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Light Rail METRO Blue Line METRO Green Line Safety

Wig-Wag lights heighten LRT visibility 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Monday, April 25, 2016 2:17:00 PM

Sitting on shop carts in a basement workshop at the Hiawatha Operations and Maintenance Facility are dozens of metal and plastic modules, each outfitted with a set of relays, sequencing devices and a tight bundle of red, blue, white and yellow wires. 

They represent a lot of work — and a lot more to come.

That’s because the forearm-sized modules are the custom-crafted, hand-made electronics behind the newest safety feature on Metro Transit’s light-rail vehicles: wig-wag headlights. Common on freight trains, wig-wag headlights alternately flash to help those outside the train detect motion and take notice of the approaching vehicle. 

Although not a requirement on light-rail, they are being installed across the fleet as yet another way to alert pedestrians, cyclists and motorists of an oncoming train.

The wig-wag headlights will automatically go on anytime a light-rail operator activates a train’s warning bells and horns. The audible warnings are activated whenever a train pulls into or out of a station, or crosses a street or pedestrian crossing on the METRO Blue and Green lines.

“The operator is going to continue doing what they’ve always done, but this is going to give that higher degree of visibility to everybody outside the train,” said Brian Funk, who served as Director of Light Rail before recently moving to Bus Transportation. 

With 86 light-rail vehicles, and headlights on each end, electronic technicians have been tasked with building hundreds of modules and harnesses — the wiring that ties them into the power supply.

The modules were designed and assembled by Electronic Repair Technicians Scott McDowell and Bruce Von Drashek — meticulous work that took several months. “These little fingers have been going for quite a while,” Von Drashek said. 

Building the hardware is just step one. Because the wig-wag lights are a modification from the original design, Electro Mechanic-Technicians Doug Robinson and Brooks Letourneau were tasked with coming up with a way to fit them into both the newer Siemens and older Bombardier trains.

“Our role was to modify the assembly to accept the new lights, concentrating on universality and making sure we used as few parts as we needed,” Robinson said. “Making it as efficient as possible was a lot of fun.”

Wig-wag headlights have been installed on two trains and the entire fleet will eventually be outfitted.

In addition to providing greater visibility, the project will improve reliability. LED lights last up to seven years, compared to about a year for the existing headlights. Using LEDs also eliminates the need for a DC to DC converter, which can fail and cause trains to be pulled from service.

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. 

Community Safety Transit Police

Mitchell named MTPD Officer of the Year 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Tuesday, April 05, 2016 10:58:00 AM

Chief John Harrington has talked a lot about community policing since taking the helm at the Metro Transit Police Department.

Officer Leonard Mitchell has taken it to heart. And for that, he was recognized as Metro Transit’s 2015 Officer of the Year. The award was presented at the department’s annual awards ceremony on March 31.

“From the day I was sworn in, the Chief has preached about community policing and that’s what I’ve tried to live up to,” Mitchell said after the ceremony. “Treat people with respect – that’s all I do and it’s working for me.”

Mitchell joined the Metro Transit Police Department in July 2013. He’s worked along the METRO Green Line corridor, in downtown St. Paul and was one of the first officers to work a new beat on St. Paul’s East Side. Mitchell is now a patrol officer in Minneapolis.

Harrington said several community leaders had contacted him about Mitchell’s efforts, describing him as one of the most visible and respected officers they’d encountered in recent years.

“This is exactly the kind of cop we want – someone who is committed to service and protection,” Harrington said.   

A graduate of Hibbing Community College, Mitchell is a member of the National Black Police Association and served on Metro Transit’s committee on the President’s Report on 21st Century Policing (the report provides recommendations for how law enforcement can better engage with the community). He is also active in the development of a new program that will pair teenagers with Metro Transit officers.

Mitchell was one of several officers recognized at the annual awards.

    > Officer Santiago Rodriguez received the Timothy Bowe Memorial Award, presented annually to a part-time officer who displays exceptional professionalism and dedication. Rodriguez is a 14-year veteran of the St. Paul Police Department and has worked with Metro Transit since 2013.

