Bus Roadeos: More than just fun and games

Posted on March 23, 2012 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.

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