eldest daughter, Mara. She just turned seven and wants Lego sets for birthdays and Christmas. I am more than happy to shop for those! And, it’s great daddy-daughter time when we can work on a project together, like her recent set: a coin operated kiddie ride that looks like a rocket ship.


Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Minneapolis St. Paul

Technician training program creates careers, pride 

Posted by Laura Baenen | Monday, August 05, 2019 11:59:00 AM

Six LRT train technicians receive certificates of completion in a ceremony Aug. 2, 2019, at Hennepin Technical College where they earned associate degrees. From the left in the front row, they are: Thao Xiong, Calvin Hill, Chapman Templer, Chee Vang, Tenzin Kunga and Toua Yang.

Chapman TemplerToua Yang and Chee Vang might still be working at lower-paying jobs without advancement opportunities had they not enrolled three years ago in a paid on-the-job training program to become light rail train technicians.

They were among six people who received associate degrees this summer from Hennepin Technical College and are applying for Metro Transit electro-mechanical technician jobs with starting pay of about $27 an hour.

They will be in demand. Metro Transit has 16 open electro-mechanical technician positions and expects about 10% of its technicians of all kinds to retire next year.

About two dozen more technicians are also needed to support the METRO Green Line Extension, opening in 2023. Twenty-seven new light rail vehicles will be added to the fleet when the extension to Eden Prairie opens.

“The equipment comes in and we have to get the technicians in place to get it ready to operate,” said Gary Courtney, Metro Transit’s supervisor of workforce development.

To prepare the recent graduates, Metro Transit teamed up with Hennepin Technical College and Twin Cities R!SE, a nonprofit, on what’s known as the Metro Transit Technician Training program.

Twin Cities R!SE provided employment readiness training and Hennepin Tech created a first-of-its-kind associate degrees in light rail train technology. Courses focused on automation robotics, electronics and fluid power.

While in school, participants worked as full-time interns at Metro Transit, learning from mentors and earning $20 an hour. Metro Transit also helped pay for their first year of tuition, books and supplies.

“If the program had never started, I’d still be in school wondering what I was going to do,” said Yang, who previously worked at a tire shop.

Vang also used to work in a tire shop doing less skilled work. Now, he’s looking forward to having a steady income and benefits like health care and a retirement savings account.

“You’re getting higher pay. You’re not stressed about being able to pay the bills or being able to buy food,’’ Vang said.

Templer, who previously worked as a cook and bicycle mechanic, said he’s also gained a sense of pride from learning a new trade.  

“There's a lot of pride to be had when I step back and look at how far I’ve come,” he said. “I’ll use a crane to lift a 700-pound motor truck, move it across the shop, set it down, release the brakes, roll it off, set it up onto the stands and start removing the brake calipers.”

The other three graduates are: Calvin Hill, Tenzin Kunga and Thao Xiong.

The nationally recognized Metro Transit Technician Training program began in 2015 with a focus on Bus Maintenance.

Several participants have gone on to become full-time mechanic technicians at Metro Transit; others are still pursuing their degrees and serving as full-time interns.

Fox 9: First class graduates from specialized program filling need for light rail technicians

CCX: Hennepin Tech graduates first light rail technicians

Finance & Commerce: Training ramps up for light rail technicians

Sun Post: Hennepin Tech offers first light rail technician degree

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Angela Wilson 

Posted by John Komarek | Monday, July 29, 2019 1:44:00 PM

Angela Wilson moved from Chicago to Minnesota in search of opportunity. She found it at Metro Transit.

“I didn’t know I was going to end up here this long!” Wilson said. “It allowed me to grow with the agency.”

As an operator, Wilson spent 17 years on Route 5, Metro Transit’s busiest route. She’s also spent time on routes 4 and 515.

Recently, she was among a select group of bus operators recognized for going 20 or 25 straight years without a responsible collision. To celebrate the achievement, an interior card with Wilson’s photo will appear on buses for the next year.

While she’s an accomplished operator, Wilson now primarily serves as a dispatcher, assigning operators to trips that originate at Bloomington’s South Garage.

At first, Wilson said she was worried about moving from behind the wheel to spending most of her day at a computer.

As an operator, she enjoyed befriending customers like Ms. Kathy, a 78-year-old woman who boarded at the corner of north Fremont and 33rd avenues at 7:33 a.m. every day

“She’d hug me every time she got on and off the bus and always gave me a card on my birthday,” Wilson said. “So, for her birthday, I got her balloons!”

While she doesn’t interact with customers as much as she used to, Wilson’s friendly demeanor is just as present in her new role as a dispatcher.

“I’m a talker and I like meeting different people,” she said. “Just like on the bus, I greet everyone who comes in. Those relationships help me find drivers to fill trips.”

Before becoming a bus operator, Wilson supported her three children by working at fast food restaurants and big box stores.

The father of her two daughters passed unexpectedly in his forties and her mother’s declining health required more of her attention. Instead of holding multiple jobs, her cousin urged her to apply at Metro Transit. 

“I started part-time and still worked fast food,” Wilson recalled. “When I figured out I only needed this job, I gave my notice.”