    > Officer James Menter received a Life Saving Award for assisting paramedics responding to a male who suffered cardiac arrest on a light-rail vehicle in St. Paul.

    > Beverly Cayetano, Linda Meyer, Diana White, Dana Jabs and Elaine Warren were recognized for organizing the department’s criminal database. By standardizing the department’s record-keeping system and entering 7,000 backlogged cases, the department complies with FBI standards and can more easily track the type and frequency of crimes.

In addition to these awards, 16 certificates of appreciation 11 medals of commendation and 33 medals of merit were presented.

Officers received these honors for a variety of actions, including safely apprehending suspects with weapons, identifying and arresting a suspect involved in an operator assault and protecting a woman at risk of being trampled in downtown Minneapolis. Praise was also given to an officer who saw a child with a broken bike and purchased him a new one using his own money.

Officers who conducted the most fare checks, spent the most time on-board buses and trains and made the highest-number of arrests were also honored at the event.

“What these awards represent is not just the work of individual officers, but an entire organization that goes out every day and does really, truly outstanding work,” Harrington said.

Bus Bus Maintenance Retro Transit

Jan Homan: 40 years of service and a legacy that will last a lifetime 

Posted by Drew Kerr | Wednesday, March 23, 2016 9:52:00 AM

The first night Jan Homan reported for work – Christmas Eve 1975 – he was asked to do nothing more than keep an eye on the new Shingle Creek bus garage.

A warehouse that would eventually be home to buses, mechanics and operators was for the moment an empty building on a dead-end street.

Left alone on second-shift, Homan took his responsibilities seriously, locking every door in the building and preventing his replacement from entering the building.

“There really wasn’t much to do but he wanted to do it right,” said Bill Porter, who gave Homan that initial assignment and spent several years as his supervisor and colleague. “And that’s been Jan his whole life.”

That first evening might have been the only quiet moment of Homan's 40-year career.    

In the decades since the lanky 20-year-old pulled into the Shingle Creek lot driving a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, Homan continued to take on new challenges and built a reputation for being an engaged, thoughtful leader who was eager to break new ground both individually and as an organization. 

Upon retirement, Homan is also being remembered as a caring leader who set high standards, but also supported people in pursuit of those lofty goals. The result: a dramatic transformation of Metro Transit's bus fleet, and a legacy that will last a lifetime.

###

Long before he was tapped to lead Metro Transit’s bus maintenance and transportation divisions, Homan’s career began the same way it did for many in Bus Maintenance – as a Cleaner sweeping buses for $4.28 an hour.

As a trained mechanic who replaced his first engine at just 15-years-old, it wasn’t the kind of work he was looking for. But what co-workers at the Sears Ridgedale auto shop saw as a step backwards, Homan saw as an opportunity. And in less than a year he was back to being a full-fledged mechanic, working out of the old Northside Garage in Minneapolis.

Homan’s aspirations didn’t end there, either.

In 1979, Homan put his name in to lead maintenance efforts on Metro Transit’s fledgling non-revenue fleet. The job was given to someone else, but his initiative was rewarded with an opportunity to become a foreman at Nicollet Garage. The decision to say yes, he said, “changed his life.”

Homan’s younger brother, Matt, remembers Homan being a manager from a young age – even doling out tasks as they worked together on vehicles at home. But his first experience as a supervisor still had a defined learning curve.

New in his role, Homan asked a group of fuelers to stop playing pool. The team returned to work but buses were soon mysteriously backed up for a full city block. The lesson, Homan said, was to “find out what’s worth taking on and what’s not worth taking on.”

And while he might have learned to be selective, he still found plenty to take on. “Ever since then, I was totally engaged and my days just flew by,” he said.

###

Homan’s arrival at Metro Transit coincided with another fateful point in the organization’s history: the purchase of more than 300 AM General buses. Built by a former defense contractor entering the transit industry for the first time, the buses quickly proved problematic.

