Thursday, August 6, 2020 3:18:00 PM
Growing up in St. Paul, Gene Hayes thought becoming a bus operator would provide a good opportunity to watch life unfold in the city. So after working in construction and holding several other odd jobs, he took his mother’s advice and put in an application. A week later, the then 24-year-old got a call and was asked if he could report for an interview in just 20 minutes. He hustled out the door, got the job and spent the next 39 years driving buses throughout the Twin Cities.
When he started, Hayes found himself a little overwhelmed and wasn’t sure he’d make it past the first year. But with the help of good trainers and managers his confidence grew. Later in his career, Hayes was recognized for 25 years of safe driving, an accomplishment that earned him a Metro Transit watch he wore proudly. While his safety and customer service records were laudable, Hayes said he never grew complacent. “Every day was a new challenge,” he said. “I never got comfortable – I just got more aware something could happen.” As a driver, Hayes said he especially thrived on winter weather and actually looked forward to driving in snowstorms.
Hayes started his career at the Heywood Garage, and moved to the Nicollet Garage when he went full-time ten months later. After nine years at Nicollet, he moved back to Heywood where he spent the duration of his career. During his time at Heywood, Hayes became a familiar face on routes 7, 9 and 10, and enjoyed getting to know some of his regular riders. With more experience, he was also able to pick work that started early in the morning so he could be in time to welcome his kids home from school and be involved in their education, sports and other activities.
When Hayes retired in July 2020, he was Heywood Garage’s most senior operator and among the most experienced operators at any garage. Even so, Hayes said his career felt like it had gone quickly and that he would have continued driving if his health had allowed. “It sounds like a long time, but it seemed to go by overnight,” he said.
In the early days of his retirement, Hayes said he might like to move south but that he was still figuring out exactly what was next. One thing he was sure of: his time at Metro Transit provided all he could’ve asked for in a a career. “It’s been a great career,” he said. “I feel very blessed.”
Tuesday, July 28, 2020 9:34:00 PM
Jory Ackerman was applying for a job at an aluminum factory when someone suggested he put his name in across the street at the Metropolitan Transit Commission. On a whim, he applied. Soon after, he began as a part-time bus operator at the Heywood Garage. Ackerman would go on to spend the next 30 years as a bus and train operator.
At the start, Ackerman was a little uncertain about his new career path – the bus “felt about as wide as it did long,” he said – but he enjoyed the relative freedom, interacting with passengers and became increasingly confident behind the wheel. Throughout the 1990s, he worked out of what was then known as the Shingle Creek Garage and drove Route 10, becoming familiar with many regular passengers. Later, he spent several years driving routes 4 and 12.
In late 2004, Ackerman joined a class of 13 bus operators who were trained to support the expanded Hiawatha Light Rail Transit line that had opened earlier in the year. For Ackerman, it was a return to somewhat familiar territory. Prior to working in transit, he spent a decade with the Minneapolis, Northfield and Southern Railroad operating a swing bridge that carried trains over the Minnesota River, maintaining trestles and doing other odd jobs. The transition to light rail meant adjusting to a stricter environment, but Ackerman found comfort in the routine. “I found driving the train to be very relaxing, actually,” he said. Ackerman spent his entire time as a train operator on the Hiawatha line, which later became the METRO Blue Line.
When he retired in mid-2020, Ackerman said he would miss his co-workers but that he looked forward to “living out the dream of becoming a beach bum with no responsibility, no rules and no briefings.”
Thursday, July 16, 2020 1:13:00 PM
Jay Kluge’s grandfather spent more than 40 years as a bus driver. So when Kluge turned 18, he knew just where to turn. He began his career at the Metropolitan Transit Commission “with a bucket and a broom” cleaning buses at the old Northside Garage, worked his way into management and ultimately built his own four-decade long career. “I’m very, very fortunate that I was able to put on so many different hats and have so many different experiences,” Kluge said shortly after retiring in 2020 with 41 years of service.
