Phyllis Wade-Myers' employee number is 273. For those familiar with Metro Transit, that three-digit number is a sign of her seniority; the company's newer hires have five-digit numbers. She learned to drive on the old red "Jimmies," which had manual transmissions and no power steering. "You had to stand up to turn," she recalled. In the winter, drivers would put cardboard around the floors and wear snowmobile suits to keep warm.
"The only thing about the red buses — we could get through the snow," Wade-Myers said. "The new ones are like a skateboard. You've got to be on the ball with these."
Wade-Myers was working in downtown Minneapolis in the 1980s and, she recalled, "I kept seeing buses with women driving. I thought, 'I wonder if I could do that.'" She put in an application, was interviewed and hired as a part-time driver for the morning rush hour. She kept her other job for a while, but soon realized that Metro Transit offered better money and benefits. (Part-time drivers now work both a.m. and p.m. rush-hour shifts with a break in between, or on weekends.)
Wade-Myers likes the stability of an eight-hour shift, five days a week. Full-time operators can choose nine-hour shifts, with a half-day off each week, or four 10-hour shifts a week. Drivers are assigned to a garage and re-select their routes every three months, based on seniority. "Extraboard" drivers are assigned to a specific garage and fill in for operators who are ill or on vacation.
When Wade-Myers was hired, training took four weeks. Now it's five. The first week is in the classroom. In subsequent weeks, operators get their Commercial Drivers License, practice driving without passengers, then pick up customers for the first time. Finally they're assigned to a garage for route training and additional certifications if they are driving an articulated bus or assigned some downtown routes. Drivers are recertified every two years.
While Wade-Myers talks about the difficulty of getting up St. Paul's icy hills in the winter, it's the people who are her biggest source of joy and frustration. "You can make it fun, or you can make it horrifying. If you let things get to you too bad, then you have a bad day. Then you're wired, you get short-tempered and you're snappy. In the beginning, my supervisor told me, 'You're going to have to learn to have a tough skin.' It was hard for women back then," she recalled.
What route do you drive now?
The 74 — I've had it for a while. It used to be a 12 and then they changed the numbers. A lot of times you pick different ones for the winter. The 74 goes from Sunray to the light rail. It comes down 7 and goes out Randolph. The people are nice.
How much longer do you plan to keep driving?
About two more years.
What will you miss about driving?
I'll miss the camaraderie of the drivers and staff. We have dinners. That's our way of raising funds to keep our TV and stuff like that. We have a fitness room. I served on the safety committee. I was on the committee hiring transit police. That was fun — interviewing them.
Do you take the bus when you aren't driving?
We take the bus when the car breaks down. I like taking the bus. And we ride free. That's an incentive to look forward to when you retire. I haven't ridden the light rail. I keep saying I'm going to do it. □