“Basically, the whole fleet was going down,” Homan remembers. “And as our buses were breaking down left and right, Bus Maintenance really became the stepchild of the agency.”

Homan wanted to be a part of the solution. So he continued looking for other new leadership opportunities where he could effect change.

The ambition led him to a role overseeing a group of high-seniority mechanics at Overhaul Base, and later to a job as the Maintenance Manager at Heywood Garage – the largest and most challenging of Metro Transit’s five garages.

Homan remembers being intimidated by his growing responsibilities, but embracing them as opportunities to see how much he was capable of. “You do something for a while, make your contributions, and then it’s nice to do something new – to stretch yourself and contribute in another area,” he said.

And contribute he did.

At Heywood, Homan introduced new concepts that allowed mechanics to specialize in specific areas and to work more stable schedules. He also helped re-define the inspection process, moving from crisis repairs toward an emphasis on preventative maintenance.

Just as Homan was getting comfortable, there was a twist: needing to fill a leadership role in Service Development, Homan was tapped to temporarily lead Metro Transit’s Scheduling Department.

He spent the next nine months absorbing information on a subject he admittedly knew little about. And as he had done before, he thrived. “I knew what I could contribute, but I also knew the strengths of others and how to leverage that,” Homan said.

Challenging others to push themselves in the same ways he had would become the hallmark of Homan’s late-career.

###

Twenty-five years after Homan began his career in transit, he found himself leading the department where he got his start. And it was in this role, as Director of Bus Maintenance, that he began thinking about how he could help nurture the careers of others with similar ambitions.

To do so, he championed programs that gave front-line workers without supervisor pedigrees the opportunity to gain the kind of experience they needed to move up in the company. He also challenged mechanics to learn new skills and earn certifications and formed a partnership with his alma mater, North Hennepin Technical College.

Among those who benefited from these efforts was Bill Beck, who participated in what was known as the STEP Program. Beck is now a manager at the Overhaul Base.

“It changed my whole career path and gave me the chances that I have today,” Beck said. “I can’t say enough how much appreciate Jan’s thinking and allowing me to be a part of it.”

Regardless of where someone was at in their career, though, Jan had a knack for encouraging them to aim higher.

“He was really a master at stretching people,” said Joe Reichstadt, Assistant Director of Bus Maintenance. “There wasn’t any team member that wasn’t challenged to think outside the box or normal process and we were thankful for that.”

###

Homan’s ability to identify and encourage leaders is a defining part of his legacy. But Metro Transit’s fleet also serves as a testament to his career.

With more than 1,000 buses, Metro Transit’s fleet is among the largest in the nation. It’s also among the most reliable.

In 2015, buses traveled an average of more than 7,500 miles between service road calls – a key measure of fleet reliability. The number has more than doubled over the last decade.

And it might be even higher if Homan hadn’t insisted that all road calls be counted, whether or not Bus Maintenance could identify an issue, to better reflect the customer experience.

Thomas Humphrey, Assistant Director of Bus Maintenance, worked closely with Jan to monitor bus performance and use the data to drive decision-making.  “It was all about that core value of holding ourselves to a higher standard,” he said.

Homan also led efforts to embrace new technology. In 2002, Metro Transit became one of the first agencies in the country to incorporate hybrid-electric buses. The agency is also home to two Minnesota-made clean diesel buses that get better fuel economy through the use of all electrically-operated components and propulsion.

Hybrid buses now make up 15 percent of Metro Transit’s fleet, and the agency is exploring the potential for fully-electric buses.

The fleet is also known as being one of the cleanest in the country and for standing up to harsh Minnesota winters.

“We have one of the outstanding fleets in the country – 1,000 buses in the toughest conditions – but we still set the standard for appearance and reliability,” said Vince Pellegrin, who preceded Homan as Director of Bus Maintenance. “When I think of Jan Homan, I really think of the icon of the bus maintenance industry.”