Kluge’s first day on the job, March 27, 1979, was spent wiping the walls of a breakroom covered in soot, and his first months were spent sweeping up to 80 buses during each of his overnight shifts. But he learned as he went and eventually bid up to jobs as a fueler and a mechanic. When he transferred to the Overhaul Base and finished work at 2 p.m., he followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and started picking up extra hours as a miscellaneous bus operator. “I thought that would be a lot easier than welding and sanding and busting your knuckles, which it was,” Kluge remembered. “And I’m such an extrovert – that made it probably one of my most fun jobs.”
His six years as a part-time operator sparked an interest in the transportation side of the business and led Kluge to go back to school so he could apply for a job in management. After two years as a maintenance supervisor, he got the chance to jump from maintenance to transportation that he’d been looking for, filling in for an assistant transportation manager on long-term leave at the Shingle Creek Garage. He was the first person at Metro Transit to ever move from a management role in maintenance to a management role in transportation. “I was ecstatic that I was able to do that,” Kluge said. “There was a real culture of separation, that maintenance stayed in maintenance and transportation stayed in transportation.”
Kluge went on to spend the next 15 years as an assistant transportation manager, and five years as a garage manager. His final four years were spent at the Heywood Garage, where he enjoyed the challenge of building and supporting a successful team and focused on employee wellness. “I always wanted to manage people the way I wanted to be managed, and that meant trusting the drivers until they proved you wrong, and it was the same thing with the assistant managers,” he said.
Reflecting on his career, Kluge said he would miss the companionship of his co-workers and that he would always be proud of the career he was able to make for himself. “When I was in blues, I thought someday that I wanted to have my own office, so that that was a really big deal that I was able to accomplish that,” Kluge said. “I’m very proud of where I’ve come and what I’ve accomplished.”
In retirement, Kluge and his wife planned to move to Wisconsin and spend more time to hunting, fishing, riding motorcycles and traveling the world.
Thursday, June 25, 2020 9:26:00 PM
After studying studio arts, Denny Johnson started his career at a paint and wall-covering store where he had a knack for matching paint colors. But when he found himself out of work and needing to support his young family, he followed the lead of a neighbor, a bus operator, and applied for a job at the Metropolitan Transit Commission. In July 1979, at the height of the U.S. Oil Crisis, he started as a bus operator at the old Snelling Garage. It was the beginning of what would become nearly 41-year career in transit. “I didn’t really see myself as a bus driver but one thing led to another and here I am,” Johnson said shortly before his June 2020 retirement.
Born and raised on St. Paul’s East Side, Johnson had some experience riding the bus growing up. And while the buses he started out driving were prone to break down, had no air conditioning and lacked power steering, he enjoyed his turn at the wheel. After 12 years on the road, he joined the agency’s first group of instructors. Despite being a self-described introvert, Johnson said his experience leading his daughters’ Girl Scouts troop led to an interest in teaching that he thought could be fulfilled in his professional life. “That was almost like an instructor job, and I wanted to use that experience,” he said.
One of the best parts of the work, he said, was meeting people from all over the world who came to Metro Transit with a desire to work hard. As his career progressed, many of his former students would see him and remark about the impact his patient, early guidance had on their lives. “You realize you really do make a difference,” he said.
Approaching his retirement, Johnson said he would miss the banter between colleagues, and seeing people he’d befriended while commuting on the bus. In retirement, he planned to devote more time to several interests, including technology, cooking and the outdoors, and to enjoy living at a more relaxed pace. “I’m going to take each day and enjoy it, whatever it brings,” he said.
Mechanic Technician, East Metro
Tuesday, June 9, 2020 2:10:00 PM
Growing up in Wilmar, Tim Jacobsen was the oldest of five brothers. His dad ran a gas pump repair business, putting in as many as 14 hours a day. And after graduating high school, he joined the U.S. Army where he spent more than a decade repairing tanks and other vehicles.
