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May 10, 2013

My APTA Bus Roadeo Experience

by Alex Roman - Also by this author

Driving a bus never looked easy. Living in California and being stuck in my car as much as I am, I’ve always had tremendous respect for the men and women who operate buses on a daily basis. So, when the call came that I would get my shot to drive in Sunday’s APTA Bus Roadeo, I was both excited and nervous.

Spending the day at the Roadeo didn’t help prepare me. The skills that the many participants exhibited were impressive and gave me the foolish belief that maybe I could do it. I would eventually be proven way wrong.

Before I got my turn to drive, I asked Motor Coach Industries’ Executive VP, Sales and Marketing, Patrick Scully, who has CDL, for some advice.

“Just remember, safety first,” he said. “Adjust your mirrors. Understand where your rear wheels are in relation to where you are in a driver position. It’s obviously a lot different than a car, it’s 40 feet long, so you have to get used to the length.”

With that advice, I jumped aboard, with Richard Daley Jr., a long-time employee for Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. He explained the course to me. Advised me to slow down and use my mirrors on each side. We tested the brakes so I could see how they felt. And, off we went.

I wasn’t doing too poorly at first, mostly because I was driving straight. As soon as I had to turn, though, the cones started piling up. By the time I got to the backing in portion of the course, several of the judges had to step in and pull the cones out from the tires.

The hardest part of driving the bus was definitely the brakes. Not their sensitivity, but the distance from the gas pedal to the brake pedal. I kept thinking I was going to miss them.

When we got to the end of the course, Daley told me to punch it through a row of barrels on each side until I hit 20 miles per hour, then brake before I hit the cone. There was a wall on the other side of the cone. I was worried that I wouldn’t find the brake on time and end up hitting the wall. I got it to 15 miles per hour, while knocking down every barrel that was on my right side, but stopped on time. And, just like that, it was all over.

I waited patiently to find out my score, but nobody ever came out to tell me. I’m going to assume it was a zero, but I may definitely make the record books for the highest number of obstacles taken out.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "SEPTA and Philly library enrich rides with reading" here.

Alex Roman

Managing Editor


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  • Louie Maiello[ May 10th, 2013 @ 1:55pm ]

    Alex, I won't mention what I heard about your performance but at least you were in a controlled environment. (lol) I’m glad you had the courage to step up to the plate and see what bus operators are up against. Nice work! Now add to the mix: Traffic, weather conditions, the riding public, attempting to maintain a schedule, pedestrians, inattentive pedestrians and you get a real taste of why it is one of the most challenging means of employment. If I could ever have the chance to have you as my student, a different Alex will be ready to roll at the next Rodeo. Stay well. Louie Maiello

  • Aaron[ May 11th, 2013 @ 8:25am ]

    I wish more people in the industry actually got behind the wheel. Planners and managers need the exposure. Thank you for sharing. And don't give up- once you get the hang of it, it's easy.

  • Scott[ May 13th, 2013 @ 9:45am ]

    Way to go, Alex. Thanks for putting together an interesting article on the challenges of driving a bus, even in a controlled environment. Both Louie and Aaron make great points - imagine what it's like for a bus operator in the real world. Unfortunately, transit companies today tend to value college degrees much more than practical experience.

  • Mary[ May 21th, 2013 @ 11:32am ]

    Many years ago our property had an "administrative" category during our local rodeo - which was usually considered the comic relief. I drove in this category for about 6 years - bettering my score each year until I finally got a positive score. I'm so glad I did this. It gave much so much appreciation and respect for the work our drivers do every day. Mary

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Janna Starcic

Executive Editor


Alex Roman

Managing Editor


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