The championship signs line the walls of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) headquarters much like a sports team’s title banners fill the rafters of an arena. At SEPTA, the international roadeo crowns are just like winning the Stanley Cup or the Vince Lombardi trophy. And, the pride of being the best is felt authority-wide — from the board and GM to operators and maintenance staff.
“The bus and rail roadeos are a priority for SEPTA’s leadership,” said Michael Liberi, SEPTA’s chief officer, surface transportation. “We know that we have some of the industry’s best operators and maintenance personnel. We want to showcase their skills to the international community.”
Before employees get to the international level, SEPTA hosts its own annual roadeos — the authority’s Bus Roadeo just celebrated its 30th anniversary — where operators and maintenance staff compete for company bragging rights, in front of their colleagues and families.
“SEPTA’s roadeos have a company picnic feel,” said Liberi. “We invite all employees to attend and bring their families and friends to watch the competition. Joe Casey, our GM, Jeff Knueppel, our deputy GM, and senior staff attend, not because they have to, but because they want to see our employees’ level of expertise and support their efforts.”
At the 2014 bus roadeo, Liberi and assistant GM, operations, Ron Hopkins learned firsthand how tough the obstacle course is, driving buses through the serpentine, barrel run and left and right reverses themselves.
SEPTA’s roadeo participants recognize, and thrive, on the internal support they receive from across the authority. Zenon “John” Rinylo, a 36-year SEPTA bus operator, has won 22 company competitions and is part of the organization’s back-to-back international champion team.
“There has always been support from SEPTA management for the roadeo,” he said. Rinylo noted that, when some transit companies look to cut costs, they abandon their roadeos and sending a team to the international event.
“Other transit organizations might drop out of the roadeo from time to time, but we always have a team at the international event,” he added.
“SEPTA recognizes that 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,” said Liberi. “Additionally, the expertise acquired by partaking in the competition, such as learning to develop and implement strategies, taking pride in one’s work and striving to be the best, also help in advancing our employees’ careers. Many of our roadeo participants have gone on to become managers at the authority.”
The Courtland “Misfit Toys” team works on SEPTA’s utility fleet, but still participated in and won the authority’s 2013 bus maintenance rodeo and represented SEPTA at the 2014 international mechanical event. The team members point to the good natured spirit of competitiveness created by the roadeo as being a factor in SEPTA’s success.
“We have great mechanics here and take the events seriously,” said Marc Duerr. “We want to do well and push each other to do well.”
“It creates a healthy work atmosphere,” added Duerr’s teammate Don Heim.
Rinylo also helps his colleagues leading up to the competition, offering tips and advice when approached by fellow drivers.
“I tell operators they need to focus and pay attention. They have to be ready for the next obstacle,” he explained.
Following the event, Rinylo can be found on the sidelines, offering his congratulations to all of the company’s district winners.
“I am not surprised by how well-received the roadeos are and how successful our teams have been on the international level,” said Casey. “SEPTA and its employees take pride in the service we offer every day and have the expectation of always putting our best equipment and efforts out on the roads and rails, whether it be for daily operations or when participating in a tough competition. The roadeos allow the operators to display that what they do every day is a skilled profession and that SEPTA operators are among the best.”
Heather Redfern is the public information manager at SEPTA.