Growing up in Toronto, Ismail Jama often got around using the city’s subway and streetcar networks. So when he moved to Minneapolis as an adult, he was naturally intrigued at the prospect of becoming a train operator at Metro Transit.
To give himself a chance, he started as a part-time bus operator in 2011 while continuing to manage an over the road trucking business he’d started. A few years later, he got the opportunity to transfer to light rail, sold his company and put all his energy into transit.
A decade later, Jama is proud of his career track and of the service he’s providing the community, particularly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The past year has really shown how important we (train operators) are,” Jama said. “Even myself, I didn’t really think anything of it. But now when I go home, I think about how I was able to help people get to work, get to an interview, get to the doctor. Not everyone drives and this service is very important to them.”
Besides providing an essential service, Jama has enjoyed sharing his love of trains with customers, especially children. On many occasions, he says, kids have asked to have their photos taken with him when he gets to the end of the line. “Making a kid smile, that’s just such a joyful thing,” he said.
Jama has also found joy in the company he keeps at work, including the trainers, managers and fellow operators who encouraged and supported his effort to become a train operator. He is especially close with other operators whose families emigrated from Somalia, as his did years ago.
Outside of work, Jama now satisfies his entrepreneurial streak by investing in stocks. His other interests include watching hockey and basketball, traveling, reading and taking long walks around Minneapolis, where he lives.
In 2020, he and his wife also welcomed their first child, a son. With a growing family, Jama is especially glad to enjoy the benefits and stability that have come from working at Metro Transit. “Transit has been very good to me and my family,” he said.
Transit Driver Appreciation Day is March 18
Bus and train operators are serving on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, providing an essential service to those who must use transit. To recognize their service, Metro Transit will celebrate Transit Driver Appreciation Day on Thursday, March 18. To participate, consider writing a commendation, sending a card or letter to any garage or showing your support on social media.