When Shenghai Ly was growing up on a farm in Laos, she dreamed of becoming a airline pilot.
The growth spurt she needed never came.
Although her height kept her out of the cockpit, Ly didn’t give up her goal of operating a large vehicle. After moving to Santa Ana, Calif. in 1980, Ly began using transit to visit family and run errands. Her attention soon turned to ground transportation.
After graduating high school, she obtained her Commercial Drivers License and got behind the wheel of a bus. She moved to St. Paul in 1997 and, following a few other jobs, started as a part-time operator for Metro Transit in 2001.
After more than a decade on the road, Ly has driven express buses across the metro and worked several local routes, including the 5, 14, 16, 19 and 22. For a short time in 2006, she even took a turn driving trains on the METRO Blue Line but found she missed the customer interactions.
Now based at East Metro Garage, Ly drives Route 64 between downtown St. Paul and Maplewood Mall Transit Center and Park & Ride.
Ly has had little difficulty maneuvering 40-foot, 31,000-pound buses full of customers. In fact, Ly prides herself on her ability to navigate St. Paul’s hilly landscape even when snow and ice make doing so difficult. Over her 12-year career, Ly said she remembers getting stuck in the snow just once.
“You can’t go too slow or too fast,” she said of her winter driving technique. “When that doesn’t work, I just pray to God to help me get up the road.”
While driving a bus wasn’t her first ambition, Ly has found her career at Metro Transit to be amply rewarding. In the air or on the ground, she said, it’s doing what is needed to get customers where they need to go safely.
“The biggest thing is safety,” she said. “The schedule can be very tight but you just can’t rush yourself.”
Ly’s resolve on the job reflects her own personal history. After moving to the United States, Ly entered high school needing to learn English and acclimate to her new surroundings. As a mother of 11 and grandmother of 11, she has sacrificed for her family so that they may succeed in life.
Today, Ly has developed a new ambition: to share her confidence and skills with new operators who are just beginning to drive. Her best piece of advice, she said, is to be professional even in the face of challenging situations.
“It’s all about having the right attitude,” she said.
Operator at a Glance
Name: Shenghai Ly
Hired: Oct. 8, 2001
Routes: Ly began her career as an “extra board” driver, picking up multiple routes as needed. Ly has driven express buses and several inter-city routes, including the 5, 14, 16, 19 and 22. Today, she drives Route 64.
Hobbies: On weekends, Ly hunts squirrel, deer and other animals. She also likes to travel.
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