When Carol Hansen first started in the call center for Metro Transit — then called MTC — back in 1976, “there were no computers. Everything was paper. We had a big map on the wall, and we used a Hudson Street guide to look up addresses, and we had paper schedules to go by. Some of the calls might be 10 minutes long. We had to physically look up the address, then go to that map and try to figure it out. You got down on your knees to see the bottom of the map. Short people had to stand on a stool.

“I love telling the new people how it used to be.”

Hansen stayed on the job for nine years before moving out of town. Early in 1998, with her children grown, she decided to move back to Minneapolis. “I wasn’t thinking Metro Transit, but I picked up a Sunday paper, and there was an ad — I recognized the logo. I went down and applied. The supervisor remembered me.”

The testing was a lot harder the second time around and the training more thorough, Hansen said. “The first time I was hired, they said, ‘Do you know north, south, east, west? Can you read a map?’ That was pretty much it.” New routes to the suburbs were an added complication: “I was shocked to see there was service in Burnsville and Apple Valley,” she recalled.

Why have you stayed with this job for so long?

I have always liked helping people. You can actually tell when you’ve actually helped them by the tone of their voice. One mom was packing up little kids, taking them to day care, going to work, then going to school. I ended up saving her two hours a day of travel time. When I got done, she was almost in tears.

What are some of the challenges?

There are people who actually don’t know their address. I’ve said to people “If I was going to mail you a letter, what would I put on it?” When we’re giving instructions we’re supposed to use directionals. People say, “Don’t tell me that. Tell me left or right.” I say, “That depends on which way you’re facing.” I had one lady tell me, “I’m from California. Your north and south isn’t the same as ours.” When you consider that we each take 200 or more calls in a day, there might be three grumpy people. It’s usually someone who’s having a rotten day. You can tell as soon as you get them on the phone. Only once did I go in the bathroom and cry.

What’s your schedule like?

We’re open seven days a week except Christmas and Thanksgiving. When it comes time to pick shifts, you pick by seniority. I always work weekends. I like having Tuesday and Wednesday off. That way I can get my business done. What do I need weekends off for? I’ve worked a variety of shifts but I’ve settled on 6:30 to 3:30, with Tuesday and Wednesday off, and weekends 8 to 4:30. Everybody picks what works for them.

You’ve gone through a lot of change. What’s next?

The department is allowing us to telecommute. I work from home two days a week. I was the first one to try it. I’m not very computer literate. They said, “Now we can tell everyone who’s worried, if Carol can do it, everyone can do it.” □