Our latest group of student coach operators spent time this week both in the classroom and out in the bus yard, mastering the customer service and technical skills they will need before going out on the road. I stopped by the training room yesterday to visit the class to see how it was going so far.
“Probably the most challenging thing so far is having to learn all 26 routes within a couple of weeks. It’s rough, but we can do it,” says one of the students confidently. The rest of the class nods, smiling.
“Christina’s been teaching us to use key words to help us remember each route,” adds another student. “For example, I remember that the route on Baseline and 16th is the 67 because 1 + 6 = 7. For some reason that sticks for me.”
Fleet Safety and Training Instructor Christina Diaz has no doubt her charges will be ready to pass their final test. “They are on this. They’re a great group and they’re absorbing information like sponges.”
She points out there’s a lot more more memorization involved in training that most people realize. Not only do student coach operators have to remember the routes, they also have to commit to memory all the radio codes and fare box codes as well. This means lots of study time at home after class.
The trainers also ensure the students experience public transit firsthand from a rider perspective. They have them ride the system in addition to learning to drive it.
“Earlier this week we dropped each of them off in different parts of Montclair,” laughs Christine. “And they had to figure out what buses to take to get back to the San Bernardino office. They actually did very well.”
Many of the students have operated large vehicles before, which they point out can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. Sometimes it means there are bad habits they have to break–like how to handle the steering wheel.
“Hand positions are at 10-2, 9-3, or 8-4 and should be kept on the outside rim of the wheel,” explains Christina.
“And no palming or putting your hand in the crossbar,”says a young man in the back.”The wheel could spin suddenly and you could get hurt or cause an accident”
Christina grins proudly. “See? They’ve got this.”
The class laughs. They joke with each other, mimicking examples of bad drivers at the wheel. They are obviously a close knit crew and have already bonded over the past two weeks. All of them are looking forward to going out in the field with coach operator instructors next week and driving the routes.
As I get ready to leave, they wave and say goodbye.
“Make sure you’re here on graduation day to take our picture,” calls out one of the women. “You’re going to need a wide lens ’cause we are all going to graduate. We’re in this together!”
-Juno Kughler Carlson