Metro celebrates Women’s History Month + Transit Operator Appreciation Day: On the beauty of driving a bus   

Transportation isn’t a man’s world any longer –– if it ever had been at all. More and more, women are leading the charge when it comes to moving us around LA. This Women’s History Month, we’ll be sharing stories and tips from a few of our amazing female employees. Whether they’re improving our stations or they’re driving your bus, these women are responsible for making your trips safe, comfortable, and timely. Next up in our series –– and just in time for Transit Driver Appreciation Day –– is Max Boenish, a bus operator with Division 1, which is located on the edge of Skid Row. Keep reading to learn what she loves about her job.  

I met Max Boenish about six months ago, when I was covering the 46th annual Bus Roadeo. She was competing in the event’s grand finale –– a timed, ten-trick obstacle course. Twenty Metro bus operators would go head-to-head. With the exception of Max, all of the finalists were men.  

For Max, Women’s History Month opens up space for deeper, more nuanced conversations about gender. “Unfortunately, I don’t think the English language provides enough options for talking about the complexity of gender,” Max observed. “The closest term I relate to is genderqueer  –– a word that makes room for the ways I’ve lived most of my life somewhere in between the gender binary.” 

Gender wasn’t the only way in which Max was the outlier at the Roadeo. (Today, women make up about 31% of Metro’s bus operators.) Most of her competitors in the Bus Roadeo had been driving buses for decades, whereas Max had only three years under her belt. Growing up in Sequim, Washington, a small town of about 8,000 people, public transportation wasn’t a thing. After college, Max moved to Seattle and worked for ten years to help house the chronically homeless.  

Driving a bus professionally didn’t really occur to her until about a decade ago, when she visited Los Angeles for a quilt convention. “I remember riding the Gold Line (now the A Line) from Pasadena to Downtown Los Angeles to shop at a fabric store and looking out the window the entire ride,” she told me. “I thought LA was this magical place.” One day, she decided, she would move to LA.  

She trained as a bus operator in Seattle and drove for their transit system, King County Metro, for a year before moving to Los Angeles. “Looking back, I’m glad that I started out in Seattle,” she recalls. “Driving in LA is the big leagues.”  

Today, Max drives out of Division 1, located on the edge of Skid Row. The moment she walked inside for the first time, she felt at home. “There are all these familiar feelings and sights and smells,” she said. “People eating home cooked food, having coffee, and playing cards or pool.” Since bus operators can get written up if they sign on for their shift even a minute late, they usually show up to the division early and hang out. “It’s pretty special,” Max told me, “to enter this space and feel this fun communal energy when the job is very much a solo one when you’re out on the road.”  

Eight bus lines run out of that division –– some of the busiest ones on the system. You have the 53 (Max’s favorite line to drive!), which travels down Central Avenue from Downtown Los Angeles to Compton. You have the 20, which follows Wilshire from Downtown to Santa Monica. You also have Line 460, which goes all the way to Disneyland.  

Ever since the last shakeup, three months ago (a ‘shakeup,’ which occurs once every six months, is when operators choose their routes and schedule based on seniority), Max has been driving the 18, which travels from Wilshire/Western station on the D (Purple Line) in Koreatown, through Skid Row, then across the Sixth Street Viaduct and into Boyle Heights before terminating at the Montebello Metrolink station. Getting from one end of the line to the other takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.  

“I drive a lot of folks who are doing daily errands, like going to Food 4 Less or visiting friends and family,” she says. “I use the ramp a lot to pick up people with wheelchairs and walkers. Many of the riders greet me and ask questions in Spanish, so I’ve been practicing Spanish with Duolingo during my downtime.”   

One of her favorite things about the line, however, is greeting the regulars; she’s even gotten to know some of them by name. “There’s a grandmother and granddaughter who ride nearly every day to do their grocery shopping,” she says. “It’s rewarding to get to play a small part in their day.”    

Not long ago, she went to pick up a coffee a few blocks from the bus division before her shift. She made small talk with the vendor as he handed her the coffee, and then gave her a free pastry when she took out her wallet to pay. 

“This is on the house,” he said, smiling at her warmly. “You drive my bus.”   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Transportation News