This is 30: On my journey from bus operator to senior executive

Photo by Aurelia Ventura

Diane Frazier started her career in transportation 44 years ago as a bus operator at Metro’s predecessor, the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD), working out of Division 7 in West Hollywood. Today, as a Senior Executive Officer of Transportation, Frazier is both a role model and a cheerleader for bus operators across the agency. Keep reading to learn why she got into the transportation industry and what keeps her here.   

By Diane Frazier 

A lot of people don’t have dreams because they don’t know how to dream. Not my mom. In her high school yearbook, there’s a quote beneath her photo. I am a dreamer 

My mom and I arrived in Los Angeles in 1966. We rode the train all the way from Des Moines, Iowa, to Union Station. We came with only a few belongings –– for me, the most important things were my Barbies and my metallic gold Stingray bicycle with a banana seat and a sissy bar. I remember breathing a sigh of relief when we arrived, and I saw my bike getting loaded off the train.   

My mom said that we needed to move to California so my siblings and I could receive a free college education. She was right, and a few years later, I attended the University of Redlands. My mom had open heart surgery and I dropped out of college to start working to help support my family.  

I recall one afternoon, my cousin stopped by our house, and she was driving a light blue custom-painted 1978 Monte Carlo. I asked her how she was able to get a new car and she said that she bought it with the money she had earned from driving a bus. When you’re 23, that’s all you need to know! I applied for a job at the RTD right away. At the time, I was working at the city library. My supervisor wasn’t sure I would like driving the bus and said she would hold my job just in case. I was hired as a bus operator on November 13, 1978. Once I received my first paycheck, I never looked back. I called my old supervisor and said, “Thank you so much for everything but I’m not coming back.” I made a good salary as a bus operator. I worked a lot of hours and eventually saved enough money to buy a 1980 Datsun 280ZX with a blue sparkle tint. 

In college, I worked three different jobs at once, so I was used to a full day’s work, but driving the bus was hard. I started driving the same year that we introduced the first articulated buses. It was a totally different technology – when you made a right turn, the back end could swing out and hit something if you weren’t paying attention.   

I was lucky to have great mentors during my career like Leila Bailey-Leahy –– the first female bus operator to be hired in Los Angeles since World War II –– as well as Arthur T. Leahy, Alex Clifford, and Bob Holland. I worked hard and took advantage of every class and training opportunity that RTD offered. I became a TOS (Transportation Operations Supervisor) in 1980 (they called that a Window Dispatcher back then). With RTD’s (and later Metro’s) tuition reimbursement program, I went back to school, finished my bachelor’s degree, and then went on to get a master’s. I have participated in all the RTD leadership programs. Whenever I speak at bus operator training classes, I always bring up two of the great employee benefits Metro offers –– pension and tuition reimbursement.   

My office is located at Metro headquarters now, but I will tell you that the coolest place ever is being out at the bus divisions. There are eleven of them located across Los Angeles County and every division is like a family. The operators, supervisors, managers, and directors are my extended work family. They have been an important part of my success at Metro, they’ve supported me over the years, and I can never thank them enough for the work they perform every day.    

When I first started out and was learning how to drive the bus, one of the older guys gave me some advice. “Frazier!” (back then we called each other by our last names –– many of them came from military service). “If you keep your nose clean,” he told me, “you can be anything you want.” He was right. I had no idea when I started 44 years ago where I was going to end up, but I always focused on the road ahead. That’s what I tell new operators –– that’s why the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror! I am proof of that. I am proud of the fact that every position that I supervise, I once held. I may be a senior executive officer now, but I’ll never forget where I came from.  

I have so many good memories of my career at Metro. I have always been passionate about working in the transportation industry and being part of this family. I am living my dreams. Tony Bennett famously said that “work doesn’t feel like work if you are passionate about what you do.” I still have my old RTD bus operator uniform in my garage. I think I will wear it to work on the day I retire. 

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2 replies

  1. I never had an opportunity to work with you (Diane), but your dedication and hard work speaks for itself. You are an example for others to emulate, if they are willing to make the sacrifice. You are the shining star, blast from the past the last of the great regime (i.e. RTD transportation) and time has only encapsulate the memories as we move further away from the hey days of the past. Just know you have made an impact and touch many lives along the way. Great expose’.

  2. I worked the Diane many years as a TOS. I wondered if she had retired or gone up the ladder in management. I have since retired and am enjoying the great benefits the RTD afforded me. We were very fortunate to work under the RTD leadership, they knew transit. Diane, I proud to have known you and proud of your success.