As the years roll on, she’s starting to think about retirement and is thankful she was able to build a career at Metro Transit. “This job has put me where I want to be financially,” she said.

Operator at a Glance

Hired: November 1998
Garage: South
Routes: 4, 5 and 515
Hobbies: Spending all my time with my family
Family: 3 daughters, 7 grandchildren, and my mom
Lives: Crystal
Best advice: "Just treat people as you want to be treated."

Celebrating Metro Transit's safe operators

Be on the lookout for these interior cards (the advertisements inside the bus) featuring several of Metro Transit's consecutive year safe operators! These bus operators were recognized at Metro Transit’s 2019 operator awards.

Clockwise from top left: Kent Knutson, South; Carrie Boekhoff, Nicollet; Marshall Freeman, East Metro; John DeCarlo, South.

On Off The Clock

On/Off the Clock with Mark Koran 

Posted by John Komarek | Friday, July 26, 2019 3:18:00 PM

On the Clock/Off the Clock features provide an introduction to the people who spend their days working at Metro Transit and their free time involved in a variety of interesting hobbies. Read more On the Clock/Off the Clock features here

Lives: St. Paul

Job: Mechanic Technician, East Metro

Years of Service: 2

How did you come to work at Metro Transit and what do you do?

The timing of a different job and my prior transit experience aligned perfectly. I’d always ridden the bus as a child and young adult, and it seemed fitting to be able to use my knowledge to keep the fleet running.

Where are you from originally? Tell us a little bit about your background.

I was born and raised in St. Paul between Frogtown and the Midway area. I split my time in the industry between automotive (Toyota, Subaru) and transit.

What is your favorite part about working for Metro Transit?

I enjoy my general work classification because it allows me to do something different every day. I also enjoy going out on road calls and helping rescue stuck buses in the winter months.

What are your favorite activities when you’re not working or “Off the Clock”?

I’m an angler and certified “river rat,” targeting sturgeon and catfish practically year-round. I enjoy cooking, mainly slow smoking barbecue. And I recently became a probationary firefighter for our town’s volunteer fire department. I completed my first responder training and will be trained in-house before enrolling in firefighter school this fall.

My children Evelyn, 6, and Dean, 2, are my pride and joy. I have an amazing wife, Theresa, whom I’ve been married to for six years. 

METRO Orange Line Minneapolis

Orange Line at the center of an exciting new chapter for I-35W 

Posted by John Komarek | Tuesday, July 23, 2019 11:18:00 AM

Gov. Tim Walz addresses the media and a crowd at the METRO Orange Line groundbreaking ceremony at the Knox Avenue Park & Ride.

From General Manager Wes Kooistra

Sixty years ago next month, Twin Cities motorists celebrated the opening of the region's first freeway – a roughly 8-mile stretch of Interstate 35W from south Minneapolis to the Minnesota River. 

The section of I-35W that extends from downtown Minneapolis through the south metro is among the busiest roadways in Minnesota. As downtown Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington and Burnsville continue to grow, it's only going to get busier, too. 

Which is why, more than a half-century after I-35W opened, we're eager to make transit the most attractive transportation option for commuters and all those who travel along this corridor. 

And that's exactly what we're doing. On Wednesday, July 17, local, state and federal partners gathered to celebrate the execution of a federal grant that will go toward the METRO Orange Line, a 17-mile Bus Rapid Transit line on I-35W. 

Like other BRT services the Orange Line will operate every 10 to 15 minutes and serve high-quality stations at key locations, including I-35W and 46th Street and Burnsville's Heart of the City. 

Several features of the Orange Line have already been completed or are being built, including a new station in the center of I-35W at Lake Street. A new transitway under I-494 will be under construction beginning this summer and work on new stations will be underway next year. 

We expect the Orange Line to open in late 2021, as the state wraps up road repairs and bridge work along I-35W. 

When open, the Orange Line will help people reach hundreds of thousands of jobs downtown – many outside the downtown core – at all times of the day. Residential and commercial development is already occurring at future station areas where plans to support walking, biking and transit are also taking shape. 

Customers will find Orange Line service to be significantly more convenient and reliable, too. 

A bus-only ramp to southbound I-35W, new southbound MnPASS lanes and the I-494 transitway will provide significant transit advantages. Like the C Line, the Orange Line will also feature more spacious 60-foot buses that allow all-door boarding and off-board fare payments. 

While the Orange Line will be the centerpiece of our I-35W service, all those who use transit in this corridor should be excited about what's ahead.

A new bus-only ramp from 12th Street to I-35W will allow hundred of buses to avoid congestion exiting downtown each weekday. This fall, we'll seek input on improvements to dozens of local routes that will connect with the Orange Line.  

The milestone we celebrated last week wouldn't have been possible without the dedication of many employees throughout the organization, community support or the backing of our local, state and federal partners. 

Thank you to all those who brought us to this point and all those who will continue to devote themselves to this critically important project. Together, we are writing a new and exciting chapter in the history of I-35W.

METRO Orange Line Groundbreaking and Funding Ceremony

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