###

In his final chapter, as Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus, Homan oversaw both the maintenance and transportation divisions. The move gave him an opportunity to shape not just bus maintenance but all aspects of bus operations, including operator training, garage management and street supervision.

While it was unknown territory, Homan immediately immersed himself in the transportation side of the business. “He took the time with us to really understand what we do and how important our operators are to the success of Metro Transit,” said Christy Bailly, Director of Bus Transportation.

In this role, Homan helped re-organize the department so leaders could focus exclusively on training, street operations and garage operations. He also helped implement a new employee performance management system that helps managers efficiently monitor operations and stay on track toward short- and long-term goals.

And he continued to be a career-builder, working to re-launch a program that gives staff the managerial experience to advance and initiating a first-of-its-kind effort to create a path to full-time employment by combining skills training, formal education and internships.

The Metro Transit Technician Program launched in late-2015 as a partnership between Bus Maintenance, the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Amalgamated Transit Union 1005. Currently, 24 young people are completing internships and earning associate degrees that will put them in a position to apply for full-time jobs at Metro Transit.

Shortly before retiring, Homan spoke with the group about his own career, telling them that “from now on, you’re going to be learning until the day you retire.”

For Homan, that day has finally arrived. And while he certainly learned a lot along the way, Homan will likely be remembered more for playing the role of teacher.

Ask Homan about the achievements he’s had over his four-decade tenure, though, and you’ll get a characteristically humble response.

“In all my years, it’s never really been about titles but about being able to contribute in a different way,” he said. “And for most part that meant putting great people in place to execute ideas – coming up with a concept and letting them make it a better reality.” 

Jan Homan retires from Metro Transit on April 1, 2016. In retirement, he plans to spend time with his family, including wife Mary, son Sam, and two daughters, and to continue improving his property in northern Minnesota.  Brian Funk, who most recently served as Director of Light Rail Operations, will serve as the next Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus. 


Reflections on Jan Homan’s career

“Jan has grown to be really one of the founding, institutional people in this organization over the last 40 years…Clearly the fingerprints of the improved operations and really the design of the 21st century bus has a lot to do with Jan Homan’s direct involvement and engagement. Beyond that it’s really the way Jan’s engaged people to be the best they possibly can. In the old school, it was more punitive, that you have to do this. Jan’s approach is much more human, which is 'We can do this together.' And I think that’s something that will live beyond Jan’s reign here at Metro Transit and is hallmark of how we want to do business here in the future.” – Brian Lamb, General Manager

“Jan has always let you know what his expectations are, but he also brings you along. He’s been a very good coach over the years…has always liked to bring people along He looks for the good in people, and really brings out the best in them. – Rob Milleson, Director-Bus Maintenance

“He has got the biggest hands I’ve ever seen – strong, rugged hands. I think people follow him because of that. He takes their hand and they are just going.” – Wanda Kirkpatrick, Director-Office of Equal Opportunity

“I consider him to be a quiet leader. If you think of Gandhi, that saying some leaders lead from in front and some lead from behind…He has taken on that responsibility and that role of leadership quite well. And he doesn’t wield it or anything. He’s just very gentle with it, but he gets his point across.” – Marilyn Porter, Director-Engineering & Facilities

“The first time he came into my office to get acquainted – and he’s a very tall gentleman – he sat down at table and he tried to make himself more my height. He stuck his legs out a little, moved to the side. And I think he did that for a purpose – to be more even with me, to speak with me at my level. I think it’s very telling. He’s very respectful and wants everyone he encounters – whether it’s a cleaner, a mechanic, a bus operator a manager, a supervisor a director – to be comfortable around him.” – Christy Bailly, Director-Bus Transportation


Jan Homan’s Career At a Glance

  • > December 1975 – Cleaner-Shingle Creek Garage (now the Martin J. Ruter Garage)
  • > November 1976 – Mechanic-old Northside Garage
  • > March 1978 – Senior Mechanic-old Snelling Garage
  • > November 1979 – Foreman-Nicollet Garage
  • > June 1985 – Foreman-Overhaul Base
  • > June 1992 – Maintenance Manager-Heywood Garage
  • > October 1998 – Manager of Maintenance Administration
  • > December 2000 – Director-Bus Maintenance
  • > March 2013 – Deputy Chief of Operations-Bus
Bus Minneapolis Route of the Week

Route 11 joining Hi-Frequency Network 

| Wednesday, March 16, 2016 11:03:00 AM

As a Northeast Minneapolis resident, Angela Washington rides Route 11 nearly every day to get to and from her work as a caretaker in south Minneapolis. 

