Thomas Gilligan has always enjoyed being on the move, happily volunteering to cut the grass with a riding lawn mower and, growing up, speeding around the city on his bike or riding Twin City Lines buses. So while he didn’t always aspire to be a bus operator, it was a profession that he fell naturally into. The love for driving persisted throughout what ultimately became a 41-year career. He found plenty of other things to like about the job along the way, too.
Gilligan’s career began in November 1975, after his best friend’s mom encouraged her son and Gilligan to apply at what was then the Metropolitan Transit Commission. His friend didn’t get the job, but Gilligan got the call. His first stop was the old Nicollet Garage, but he would eventually spend time at every garage except for East Metro. As a longtime extraboard operator, Gilligan also had a lot of variety in the routes he drove. He immediately like the driving, but it took time to learn how to deal with passengers, Gilligan said. He eventually got the hang of it, though. “Most people were there just for the ride, but I met a lot of wonderful, warm human beings – as well as a few people from outer space who were fun, too,” he said.
Among Gilligan’s most memorable passengers was former Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson, who rode the bus several times a week to and from his Wayzata home. Before public transit agencies were prohibited from providing charter service, Gilligan also helped transport visiting sports teams, including professional and college baseball teams playing at the Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. Gilligan got the most satisfaction, though, from his time as a Project Mobility operator serving individuals whose disabilities prevented them from using regular route service. “It was a very personal job,” he said. “You really felt like you were doing something special.”
Gilligan retired in February 2017, at the time Metro Transit’s longest-serving operator. Leaving on top, he said, was a meaningful end to his four-decade career. “I’m really kind of a humble guy, but yeah that does mean something to me,” he said. In retirement, Gilligan plans to spend more time with his family, including his son, daughter and two grandchildren, and taking fishing trips to Canada. While Gilligan looked forward to the next chapter, he said he’d miss the people he worked with and the job itself. “I still absolutely love the driving,” he said.