After moving from rural Wisconsin to the Twin Cities, Rob Milleson studied broadcasting and spent a few years working for a concrete company, a hotel, a metal tubing plant and the Dayton’s department store. In 1978, his search for something that fit brought him to the Metropolitan Transit Commission. In his first job as a vault puller at the old Northside Garage, he had to squeeze in and out of tightly-parked, exhaust-filled buses, at times entering through the window to read fare box meters. While it wasn’t glamorous work, Milleson had found the opportunity he was looking for. And he took full advantage, embarking on a 39-year career that eventually led him to several leadership roles in Bus Maintenance.
Not long after he began, Milleson moved into Bus Maintenance and began working his way up from Cleaner to Helper to Technician. While he didn’t have much experience, he learned on the job and quickly grew to enjoy replacing transmissions, troubleshooting faulty electrical components and other maintenance tasks. In 1986, he took his first leadership role as a supervisor, briefly working at Nicollet Garage then taking the second shift at Heywood Garage. Working at Metro Transit’s largest garage brought more responsibility but the days went quickly and brought a sense of accomplishment, Milleson said. “Pull out was always stressful but it was also very satisfying when you got through it,” he said. As a supervisor, he devised a road call card system that kept better record of repair needs so buses wouldn’t end up back on the street before they were fixed. And he created the first-generation electronic stub sheet, a tool for scheduling buses in for work.
More responsibility followed. In 1998, Milleson became the Maintenance Manager at Heywood. Three years later, he would become the Manager of Maintenance Administration. He was named the Assistant Director of Bus Maintenance in 2006. As a leader in Bus Maintenance, Milleson oversaw fleet plans, bus purchases, garage assignments and a variety of personnel issues. He also took a more active role in improving fleet reliability, regularly checking in with garages to follow-up on repeat issues that appeared to be avoidable. “Sometimes, road call buses would slip away without being addressed only to fail again,” he said. “I was drawing attention to that and building the understanding that we needed to fix it the first time and fix it right.” In 2003, Metro Transit’s reliability began to steadily improve. For the last four years of Milleson’s career, he served as the Director of Bus Maintenance, overseeing a department that had grown to include nearly 500 technicians and support staff.
Approaching retirement, Milleson said he’d never imagined the path his career would take, but that he was grateful for the opportunities that arose along the way. He wasn’t eager to take much credit, either, saying the department’s successes came from having a strong and capable team that worked together to make decisions. “I certainly don’t have all the answers, so I’ve always felt that it was important to include other people in the decision-making process as much as possible,” he said. “One of the most important roles in this position is listening to people, and I did a lot of that.”
After 39 years of service, Milleson retired in May 2017. In retirement, Milleson said he looked forward to spending more time with his family, including six children and 12 grandchildren, working on his home, woodworking and traveling. “I hope I made a difference where I could,” he said.