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Bus Express Bus Know Your Operator

Know Your Operator: Lee Gutman

| Monday, August 19, 2013 1:16:00 PM

Lee Gutman’s path to Metro Transit began not in Minnesota, but California.

While working as a bus operator in Orange County, Gutman requested a meeting with former Metro Transit General Manager Art Leahy, who had left Minnesota to serve as CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority. In search of a quieter life, Gutman wanted to know what Leahy thought about Minneapolis.

Leahy told Gutman to give it a shot and offered him a letter of recommendation. A few years later, finally ready for a change of scenery, Gutman decided to make a move. But not to Minneapolis. Instead, he found himself driving buses in rural Vermont, navigating windy, narrow roadways in difficult winter conditions.

The nerve-racking Vermont drives led Gutman to rethink Minneapolis. Gutman moved to Minnesota and began at Metro Transit in March 2010. His first assignment: Route 5.

After his experiences elsewhere – including a short stint driving in Madison, Wis. – he’s glad to be here. Gutman says South Garage, where he works, feels like an extended family where his sense of humor can be shared without reservation (Gutman is often ribbed for his short stature and slicked hair).

“I’ve been in this business since 1988 and of all the places I’ve worked, this is by far the best,” Gutman said in a recent interview.

Gutman now works as a part-time driver driving Route 467, an express bus between Minneapolis and Lakeville, and Route 134, between Minneapolis and Highland Park. At 53 years old, he walks as much as two hours to and from work every day, year round, and has found tranquility in his daily routine. 

“I like my life simple and this is the kind of job where you can go on vacation and not have to come back to 10,000 e-mails,” he said.

Though he likes to kid, Gutman takes his job very seriously and is relentlessly focused on customer service, safety and performance. After 25 years as a driver, he said his best advice for new operators is to reduce their speed, increase their following distance, remain on alert and always leave an ‘out’ should another driver do something unexpected.

The diligence has paid off. Since joining Metro Transit, Gutman has received several customer commendations and three Safe Operator Awards. Gutman received Outstanding Operator Awards in 2011 and 2012.

Looking ahead, Gutman said he hopes to continue driving and to help young employees. He said he is committed to the job because he sees it as critical to Metro Transit’s success.

“I think most people can learn to drive a bus but there’s so much more to it than that,” Gutman said. “As operators on the front line, we really act as the liaison to the agency and have to be out there promoting ourselves every day.”

Operator at a Glance

Name: Lee Gutman

Hired: March 1, 2010

Routes: Gutman drives Route 134 in the morning and Route 467 in the afternoon. He has driven a number of express routes and Route 5 during his time with Metro Transit.

Favorite memories: Early in his career at Metro Transit, Gutman was driving southbound on Route 5 when a customer boarded, and identified himself as a Metro Transit employee. The employee was General Manager Brian Lamb, who later connected with Gutman to learn about his experiences driving in other parts of the country. Gutman also fondly recalls driving a bus filled with elementary school students in Vermont (he and the students figuratively and literally saw eye-to-eye, he jokes).

Awards: 2011 and 2012 Outstanding Operator Awards; three-time Safe Operator Award winner.

Hobbies: Walking, visiting the St. Croix River Valley, antiques, music and movies from the 60s and 70s.

To better get to know those getting you around, Metro Transit offers these profiles of train and bus operators. If you'd like to suggest an operator for a future profile, please email [email protected].