So after returning from active duty and applying for a job at the Metropolitan Transit Commission, he had both the work ethic and the skills he needed to build a successful career in bus maintenance. And that’s what he did, dedicating 35 years of service as a skilled helper and mechanic technician. “The maintenance has never been a surprise or even difficult for me,” he said shortly after retiring. “It’s always been something I’ve done really around the clock.”
Jacobsen’s first stop was at the old Nicollet Garage, but he spent his first 12 years on the job largely at South. Later, he worked at the Heywood and old Snelling garages before spending the final 20 years of his career at East Metro. In those early years, he recalls the working conditions and the fleet leaving a lot to be desired; exhaust made it hard to see his own feet, and on many of the buses, duct tape covered holes in the body. Conditions steadily improved, however, and Jacobsen enjoyed both the people he worked with and the ability to work independently. The pace, too, was also a welcome change. “In the military, we were working 14, 16, 20 hours a day, so when I got here it was almost like a breath of fresh air because we only ever worked 8 hours a day,” he said. Toward the end of his career, Jacobsen mentored students learning to becoming technicians through an apprenticeship program.
Jacobsen’s retirement was short-lived – just 12 hours after punching out for the final time he started learning and practicing a whole new trade as a manual machinist. Outside the shop, Jacobsen planned to spend his time motorcycling and with his two sons.
Monday, June 8, 2020 2:59:00 PM
As a single mother, Mona Shafer needed a job with good pay and benefits. With a background in bookkeeping, she applied for a job with the Metropolitan Transit Commission’s Revenue Department tallying passenger counts turned in by bus operators. That job led to a 40-year career that also included time as a revenue balancer and janitor.
After starting in the Revenue Department, Mona moved to Payroll where she calculated drivers’ payroll records. During her 12 years in Finance, she continued to hold a part-time job as a janitor with another company. When an opportunity to become a janitor arose at MTC, she stopped working her other job. (“That would have been too much cleaning,” she said.) As a janitor, Shafer began as a floater, filling in for co-workers at nearly every support facility. The last five years of her career were spent at the Green Line’s Operations & Maintenance Facility in St. Paul.
Reflecting shortly before her retirement, Shafer said she took pride in her work and would miss some of the people she’d gotten to know through work. While four decades seems like a long time, she also said that the years went by quickly. “I remember watching other people retire, and in my mind thinking, ‘I have so much time to go,’” Shafer said. “But the 40 years flew by, it really did.”
At the time of her retirement, Shafer was the third-highest seniority janitor at Metro Transit. In retirement, Shafer planned to spend time traveling, gardening and enjoying the last chapter of life.
Sunday, May 10, 2020 9:33:00 PM
Gloria Hunt was running her own cleaning business when her mother-in-law suggested applying for a job as a bus operator. Growing up in Fridley, her only experience with transit was the occasional bus trip to downtown Minneapolis to visit her grandmother. But with kids at home, the benefits were appealing. Hunt also came from a family of motorheads, and had some experience driving large campers and motorhomes. So she applied, and was soon offered a job as a part-time operator out of the Ruter Garage. “She (my mother-in-law) thought it’d be a good fit and turned out she was right,” Hunt said. “I liked it from the very beginning.” Hunt enjoyed the work so much, in fact, that she made a 30-year career at Metro Transit.
In the beginning, Hunt maintained her cleaning business while working part-time as a bus operator. Eventually, she traded those long days for a full-time role at Nicollet Garage. But her schedule now challenged her in other ways – as a newer operator, Hunt worked many nights and weekends. Often, she was the last bus to pull in each night – ending her shift just before 3 a.m. Although the late nights could, at times, be tense, Hunt said regular customers would come to her defense. “I had a funny sort of relationship with them,” she said. “If anybody on the bus gave me a hard time, they were there to protect me. They’d say, ‘Leave her alone. She’s one of the good ones.’” That support, along with friendships at the garage, helped Hunt picture herself building a career in transit. “I had times where I thought, ‘How am I going to do this for the rest of my life?’” she said. “But the good days always made me feel better about the job, and I didn’t hang onto the bad stuff long. You just had to shrug it off.”
