As she took the bus to and from her job in downtown Minneapolis, Theresa Collins noticed an ad that said what was then known as the Metropolitan Transit Commission was looking for bus operators. When she applied, there weren’t many female operators and her small stature created some doubts. “I just told them, ‘I’m tough. I can handle it,’” Collins said. She lived up to her word, too, building a 30-year career as a safe, reliable and hard-working operator beloved by passengers and co-workers alike.
At 22 years old, Collins began as a part-time operator at the old Nicollet Garage, where she spent most of her career. At the time, buses lacked power steering and her instructor made her take laps until she could make a turn without hitting the curb. On her first day driving alone, she faced another challenge: heavy snow. “It was basically a blizzard,” Collins said. “Talk about stress. But I made it. I think I probably prayed a lot.”
For the first nine years, Collins worked overnight shifts. Later, she had to balance her work responsibilities with those of being a new mother. While the hours were challenging, she found the work fun and rewarding. She also felt fortunate to have a job that paid well and provided good benefits. “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.
Collins commitment to her customers and her co-workers was evidenced in many ways. She never missed a day of work, had a nearly perfect safe driving record and spent more than 12 years on one of Metro Transit’s busiest routes, Route 21. She befriended many of her customers and handed out postcards with her picture when she was about to take a different assignment. In 2016, Collins was among the first operators to be assigned to the METRO A Line, Metro Transit’s first Bus Rapid Transit line.
At the garage, Collins boosted morale by decorating for the holidays and joined Peer Support, making herself available to fellow operators who needed someone to talk to. She served on committees focused on safety, community relations and employee wellness and was an active union member throughout her career.
Collins spent the final eight years of her career at South Garage, retiring in August 2019. At her retirement, co-workers said Collins remembered her for her humor, grace, style and kindness. Joining her for the festivities: Her son, Evan Calhoun-Collins, #79195, who had recently been hired as a mechanic technician. In retirement, Collins planned to travel and spend more time with family and friends.