On more than one occasion, she’s missed the bus and found herself waiting. And with service every half-hour during the day it isn’t always a short wait, either.

“If you miss the 11, you’re donezo,” Washington said during a recent northbound trip home. “It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness, call a helicopter because I have to get to work.’”

Now, though, Washington and others who ride Route 11 won’t have to wait nearly as long as they used to.

Beginning on Saturday, March 19, a portion of Route 11 will join the Hi-Frequency Network – a collection of high-ridership, urban routes with trips every 15 minutes throughout the day on weekdays and on Saturdays. There will be 30-minute service during the evenings and on Sundays.

Parts of routes 5, 6, 10, 18, 19, 21, 64, 84, 515 and all of Route 54 are also a part of the Hi-Frequency Network, along with the METRO Blue and Green lines.

The improvements on Route 11 effect only a portion of the service – between the I-35W and 46th Street Station and 29th Avenue NE and Grand Street NE. Trips that continue to the Columbia Heights Transit Center will operate every 30 minutes.

Route 11 was targeted for improved service because of residential and commercial growth in Northeast Minneapolis. It will also provide a better alternative for customers who are further from Central Avenue, where Route 10 operates, and routes 18 and 5 in south Minneapolis.

In south Minneapolis, Route 11 runs largely along Fourth Avenue South; in Northeast, the route crosses the Hennepin Avenue bridge and continues north on Second Street NE.

The majority of Route 11 customers travel to or from downtown Minneapolis, but it is also used as a crosstown service for those like Washington who travel to destinations outside the core.

“There are a lot of residents and jobs along the corridor, and offering a higher level of service makes transit more competitive with other alternatives,” Planner Kyle Burrows said. “Transit becomes a much more convenient and attractive option when service is so frequent you don’t have to consult a schedule.”

Among those looking forward to the increased service is Adam MacGregor, who uses Route 11 to get downtown for work and school throughout the week. “The benefit for me will not having to get places so early, because if I wait for the next bus a lot of times I’ll be late,” he said.

Dorothy Mulen, who has used Route 11 for the last 14 years, was even more enthusiastic. 

“Amen,” she said after missing her bus and boarding after an extended wait. “Every 15 minutes? I might just faint.”


Route 11 At a Glance

Type: Urban Local

Service: Route 11 runs between the I-35W and 46th Street Station in south Minneapolis and Northeast Minneapolis, with service on Fourth Avenue South, Hennepin Avenue, Second Street NE, Lowry Avenue NE and Grand Street NE. As part of the Hi-Frequency Network, trips run every 15 minutes during the day on weekdays and Saturdays and every 30 minutes on nights and on Sundays. Service is provided between 4:30 a.m. and 1:30 a.m. every day of the week. There are trips every 30 minutes to the Columbia Heights Transit Center. 

Route length: Approximately 10 miles

Stops: 88 northbound, 91 southbound

Vehicles: 40-foot standard and hybrid-electric buses

History: Both 4th Avenue South and 2nd Street NE were served by horsedrawn streetcars, and later by electric streetcars. From 1910 to 1939, 2nd Street NE also hosted the Minneapolis Anoka & Cuyuna Range streetcars that followed East River Road and Coon Rapids Boulevard to Anoka, the predecessor to Route 852. When bus service began, Route 9 operated on 4th Avenue South and Route 18 operated on 2nd Street NE. 


