Brad Smith thought he’d have a career in radio. So after studying the business in Minneapolis, he returned to his hometown and started working at the station there. But it didn’t last long. Encouraged by his father, he gave up the job and returned to Minneapolis to pursue a relationship with a woman he’d met while in school. It was a good move: Smith married that woman, Sue, who put him in touch with family members working in transit. It wasn’t long before those connections led him to apply for a job as a bus operator, the first stop in what would become a 40-year career at Metro Transit.
When he started as a bus operator at Nicollet Garage in 1978, Smith had a lot to learn. He didn’t know the area and remembers thinking of North Memorial as sounding more like a statute than a hospital. He was also a little unsure behind the wheel. “I was getting passed all the time, and could never stay on schedule,” Smith said. “I remember thinking this was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
Smith eventually found his way, though, and stuck with it hoping his new line of work would lead him back to his passion for radio. He applied for a job in the Transit Control Center, where he’d communicate with bus operators by radio, and was taken on in 1980. Smith joked that, in the new job, he instantly had more listeners there he ever had working at the Wisconsin station. It was especially clear that he had an audience when, working on Christmas Eve, he was encouraged to extend a “Merry Christmas,” to all the operators working that evening. The responses he received consumed most of the rest of the evening. On another memorable winter night, a blizzard left him stranded in the TCC for over 36 hours.
Smith wasn’t entirely bound to the desk, though. Like others in the TCC, Smith also spent time on the street monitoring operations. Getting out into the community became increasingly appealing, too. Given the opportunity to devote all his attention to the street, he took it. As one of the agency’s first transit supervisors, he monitored suburban service that Metro Transit was being provided under contract. He later took responsibility for a large swath of south Minneapolis and Bloomington, including the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. At the airport, he helped coordinate employee shuttles and maintain service through large projects, including the construction of what was then known as the Hiawatha light rail line. His familiarity with the area led him to take a leading role in developing plans to provide bus service when light rail trains couldn’t operate.
There were plenty of memorable moments from Smith’s time as a transit supervisor, too. On Thanksgiving night 1982, he worked through the night and into the next day as buses had to be detoured around a large fire that consumed a downtown Minneapolis high rise. Working at the airport led to several encounters with well-known figures. “The neat thing about my job is that, even though I can make a list of things to do, I never really know what my day will bring,” he said. “I’ve seen presidents, huge disasters – it makes for good storytelling at parties.”
In retirement, Smith planned to spend time with his family, including four children and seven grandchildren. He also hopes to travel and to take on more opportunities to DJ. “I’m going to miss it, but it’s time to move on,” he said.