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March 23, 2012

Bus Roadeos: More than just fun and games

by Heather Redfern - Also by this author

 One of the highlights of the year for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) bus operators and mechanics is SEPTA’s annual Bus Roadeo, where employees showcase their driving, safety and maintenance skills in front of family, friends and colleagues in a festive atmosphere. But the Roadeo offers more than just bragging rights and accolades for participants (although those are a nice bonus). The skills operators and mechanics practice leading up to and perform on the day of the event are important and unique training opportunities that can enhance the participants’ everyday job performances.

Qualifying operators compete on an 11-obstacle driving course (which must be completed in seven seconds) that measures safety and smoothness of operation. They are also judged and scored on personal appearance and vehicle pre-trip inspection (part of their daily responsibilities). Mechanics compete as teams of three in events such as two engine/transmission modules, HVAC module, air brakes, bus inspection, doors, multiplex electrical system and written testing. 

“All of the transportation and maintenance events focus on real, everyday items or tasks that transit professionals deal with while doing their jobs,” said Mark Catenacci, senior project designer, SEPTA. “Although the Roadeo is a one day event, the skills honed and the knowledge gleaned carry over the remaining 365 days of the year, which makes the benefits of a Roadeo immeasurable.” Catenacci added that, because many of the competitors, via their Roadeo experience, promote into transportation management positions, “the Roadeo is also a great career launch pad.”

Winners of the local events (“the playoffs” as Catenacci calls them) can compete in the International Bus Roadeo (IBR). Unfortunately holding a local Roadeo and participating in the IBR is becoming a luxury for some transportation organizations. “Public Transit operators have faced unprecedented funding challenges over the past few years resulting in a number of critical budget adjustments,” said Michael Hennessy, IBR chair and one of the original committee members that helped develop and implement the first APTA International Maintenance Roadeo. “Travel restrictions including Roadeo and conference attendance are a part of some transit agencies’ cutbacks.”

Hennessy urges organizations that have or are considering not participating in Roadeos to revisit the topic before striking it from the ledger, as the benefits far exceed the monetary expense.

“Whereas the Roadeo may look like a line item on a budget sheet, it directly impacts the core of the organization,” he said. “The face of a transit agency is often the bus operator and mechanics that provide the look and feel of the service. As ambassadors for the transit system their superior performance is critical to the customers’ experience and the community’s support of the transit system.”

Hennessy, who thinks of the IBR as the Oscars or Grammys of the transportation world, added, “The IBR strives to promote a standard of excellence by addressing the industry's top operating issues and concerns with advanced training, competitive challenges and enhanced skill development. The IBR produces a pool of ‘Best of the Best’ operators and mechanics that benefit local transit systems, communities and the transit industry at large.”

While the mood of the competition is almost always friendly and light, the Roadeos are far from “just fun and games.” Participation allows operators and mechanics to challenge themselves personally and professionally, while improving their organizations, too.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "This Sunday, thank your bus driver" here.

Heather Redfern

Press Relations Officer, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority


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Tags: Bus Roadeo, SEPTA
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  • Steve Mullaly[ March 23th, 2012 @ 10:54am ]

    I agree what was written regarding bus Roadeo's local and International. At LA Metro, we have promoted some of our Roadeo mechanics into Maint. Instructor positions. All doing a great job for us. Personnel that compete weather in driving or maintenance strive to be the best at what they do, in addition they challenge themselves to stay on the leading edge of new technolgy along with supporting their work locations with eagerness to teach others. It's a win win for all.

  • John Murphy[ March 23th, 2012 @ 11:56am ]

    I agree. Bus Roadeo/Bus Maintenance Roadeo competitions have a much greater positive effect on the properties and communities served. Working in the public sector it is difficult to motivate employees and improve on moral. These competitions bring people/employees/families together and serve as a developmental springboard that creates and enhances a positive culture ultimately serving the customer in a way no other areas of government have been able to do........ John Murphy CTA - Retired

  • Joe D. Acosta, WSO-CSSD, CCTM[ March 23th, 2012 @ 3:47pm ]

