At the Minnesota Public Transportation Association's (MPTA) virtual award ceremony, Metro Transit won three awards for Management Innovation, Transit Professional of the Year, and Bus Operator of the Year.
“We are greatly honored and appreciative to receive this recognition from MPTA,” General Manager Wes Kooistra said, “The dedicated and talented recipients of these awards are deserving representatives of Metro Transit’s commitment to innovation and reliance on a strong and capable workforce as keys to our success."
For his leadership, Deputy Chief of Operations - Bus Brian Funk was awarded Transit Professional of the Year. During an unprecedented year with COVID-19 and civil unrest, he led Metro Transit's response to identify and implement innovations to help keep customers and operators safe. Throughout the pandemic, Funk placed the safety of passengers and operators first. He has also been an empathetic leader, regularly visiting with operators and other front-line staff and even testing protective shields by getting behind the wheel. During the civil unrest, Funk worked to keep Metro Transit employees and assets safe. Afterwards, he helped safely restore service and participated in a donation drive to help the community recover.
“I’m truly humbled and honored to be nominated and selected for this award, especially this year.” Funk said. “While my name is on the plaque, this is a reflection of the dedication, flexibility, and grit of the team at Metro Transit, especially our Operators, Maintenance, Facilities, and Supervisory teams. Metro Transit is only successful because we find ways to improvise, adapt and overcome…together.”
Funk is looking forward to gathering feedback and applying lessons learned this year so Metro Transit can be even more prepared and responsive for whatever comes next.
Melanie Benson, a bus operator with 44 years of service, took home the award for Bus Operator of the Year. She was chosen due to not only her years of service, but her focus on customer service. She became a bus operator because she rode the bus as a passenger for years and knew that bus driving would involve learning the cities, meeting interesting people, making a decent living and providing a public service.
"This job has met and exceeded all of those expectations. I've loved being a welcome sight to my riders," Benson said.
As unemployment rose during the pandemic, Andrea Kiepe saw an opportunity for Metro Transit to help provide equity. As the coordinator for the Transit Assistance Program (TAP), she helped expand the $1-a-ride program to accept unemployment insurance as a way to qualify for reduced fares. Since mid-March, unemployment applications have highlighted racial inequities. Nearly one in two Black workers have applied for unemployment. For white workers, it’s about 1 in 4. This expansion helped Metro Transit improve service to be more equitable. For these efforts, Kiepe received the Management Innovation award.
"It's important to me that we make it as easy as possible for Minnesotans to handle the economic disruption of the pandemic," Kiepe said. "Making sure people can access reduced TAP's $1 fares is one way to do our part and help people cope and eventually recover."
Since 1975, MPTA has been a statewide coalition of advocates and transit systems advocating for public transit systems that provide mobility for Minnesotans through training, research, and communication. The award ceremony is part of an annual in-person conference, but due to the pandemic, a virtual award ceremony was held.