Other service changes taking effect on March 19

• To improve service in the northwest metro, Route 721 will improve from 60- to 30-minute service on weekends and operate an hour later on weekdays. On Route 724, 30-minute service will also start earlier on weekends.

Route 46 will be extended to Opportunity Partners in Minnetonka for select trips. This extension, combined with a connection to existing Route 18 service on Nicollet Avenue, will replace Route 568.

• Two mid-day trips will be added in each direction on Route 467, with service between downtown Minneapolis and the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride in Lakeville. This service is a preview for the METRO Orange Line (BRT on I-35W).

• For the first time since Marq2 opened in 2010, running time will be added and some bus stop assignments will be moved to better balance the number of buses in each stop group.

• On Route 3, downtown-to-downtown trips will begin earlier in the day and continue through 1:15 a.m., all days of the week. The number of weekday trips that cover only portions of the route will be reduced.

In addition to these service changes, pocket schedules for routes detoured to Hennepin Avenue will be updated to reflect actual travel times and NexTrip information will become more accurate for these routes. There will also be some minor trip time adjustments to these detoured routes. 

For a complete list of service changes, pick up Connect or visit metrotransit.org.

Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Renee Stafford 

| Friday, March 11, 2016 2:03:00 PM

Needing money to put herself through school, Renee Stafford taught swim lessons and worked as a lifeguard. But traveling between the University of Minnesota and her Mounds View home on Route 25, she was inspired to pursue a different line of work: driving a bus.

At 19-years-old, she submitted an application but was told she was too young. Within a month of her 21st birthday, after reaching the minimum age requirement, she tried again. And so began a career that has spanned nearly four decades, hundreds of thousands of miles and countless passengers. 

Stafford’s career choice still raises eyebrows among some family and friends. But no one is perhaps more astonished than Stafford that, after four decades of driving, she has become Metro Transit’s longest-tenured female operator.                                         

“I’m still pretty amazed by the fact that I get to move this 40-foot, 20-ton vehicle through heavy traffic, ice, snow or whatever,” she said. “I really get a kick out of the fact that this is what I’m doing.”

Surprising people has been a part of the job from the very beginning. When Stafford began in June 1976 she was among a handful of women driving buses. “We (women) were kind of an oddity when I started,” Stafford remembered. “Even now, people I meet away from work are shocked that I drive a city bus.”

That pressure was only compounded by the fact that Stafford had little experience in the urban environment she was now a part of. She remembers being “terrified” the first time she drove the bus alone in heavy traffic during rush hour – a Route 17A that ran from downtown Minneapolis to Uptown. 

The fear didn’t linger long, though. With each customer she met and each mile she drove, Stafford’s confidence grew. Today, she is widely recognized as a bright and cheerful presence both on the bus and with her peers at Nicollet Garage. (She also has a reputation for generosity: she and her husband have served as caretakers for three fellow bus operators stricken with cancer.)

“This job has helped me in a lot of ways, but in particular it’s taught me how to talk to people, because I was really forced to,” Stafford said. “I talk to everybody now, even if they don’t look particularly happy. I don’t want to say it’s a game, but I definitely take it as a challenge to get people to smile.”

Her eventual ease in the driver’s seat is part of the reason Stafford continued driving after graduating college. (A poor job market – combined with decisions to purchase a home and car – also provided some motivation.)

Not that her education hasn’t been useful. Stafford said she routinely applies the lessons she learned while studying to become a teacher, primarily when it comes to interacting with and helping customers.

“I have my degree and I think I use it every day, just maybe not in the way my parents thought I would,” she said.

In addition to her warm personality, Stafford prides herself on being a safe and reliable operator. She has 35 years of safe driving, which she credits largely to a commitment to the techniques taught in the Safety Keys training program.

“The Safety Keys are a big part of what I do,” Stafford said. “But I also always expect people to do the dumbest, most dangerous thing they could do.”

Her customers notice and appreciate her work. Driving Route 9 for the last six years, Stafford has become endeared to many longtime customers, including Minneapolis resident John Murphy. In a recent letter, Murphy thanked Stafford for being on time so he could catch his connecting bus and for always greeting him with a smile.