In 1997, Hunt took the next step in her career and became a part-time instructor – something she’d thought about when she’d gone through her own training seven years earlier. While she liked the idea of helping people, Hunt said she quickly realized that “just because you can do something doesn’t mean you can teach it.” “When I look back at when I first started teaching to now I wonder how anyone passed,” she said. “But it got better with time.” Hunt used what she was learning to help craft the department’s training manual – a guidebook that put lessons in an order that seemed to make the most sense for both teachers and students. In addition to teaching hundreds of new bus operators, Hunt spent many years conducting CDL tests for the state of Minnesota. “I think I’ve done that longer than anyone else in the state,” she said. “If I didn’t teach someone how to drive, there’s a good chance I may have tested them.”
Hunt retired in April 2020. In retirement, she planned to spend more time gardening, traveling and camping, and spending time with her children and grandchildren.
Senior Rail Budget Analyst
Wednesday, May 6, 2020 3:31:00 PM
A numbers guy, Senior Rail Budget Analyst Steve Honigman did not have a transportation industry background when he joined the Metropolitan Council 30 years ago as a temporary budget analyst. That changed nine years later when he became a grants analyst in Metro Transit’s finance department. Before retiring on April 6, Honigman reflected on his role in the financial aspects of helping Metro Transit start two light rail lines and begin construction of one extension and planning for another.
Honigman created and implemented an electronic capital project budget reporting system for Metro Transit project managers to use in monitoring the budget status of their capital projects. This involved teaching himself certain aspects of Structured Query Language (SQL), a standard language for storing, manipulating and retrieving data in databases, and certain computer techniques for making the electronic reports available on the employee intranet site. A version updated by Metro Transit finance staff is in use today. His Council career highlights include serving on the General Ledger focus group for the PeopleSoft finance system implementation, developing a salary and benefit database application for use in budgeting salary and benefit expense and compiling the Uniform Operating Budget document.
Honigman’s previous employment included public accounting at a CPA firm, finance positions at a home construction/mortgage banking company, the Rosemount/Apple Valley school district and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. Honigman applied at the Council as a result of his networking activities during a job transition period.
"I stayed with the job because I felt it was a secure position, and I had opportunities to branch out, working with the Council’s federal grants system, working on the financial aspects of the original Blue Line, the Central Corridor Light Rail Project (which became the Green Line) and the beginnings of the Blue Line Extension Project,’’ Honigman said.
In retirement, Honigman planned to spend time finishing numerous home projects, salmon fishing in Alaska, volunteering and spending more time with family, including his wife of 53 years, Randi, and their three adult sons and six grandchildren.
Transit Information Manager
Thursday, April 30, 2020 2:59:00 PM
After finishing school, John Howley thought he’d make a career as a probation officer. But after getting some experience in juvenile detention, he decided to take a different path and started in the call center at the Dayton-Hudson Corp. where he helped fulfill catalog orders. After four years at Dayton’s, Howley was drawn back into public service and took a supervisor job in the Transit Information Center, where representatives spent their days helping customers plan trips over the phone. “I always had interest in helping people,” Howleysaid. “That’s what attracted me to corrections, and this was another opportunity to do that. It was more than the salary and the benefits – it was meaningful work for an organization that provides an essential service.”
While the idea of serving the public was appealing, Howley wasn’t particularly familiar with transit before he joined what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission. “I grew up in Minneapolis, and I knew my route, but unlike a lot of my co-workers I didn’t have a lot of knowledge and had a lot of catching up to do,” he said. During his 32-year tenure, though, Howley developed a keen sense for transit information and helped the department evolve well beyond its initial focus on phone-based trip planning.
