How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.
How does Metro teach bus operators to drive?
Metro employs about 4,500 full- and part-time bus operators and all have participated in the agency’s training program that currently includes four weeks of basic skills training, four weeks of classroom study, DMV testing and two weeks driving a bus under the close supervision of an experienced operator. Little known is that all operators must go through rigorous customer service training to learn to defuse difficult and sometimes dangerous situations that occur daily on the streets of L.A.
Before training can begin, potential operators must pass background and physical checks, test at the 10th-grade level in reading comprehension and be at least 21 years old. And they must be hired. Hiring is based on a variety of factors. A good driving record is essential and prior bus driving experience can be helpful. However, it’s thought that bus driving skills can be taught but not everyone can handle the stresses of driving a bus full of passengers in our traffic clogged and complicated city.
Potential operators must be physically able to do the job, including deployment of heavy bus ramps and securing of wheelchairs. They also must be capable of following rules and procedures and work well with passengers — all passengers. Because the job is so much about customer relations, it is emphasized heavily during training.
During the six-week course, trainees learn to drive a bus safely and spend time in the classroom studying such matters as how to make a proper right turn, deal with disruptive or unhappy passengers and recognize an explosive device.
Training also means successfully passing classroom requirements, including all exams and the California Department of Motor Vehicles test. Worth noting: reliability and punctuality are two aspects of training that are stressed. If a starting class time is 6 a.m., arrival at 6:01 a.m. is considered late. Two tardy arrivals and the potential operator is released from training. About 25 to 30 percent of trainees do not pass the course.
New operators start part time and may be assigned to any of Metro’s 11 divisions throughout L.A.County. (There currently are bus operator job openings. Go to Employment Opportunities to find out how to apply.)
Bus operators can enjoy job security as well as advancement opportunities. Metro’s longest serving operator is Donald Dube (see photo above), who has been driving L.A. buses for 53 years. Metro’s highest ranking former bus operator — actually Metro’s highest ranking employee — is Art Leahy, a former operator who now is the agency’s CEO.