Four long-serving Metro Transit employees were recognized for their contributions by the Minnesota Public Transit Association (MPTA) this week. The recognition came at MPTA's annual awards banquet, held Wednesday in St. Paul.
Operator Theresa Collins, who retired in August, was named the Minnesota Bus Operator of the Year. Senior Planners Steve Mahowald, Scott Thompson and John Dillery shared MPTA's Distinguished Career Award.
Collins was recognized for a 30-year career that began when she was among the agency's few female operators. That gender imbalance and years of overnight shifts created some challenges. But Collins relished the opportunity, treating her passengers like family and befriending her peers.
"It wasn't always easy, and I was very young, but I knew I was going to do this job until I retired," she said shortly after she retired.
Collins also never missed a day of work, was among the first operators to be assigned to the METRO A Line and served on several committees. She remains an active member of the ATU Local 1005.
Combined, Mahowald, Thompson and Dillery have devoted more than 120 years of service to Metro Transit. Their experience is valued not just by their peers in Service Development but throughout the organization.
"They bring such a breadth of knowledge, both in terms of transit as an operation and from the customer perspective," Director of Service Development Adam Harrington said. "They really provide a lot of leadership both within the department and throughout the agency."
Their reputation as leaders is rooted not just in their years of service but also in the way they blend history, research and their own experiences as customers throughout their work.
During their tenures, the planners helped make the case for higher frequency service in densely populated areas and advocated for the development of express service to and from suburban Park & Rides. Until that point, less frequent service had been provided over a much wider area.
The planners also helped make it easier to combine trips by creating schedules with timed transfer points at transit centers and other key locations.
Dillery played a key role in shaping bus service on Interstate 35W and adjusting service when the METRO Blue Line opened in 2004.
Mahowald was the lead service planner for the Marq2 project, which created bus-only lanes and improved customer facilities in downtown Minneapolis.
Thompson led the effort to improve bus service in the Central Corridor and created service plans for two important St. Paul transit hubs, the Smith Avenue Parking Ramp and Union Depot.
Seeing their work play out in real time has been one of the most satisfying part of the jobs, the planners said. "I've never been that interested in writing reports," Thompson said. "I need more immediate gratification."
Although their knowledge has grown, the planners always return to the fundamentals that were imparted during the early parts of their careers.
The foundation of their work: spending time in the field making first-hand observations, fulfilling one of Mahowald's credos: "Know the territory, know the territory, know the territory."
Thompson, Dillery and Mahowald aren't ready to close the books on their careers just yet. But after more than four decades, Aaron Isaacs, who helped recruit and train the planners, said their legacies have been well-established.
"These three have shaped the transit system to a greater extent than anyone else in Metro Transit's history," he said.
> Awards & Recognition
> Know Your Operator: Theresa Collins