Tired of his erratic hours working as a chef, Hector Espinoza went to the DMV picturing a job as an over the road truck driver. But when he ran into a friend there to get a license to become a bus operator, his outlook changed.
A decade later, Espinoza has earned a reputation as a skilled and well-liked bus operator with experience at a number of local transit providers. He’s spent the last five years working full-time at Metro Transit.
“The first time I drove during rush hour, I was nervous,” Espinoza said recently. “But when I got to the end of the route, the trainer got on the microphone and told the passengers it was my first day and I got a round of applause. Since then, everything has been nice and smooth.”
The transformation has indeed been a good one for Espinoza, who works out of Metro Transit’s South Garage in Bloomington.
Working as a bus operator has provided him a better work-life balance that allows more time with his wife, three sons and a daughter, superior pay and benefits and an optimistic outlook on his career.
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He’s also developed a passion for working with the public, deliberately choosing busy urban routes where there are ample opportunities to interact.
“When I look in the mirror, I see people reading the paper, listening to music, looking at their phone and I think, ‘They’re all counting on me,’” Espinoza said. “I take that responsibility seriously. But I also enjoy the customers, the interaction, being outdoors and having all of the variety.”
Espinoza is sharing his experience as Metro Transit works to recruit more operators needed to support the agency’s growth and respond to a wave of retirements. He recently visited a south Minneapolis church where he spoke in front of the congregation about career opportunities.
A native of Ecuador who speaks Spanish, he’s particularly interested in letting Latinos know about what it means to work at Metro Transit.
“What I told them is that working here, it’s not just about being a bus operator,” Espinoza said. “If you like it, you can stay a bus operator for the rest of your career. But there are always more doors you can open.”
Many of Metro Transit’s managers and supervisors began their careers as operators; Espinoza hopes to follow a similar path.
For now, though, he’s focused on being the best operator he can be. And he’s doing a good job of it, too.
Espinoza has three years of safe driving and has placed in the top ten in each of Metro Transit’s annual Bus Roadeo competitions. Bus Roadeo tests operator’s skills through a series of driving and written tests.
“The first thing I care about is being safe,” Espinoza said. “Traffic is a challenge, but you just have to take it easy and not get too excited.”
Espinoza also takes pride in keeping a neat appearance, wearing a tie whenever he’s working (his co-workers have noticed, giving him the nickname “Hollywood”).
“I really take my job seriously, and try to be as professional as I can for the customers,” Espinoza said. “I look at it as a career at this point.”
Operator at a Glance
Name: Hector Espinoza
Hired: Feb. 6, 2010
Employee Number: 71095
Routes: Espinoza primarily drives urban local routes, including the 5, 4 and 6.
Garage: South Garage
Hobbies: Espinoza is active in his community, Apple Valley, and serves as a community soccer coach. He also enjoys playing volleyball and soccer and cooking.
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