When Howley began, customers had few places to turn other than the TIC. Representatives relied on paper maps and schedules, a time-consuming process that led to lengthy calls and long hold times. Automated information became available by phone in 1990 and online trip planning tools arrived a decade later. These new tools revolutionized the way representatives and customers planned their trips, but the transition wasn’t easy. “It was a big undertaking,” Howley recalled of the addition of online trip planning. “We had to get all the reps comfortable doing their job. At the same time, the building was being remodeled and we were moving the entire department. It was one of the most challenging times we had.”
During Howley’s tenure, Transit Information staff also took on responsibility for schedule displays and distribution, bus stop signs and the distribution of transit data to third-party developers. Toward the end of Howley’s career, more attention was being put toward improving real-time transit information. “The whole face of the department is really changing,” Howley said shortly before retiring in May 2020. “It’s expanding, it’s growing and it’s all very exciting. There’s a part of me that wishes I was starting now because there’s a lot of interesting work being done.”
Amid all the changes, Howley’s job satisfaction remained rooted in the thing that drew him to the job in the first place – human connections. In his 20 years as a supervisor and 12 years as a manager, Howley worked with hundreds of TIC representatives and supervisors, nearly all of whom started as representatives. While he was in management, Howley, the son of a lifelong union worker, said he also appreciated the role the ATU had in supporting members in the TIC. While he sacrificed many nights, weekends and holidays to be with the team, it was the camaraderie that came from that time together, he said, that he’d miss the most in retirement. “It’s been very satisfying to be a part of the team, and it’s really been a team effort all the way,” he said.
In retirement, Howley hoped to spend more time traveling, fishing and biking.
Revenue Operations Supervisor
Thursday, February 13, 2020 1:44:00 PM
After several years with a company that repaired fiberglass barge covers in New Orleans, Bill Wilken decided it was time to come home to the Twin Cities. The experience he’d gained on the river came in helpful when he applied for a bus maintenance role at what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission. After passing a test, he was hired as a cleaner and put to work sweeping buses and scrubbing wheels. In a difficult job market, he was happy to have the work. But the appeal went beyond a steady paycheck and good benefits. “I wanted to work somewhere that contributed to the public good,” Wilken said. And in his 43 years at Metro Transit, he contributed quite a bit.
While his career began in bus maintenance, Wilken wasn’t destined to become a mechanic. Instead, he enrolled in accounting classes and applied for a job as a clerk in a department responsible for managing newly introduced pre-paid fare programs. At the time, most customers paid each time they rode by dropping nickels and dimes into a mechanical farebox. He switched tracks at an opportune moment: over the coming decades, Wilken helped introduce several industry-leading changes that made it easier and more convenient for customers to pay their fares.
One of his earliest accomplishments was the establishment of Metro Transit stores in downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul where customers could purchase fares in person. Wilken also led efforts to simplify the fare structure, expand fare sales to hundreds of area retailers, install electronic fare boxes and introduce the agency’s first prepaid magnetic fare products. In 1998, he participated in the launch of the Metropass program, which allowed employers to provide discounted, unlimited ride passes. His resume also includes the introduction of online sales and Go-To Cards, automatic fare cards that had become the dominant form of fare payment by the time he retired. “We really led the way for the industry,” Wilken said.
Wilken also played key roles in the openings of the METRO Blue Line (then known as the Hiawatha Line), METRO Green Line and the Northstar Commuter Rail Line, as well as countless large events, including the 2018 Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium. Ticket booths, trained staff and careful planning helped ensure smooth operations even as thousands of event-goers turned to Metro Transit. “You get a little nervous anticipating all the things that could go wrong, then you load that last train, sit back and just go, ‘Ah…’” Wilken said.
While Wilken was a proud innovator, he also knew how to build and support a team. He became a supervisor in 1986 and hired numerous interns and several employees who’d go on to have long and successful careers of their own. He also worked closely with staff across the agency and local partners who went out of their way to express their confidence in Wilken’s work. Wilken’s achievements were recognized in 2016, when he received a Distinguished Career Award from the Minnesota Public Transportation Association.
Wilken retired in February 2020 with 43 years of service. In retirement, he planned to spend more time traveling, fixing up his house and focusing on his health.