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Operators, mechanics test skills at APTA’s bus Roadeo

Posted on May 17, 2012 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Dallas Area Rapid Transit won the Grand Champion Award at the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) 37th International Bus Roadeo, which was held in conjunction with the Bus and Paratransit Conference in Long Beach, Calif., in May.

The Grand Champion Award recognizes the system with the highest combined bus operator and maintenance team score. San Antonio’s Via Metro Transit and Honolulu’s Oahu Transit Services Inc. won second and third place, respectively.

The International Bus Roadeo gives both mechanics and operators alike the chance to shine, explained Michael Hennessy, APTA’s Roadeo chair.

“It’s a pretty huge deal,” he said. “Both the mechanic and operator Roadeos, basically sees the best-of-the-best in the industry compete in obstacles or events that challenges them at what they do every single day.”

Hennessy added that both facets of the Roadeo have grown significantly over the years, especially the mechanics portion, which began with a  demonstration project in 1987.

“Because of feedback and new technologies being used in building buses, we have added more and more events; we’re up to eight now,” he said.
The newest event added this year was module created by Vapor Doors.

Other recent additions have included testing on two different powerplants, a Thermo King heating and cooling module, and an I/O Controls module for the testing of electrical systems. On the operator’s side, APTA approached SAE International to create the written test portion of the competition.

“The questions used to be from a handful of maintenance trainers, and we would collectively just pool questions together,” said Hennessy. “We actually engaged SAE to write the test for us, which has proven to be a phenomenal step.”

On the day of the Roadeo, which was held in the parking lot of the Long Beach Sports Arena, nerves ran high, especially with the drivers in the 40-foot bus competition using a 42-foot New Flyer that many participating hadn’t driven before.

“This is a different bus than I’m used to, so I had to look at how the bus turns in relationship to ours and try to find some reference points I can learn from,” explained Gerald Waters of Reno, Nev.-based RTC of Washoe County.

Waters was named the winner of the Customer Service Challenge Award, which judges professionalism, customer service skills and problem-solving creativity.

Tensions ran high for many competing in the 40-foot competition, since Long Beach Transit uses a 42-foot New Flyer model.
Tensions ran high for many competing in the 40-foot competition, since Long Beach Transit uses a 42-foot New Flyer model.
With a set of bleachers packed with supporters, many of the operators milled around the competition watching other drivers to see where they flourished or made mistakes. The operators were given one test run the  previous day.

“It’s hard to prepare for,” said Clarence Jackson of Va.-based Alexandria Transit Co. before his run about training for the event. “When I’m on a route, I just practice as I go; that’s the way I prepare. The left turn is my hardest to predict, but I think I’m going to take care of it this time.”

In the 40-foot bus competition, Ramon Farfan of Fla.-based Jacksonville Transportation Authority was named best driver in North America, beating out 52 other competitors to win first place. Second place was awarded to Kevin Grady of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, while Zennon Rinylo of Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority took third place honors.

In the 35-foot bus competition, Arthur Murillo of Austin, Texas-based Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority won first place, beating out 19 other competitors. Two Washington state drivers, Gabe Beliz of Richland’s Ben Franklin Transit and Lloyd Eisemen of Port Townsend’s Jefferson Transit Authority, took home second and third place, respectively.

“What I’ve learned is to stay focused and pay attention to everything,” said Bennie Williams of the Maryland Transit Administration, who was participating in his first Roadeo after 13 years on the job. “You really have to be accurate with everything you do.”

Hennessy said that those who get to participate in the International Roadeo go home more fully enriched.

“Attendees get training on all the modules and from the industry at large, because they get to participate in the conference and work with others in the industry at all levels,” he said. “So, they leave not just with a trophy or plaque, but they actually walk away with some very advanced training that they may not get elsewhere.”

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