“Renee is not only an excellent bus driver, but very friendly and willing to chat,” he wrote. “I have been riding the bus for over 35 years and Renee is without a doubt the best driver I've ever had.”

As a Project Mobility operator, driving customers who could not use regular route bus service, Stafford became so beloved by a few of her customers that they even asked her to provide transportation on their wedding days.

The relationships Stafford has developed driving and among her fellow operators are what keeps her coming back.

“This job has allowed me to meet so many wonderful people, both passengers and co-workers,” she said. “I’m a better person for knowing them and that’s why I continue to love what I do, even after all these years.”

Name: Renee Stafford

Hired: June 1, 1976

Employee Number: 603

Garage: Nicollet

Hobbies: Renee regularly plays golf and also enjoys scuba diving, reading, gardening and traveling. She also has a small collection of holiday-themed and year-round snow globes. 

To better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these Know Your Operator profiles. If you'd like to suggest an operator for a future profile, please email ridersalmanac@metrotransit.org.

A Line BRT Bus

Techs take care of the technology behind transit 

| Tuesday, February 09, 2016 3:36:00 PM

When Ed Anstett began at Metro Transit 36 years ago he was among four people who maintained the radios that had just been added to buses, providing a lifeline for operators who before that had nothing to rely on but payphones.

Like the technology Anstett works with, the job has evolved quite a bit over the years. 

Operators still use radios to communicate mechanical or service issues they encounter on the road. But Anstett and other Electronic Repair Techs in Metro Transit’s Radio Shop now maintain several other pieces of equipment that have turned buses into advanced mobile computers with up to a mile of wiring neatly tucked out of sight.

Today, buses include GPS and video-storage equipment, devices that count each customer boarding and exit and hardware that allows buses in designated corridors to request a green light or enter an area with restricted access.

While there once were hand-cranked destinations signs, there are now LED displays on both the inside and outside of the bus; a system that automatically announces bus stops and transfer points was also recently expanded fleetwide.

“When we started, you just had to know a little bit about radios and that was it,” said Anstett, who came to Metro Transit after working for the company that installed the first radios. “There’s much more to jump into now than there used to be.”

The latest technological evolution came last year, when Electronic Repair Techs installed equipment on nearly 750 buses that allows data to be transferred more quickly and efficiently.

The Onboard Mobile Gateways, or OMGs, are particularly useful when routes or schedules change since updates can be sent automatically instead of having to be manually entered on each bus. The OMG equipment is also used to provide WiFi, which was piloted on some buses beginning in 2015.

For techs like Anstett, the day begins early with a list of work orders outlining issues that need to be addressed. Most of their time is spent on the road traveling to garages or other locations in a fleet of meticulously-stocked vans.

When not at a garage, Techs repair equipment at the Radio Shop, replace outdated equipment and outfit each new bus with the technology it needs to go into service. They are currently focusing on the new Bus Rapid Transit buses that will be used on the A Line opening this year.

“Every new bus that comes in, comes to us first,” Radio Shop Supervisor Scott McDonald said.

In addition to this work, techs maintain portable radios used by Transit Police, Rail and Street supervisors, work on light-rail and non-revenue vehicles and maintain six radio towers located around the region.

While the work often goes unseen, Anstett said he’s found motivation from knowing he’s doing a public service and from being regularly challenged by the glitches that inevitably arise.

“It’s using your mind — you against the machine,” he said during a recent trip to South Garage, where he fixed a bus that wasn't tracking correctly. “It’s someone saying, ‘Here’s the problem: solve it.’ I’ve learned a lot over the years and that’s what’s made the job fun.”

Techs can expect to do even more problem-solving in the years ahead as technology continues to evolve and expand.

“We never could have imagined being where we are now,” said McDonald, the supervisor. “But the sky’s the limit. Things are getting smaller and faster and as everything moves in that direction we will too.”

    > KARE 11: New Metro Transit BRT buses unveiled

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