Watching the Pros

May 5, 2014
The International Bus Roadeo draws the top transit operators and mechanics to Kansas City, Mo.

The American public Transportation Association International Bus Roadeo brings together the best of the best of operators and maintenance teams in the transit industry. While there’s the competition to test their driving ability and mechanical knowledge, participants and their colleagues say that is just one small part of it.

There’s the time spent leading up to this event that got them here — continually learning on their job — and the additional training and education they get from sessions and learning from their peers.

Eduardo Sobalvarro, operations manager with Veolia Transportation for Antelope Valley Transit Authority, was at the roadeo watching a driver they had competing in the event and said the operator would come in on his own time and practice to get to this level.

Also with Veolia Transportation, Operator Patrick Pikegari, who drives for Nassau Inter County Express (NICE), was competing at the International Bus Roadeo for his third time and has been to his state’s roadeo more than 20 times. He said it’s a challenge just to get here with the strong competition.

As for this competition, one particular challenge is driving a bus that isn’t “their” bus. “It’s a foreign piece of equipment,” he said. While they get practice time the day before the event on the host agency’s vehicles, it’s not the same as being on the bus he drives every day where he said he doesn’t even need to look for stuff, it’s just automatic that you know where everything is.

Competing for her second time, First Transit’s Robin Wilson, who drives for the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County said she learned a lot at her last international roadeo and knew there was room for improvement. Ashley McNamara, senior marketing manager with First Transit, said with about 400 drivers at Houston Metro, it’s a huge achievement to have gotten this far. “This is a great accomplishment,” she stressed.

Wilson said, “We learn a lot coming here and watching the pros.”

Another competitor here for the second time was Chicago Transit Authority’s John Grizzard. Leading up to your 7 minutes on the course he said is nerve-wracking. However, he said, “You get relaxed once you move the bus. You let your experience take over.” And then after a while, you just have fun with it, he said.

Grizzard was accompanied by his wife Carol who said she knows he will do well. He said he wouldn’t come without her because then he knows out in the stands, he has her support out there.

Clemson Area Transit Safety and Training Coordinator Sonya Holloway was there to cheer on CAT operator Brian Adkins. She said they have 50 drivers first narrowed down to two and then finally to the one. She said she was excited to watch him compete and that she just wants to see him perform at his highest level.

Having been in the position for 3-1/2 years now, she said in her previous field, training was at the time of your hire and then a refresher annually. Now in transit, Holloway said you’re growing continually as training is an ongoing process.

Adkins said he practices every day, as he’s driving and learning every day. Adkins was being cheered on by his parents Dale and Marlene. Dale, who drives a school bus, said, “I know he’s good at what he does; we drove 933 miles to witness it.”

At the Welcome Session of the conference, three operators were recognized for each having the impressive record of more than 40 years of safe driving. Ralph Spain with the Maryland Transit Administration has 42 years, Jess Quintero with VIA Metropolitan Transit has 48 years and Al Ramey with King County Metro Transit has 51 years.