When Sheila Miller began working as a bus operator in 1977, she thought it would be a temporary stay that would hold her over as she decided on a career path. When she discovered she liked the job, the short-term plan turned into a 20-year tenure behind the wheel.
But driving did eventually take her down a different path. Seeking a change of pace, Miller was among several operators who applied to become Metro Transit’s first Bus Stop Coordinator. To her pleasant surprise, she got the job.
“It was the only other job I looked at and the only other job I applied for so it was probably meant to be,” said Miller, who began as coordinator in March 1997.
As coordinator, Miller was tasked with organizing and maintaining a list of the region’s sprawling bus stop network. At the time, the sporadically-installed original red T-signs were being replaced and more signs were going up throughout the region.
Without a standard distance between stops, signs went up at virtually every intersection. Because of poor records and tight spacing, Miller inherited a list of nearly 22,000 bus stops. As records were updated and new stop spacing standards took effect, the list was pruned to around 14,500 stops.
But the work didn’t end there. Quarterly service changes, new routes, temporary detours and other issues continually cause bus stops to be added, re-located or eliminated.
Miller updates the bus stop inventory on a weekly basis so customers and staff have access to the latest information. Accurate, real-time bus stop information is also critical to the systems that support NexTrip and the Interactive Map.
“There is a surprising amount of work in a given day,” said Miller, who co-workers jokingly nicknamed the Bus Stop Queen, a title she embraces. “It’s this massive jigsaw puzzle.”
Kristin Thompson, Assistant Director, Scheduling, Analysis and Data Collection, said the job is unique in the industry. But Miller’s work provides the critical link between planners and customers, she said.
“It really all starts with the bus stop,” Thompson said. “When you get down to the core, you can’t give customers any information without having accurate stop information."
Although she’s spent almost two decades working with bus stops, Miller claims not to have a particular favorite. But she does use her past experiences as a driver and her current experiences as a customer make her a strong advocate for those who use them. As a former driver, Miller has also been particularly adamant about providing operators access to restrooms when possible.
“My familiarity with bus stops was a huge advantage,” Miller said. “I could rely on my innate knowledge.”
Miller is now sharing that knowledge with her successor. In mid-March, she will retire with 38 years of service.
While she will miss the job and the people she works with, Miller is looking forward to spending more time supporting her favorite causes and with her many grandchildren and great grandchildren.
“It’s (working at Metro Transit) become my life,” she said. “I have a big family, but this has always been my other family.”