Aboard the bus

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September 24, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss

David Hanson doesn’t need more than a few seconds to recall one of the most memorable moments of his 15 years with Metro Transit.

“It was when the 35W Bridge collapsed,” Hanson said. “I was at the 42nd St. Station. I was just ready to have my lunch.”

When he first heard the call over his vehicle’s radio, he assumed the news was some kind of joke. But the confirmation came in, and Hanson rushed to the scene. Metro Transit didn’t have any buses going over the bridge, but several routes that ran along nearby streets would be affected. As a transit supervisor, it is Hanson’s job to deal with unplanned disruptions, so he drove to the scene to help get the buses clear.

“I ended up directing traffic at the corner of Riverside and Cedar from the time the bridge collapsed to 11 at night, when I was replaced by some off-duty police,” Hanson said. “Because there was nobody else there and it was kind of chaos, I just put my vest on. I went out there initially to get my buses out of there and redirected them through the campus and I ended up staying there until 11 o’clock. So that’s my most memorable moment.”

Hanson and his fellow transit supervisors are some of Metro Transit’s less visible employees. While passengers might see bus operators daily, there are far more people working to keep the system running than just the drivers. In the Transit Control Centers (TCC), a team monitors any serious deviation of a bus’ schedule based on data transmitted from the vehicles to the TCC every 60 seconds. A squadron of more than 250 mechanics keeps the equipment running, 15 trainers prepare new hires to operate buses and trains, and about 25 transit supervisors deal with any and all disruptions to service. 

“What we do as transit supervisors is we repair and restore service,” Hanson said. “That can be anything from scheduled disruptions and unplanned disruptions.”

Scheduled disruptions are usually planned detours or other such events that force a bus off its regular route. Hanson attends regular permit meetings to discuss events that might interfere with transit service. 

Often these are short-term events like the Aquatennial Parade or the Zombie Pub Crawl. Sometimes long-term agreements are forged, such as the agreement Metro Transit and the City of Minneapolis worked out to allow food trucks on Marquette Avenue. Downtown’s most popular food truck gathering spot sees the mobile vendors park in a major bus lane. Metro Transit agreed to allow the vendors to use the lane provided they limit themselves to off-peak times.

Much of a transit supervisor’s job is dealing with less predictable situations. If a Metro Transit vehicle is in an accident, they’re on the scene. It’s the same situation if there is an accident that causes a bus to divert, or if there is a sick passenger or an assault on the bus. Basically, if there is any disruption at all to regular service, a transit supervisor arrives to get things straightened out.

Operators always strive to do their best to keep things running smoothly. Duane Moore has been a bus operator for almost 22 years. The roughly 1,100 full-time Metro Transit bus operators work a variety of shift types: eight-hour days, 10 hour days, split shifts, night shifts and more. Moore works one of the most unpredictable shifts of all as an “extraboard” driver. Every day he fills in as needed, replacing a sick operator or picking up a special assignment. Sometimes Metro Transit buses carry people away from the scene of a disaster or are used as shelter from the elements by firefighters or police. For Moore, every day is different, and he likes it that way. 

“I like that particular work because it gives me variety and keeps me on my toes,” he said. 

While driving a bus may be the central part of Moore’s job, it’s not the extent of his duties. He is part of Metro Transit’s Northside outreach team, which works to educate North Minneapolis residents on how to use the bus system. Moore brings a bus to events like the Urban League Family Day and National Night Out and teaches people how to take advantage of transit. 

“We had a wonderful time,” Moore said of National Night Out. “Lots of kids got in and played with the bus. We gave out some little bags for the kids. I really enjoyed it.” 

For all of Metro Transit’s massive network of hardware and technology, it is drivers like Moore and transit supervisors who keep the system running. With a staff of nearly 2,750 people, it’s easy to call Metro Transit’s employees its greatest resource. 

After all, Metro Transit existed before its buses had GPS location technology or hybrid engines. It was moving passengers before advances like light rail or Bus Rapid Transit had been conceived. Metro Transit was and is able to exist because of people dedicated to the idea of public transportation. 

“Being a driver is a fun thing to do,” said Moore. “We’re in the transportation business. We move a lot of people, and it’s great to see us all work together and get it done.”