    The author makes some terrific points regarding employee incentives and motivation that helps employees enhance their overall performance on the job daily. If I may add, individuals that operate transit buses and maintain buses perform work that for the most part is repetitious day to day. Getting employees to perform at their best is challenging for most supervisors and managers, and training, though necessary, can only provide so much in the way of results relative to continuous improvement from some individuals. Bus Roadeos integrate a wonderful human characteristic, competitiveness, which in turn improves the individual’s focus on a short term basis. The individual’s resolve typically shows development that stays with them on a long term basis. The improved skills, which are literally work related, are then applied when working. The employee also experiences heightened satisfaction towards the entity, and this tends to transcend into their future for a considerable time, especially when the next Bus Roadeo (competition) approaches. When managers have to consider expense cuts, and if they decide to eliminate a Bus Roadeo, to the employees that look forward to these events, it seems that something has been TAKEN from them. Now the benefits referenced above are less likely. Not holding the competition (especially if having been held regularly) may undermine the employees’ performance seemingly. For now, the opportunity to have some fun and be recognized before their co-workers and to show off in front of their families and/or friends seemingly has also been TAKEN away as well. As such, Return On Investment (ROI) should not be measured strictly by the expense you TAKE away, because later on, the GAIN may be even greater by way of other expenses incurred directly or indirectly. The overall bottom line may suffer in the long run, though not necessarily immediately. What will likely suffer immediately is employee morale and the recognition in the eyes

  • Jeff Brown[ March 26th, 2012 @ 4:09am ]

    Transit driving is a skill not often celebrated. The Roadeo gives pride to the workers. Family members get the chance to see what the workers actually do. This is expecially gratifying because transit drivers often work long split shifts which prevent them from spending time at home. The Roadeo also gives workers a chance to share their "best practices". This event celebrates the people who do a good job instead of the people who tell the best break-room stories.

  • Kelly Shawn[ March 27th, 2012 @ 1:12pm ]

    I agree with the author. The Roadeos were designed not only to be a training event but also recognize the importance of our front line employees. Another aspect to consider is the participation by management and supervisors as judges. It's great that they have an opportunity to socialize and network but also be reminded of some of the challenges facing drivers on a day to day basis. The National Community Transportation Roadeo is an event to recognize Paratransit and Community Transit operators and also includes mobility device loading and securement. Funding and support of Roadeos is an investment in safety, risk management and employee moral. It conveys to your riders your organization is invested in their safety and customer service.

  • Marc Healy[ July 2nd, 2012 @ 6:10am ]

    I believe the issue of safety and advances in safety measures, is a topic that warrants greater discussion. I don't mean this in an activist tone! However a healthy discussion on best practice and a sharing of Emergency response knowledge would be more than worthwhile. There is a huge amount of tacit on the job knowledge that exists among the Emergency Response community that if shared would reduce accidents and possibly save lives. I have dealt with some of the finest Emergency Responders in the business and have compiled a collection of insights I have included four quick steps to improving your Emergency Response for a Transportation Network http://www.decisionsforheroes.com/blog/post/20120619-Five-Ways-to-Improve-Your-Transportation-Network Whether your involved in Emergency Response or work behind a desk at executive level an active and innovative approach to improving safety can improve: - Employee Motivation - PR and Corporate Social Responsibility - Overall Efficiency - Reduce down time - Avoid costs associated with accidents

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Author Bio

Heather Redfern

Press Relations Officer, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority


Scott Belcher

President and CEO, Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America)


Joel Volinski

Director, National Center for Transit Research at CUTR/USF


Brian Antolin

Consultant, Transportation and Travel Industry


Joe Zavisca

Joe Zavisca is an independent consultant specializing in paratransit service.


Paul Mackie

Communications Director, Mobility Lab

Paul Mackie is communications director at Mobility Lab, a leading U.S. voice of “transportation demand management.”


Rob Taylo

Founder/CEO SinglePoint Communications

Rob Taylo is founder/CEO of SinglePoint Communications, an exclusive U.S. distributor of WiFi in Motion.


Zack Shubkagel

Partner/Creative Director of Willoughby Design

Zack Shubkagel is partner and creative director for the San Francisco office of Willoughby Design, a strategic branding and design firm.


Amy Snyder

Communications Specialist, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District


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