Skill, spunk, and teamwork prevail at our 46th Bus Roadeo!

Last Saturday, we hosted our 46th annual Bus Roadeo –– an all-day family event full of food, fun, and friendly competition. 

We’ve been doing this for a while –– the tradition dates back to 1976. That’s right –– the days of the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD), before we became Metro. We also know that bus roadeos were happening even earlier! The Los Angeles Times mentions a roadeo for school bus drivers at the Santa Anita Racetrack held as early as 1953. 

Announcement of SCRTD’s first Bus Roadeo in its employee publication, Headway, 1976

Today, transit agencies across the country participate in their own bus roadeos, and send the winners to an international competition hosted by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) every year. Here’s how it works:

Just as Metro’s 10 bus divisions have two “sides” –– a transportation side and a maintenance side –– our bus roadeo is split into two main competitions.

On the transportation side, the obstacle course gets the most attention. Twenty bus operators –– the top qualifiers from earlier preliminary rounds (you qualify for those with your driving record) –– compete in a twelve-part timed obstacle course. The word “timed” is key. Every second over that seven-minute limit means a deducted point. 

I asked a few people which obstacle was the hardest. The answer was unanimous: 

“The rear duals clearance.” 

In layman’s terms, that means that the bus operator must clear the bus’s right rear tire through a narrow “tunnel” made of tennis balls. 

But there’s a catch, Andres Carillo, the TOS Supervisor at the Operating Central Instruction (OCI), explained to me. Carillo set up the course –– a weeks-long process –– and has been doing so for the past four years. 

“A standard bus tire is 26 inches,” he explained. “So we spaced the first set of tennis balls at 32-inches apart. But the space between the balls shrinks to 29 inches as you continue through the ‘tunnel,’ so there’s less and less room for error.” 

A competitor navigates the rear duals clearance as a judge looks on. Many operators agree that this is the most difficult part of the obstacle course.

The operators agreed with Carillo’s assessment. “I prepared for them, I found them, and I still managed to hit a couple,” said Joe Barbosa, Metro’s seniormost bus operator (he’s been at it for the past 49 years). This wasn’t his first roadeo –– he’s competed 45 times! But the obstacle course is always a challenge. “We are very good at driving through Los Angeles streets and providing a safe service for riders,” he told me, “but when you compete and you hit a few cones, it’s very humbling.”  

Max Boenish (of Division 1) placed fourth in the prelims, and was the only woman to qualify for the finals. This was her first time competing. “I’ve never owned a car,” she told me, “so I rode the bus everywhere. I’m really pro transit in that way!”

Winners of the bus operator category:
Third place: Cesar Marillo (Division 15)
Second place: Herman Gavia (Division 3)
First place: Juan Navarro (Division 3)  … who took the trophy with a whopping 627 points!

Winners of the service attendant category –– twelve service attendants from seven different divisions tested their skills in the same obstacle course as the operators
3rd Place: Carlos Aguirre (Division 15)
2nd Place: Rachel Herzog (Division 15)
1st Place: Eric Segura (Division 2)

There’s less visual spectacle involved in the maintenance competition––but the tests are equally challenging. All ten bus divisions as well as the central maintenance facility (CMF) create their own teams of three mechanics –– usually the top people in each division. Those eleven teams then compete in six timed competitions (the first four take place at the roadeo, while the last two take place earlier). 

  • Bus inspection
  • Air brake board
  • HVAC
  • Cummins power train (ie. engine repair)
  • Bus doors
  • Written test 

For each of these categories, the teams are required to inspect, troubleshoot, diagnose, correct, and record the planted defects in the machinery while instructors look on with their clipboards and stop-watches. It requires an incredible breadth of skill, teamwork, communication, as well as resilience under pressure.  

The maintenance side of the roadeo started in the late 1980s, a few years after the transportation side. According to Harold Torres, senior director of our central maintenance facility, the biggest change since the early days has been the technology. “Originally everything was old diesel,” he told me, “and the doors worked by air and hydraulics. Now we have doors that are electric, engines that are CNG, and computers that talk to one another. In the future, we won’t have engines –– we’ll be testing electric motors or propulsion systems!” 

Problem solving is essential to the engine repair competition

I asked the instructors which maintenance event was the hardest, and learned that this was an apples-to-oranges comparison. Every event posed a unique set of challenges. However, as the engine repair event requires the teams to start the engine at the end, there are bragging rights that come with it. 

Edward Hinojosa, Alain Gomez, and Octavio Ortega Ramirez of Division 13 based on Downtown Los Angeles took the maintenance competition’s top honors … their second year in a row!

The winners of both the maintenance and the transportation competitions go onto the national competition held by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). I asked Torres how many times Metro won the top maintenance honors at APTA and he said it had been too many times to count. “But the big thing would be to win the maintenance AND the transportation finals,” he told me. “Best agency overall.” 

Categories: Employees, History, Transportation News

Tagged as:

2 replies

  1. now have a local competition between metro, foothill transit, big blue, torrence and gardena for the ultimate bragging rights

  2. Cool, I hadn’t known about that. Does the competition include drivers operating articulated buses? I’d imagine there’s a bit more skill involved in maneuvering those things.