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An Inside Look At What It Takes to Be a Motor Coach Operator
May 31, 2019
by Rick Cole
Imagine driving a 60-foot-long vehicle weighing thirty tons through LA traffic. You have to pull over every couple of blocks and pick up passengers, many of them elderly or disabled, taking extra time to board. Those in wheelchairs will need your help to be sure they are secured before you pull back out into traffic. While driving, you need to keep one eye on up to 100 passengers behind you while also scanning ahead -- and to both sides -- to watch for cars, scooters and bikes trying to dart ahead of you, not to mention jaywalkers or even passengers running alongside banging on the bus because they are desperate for you to pull over to pick them up. You are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of everyone on your bus and of course, you are under constant pressure to stay on schedule no matter what unfolds.
“You have to understand every day that when that bus leaves the yard, it is going on a journey where anything can happen,” explains Transit Operations Superintendent Jabryan Donald. “The Motor Coach Operator is the captain of the ship. You will be crossing through multiple cities, in melting heat or on rain-slicked streets. You are alone, you have to make decisions on your own. You have to rely on your influence over people because you don’t have a badge or a gun to enforce the rules. You have to manage your time and exercise situational awareness because situations can escalate quickly.”
Your day can start as early as 4:30 in the morning or end as late as 1:15 at night. You have to conduct a thorough pre-check on the bus before pulling out and you may go for eight straight hours with breaks at the end of your routes of as little as five minutes and seldom more than 15 minutes. That’s the time when you have to wolf down lunch, run to the bathroom or respond to family calls. Your on-time performance is constantly tracked along with your safety record.
“Operating a bus is like single-handedly running a store with hundreds of customers a day,” Jabryan adds. “Except this store is a mobile one that you have to drive safely through terrible traffic.”
Ernesto Rodriguez did this for four years. In that short career, he racked up a remarkable 66 compliments from passengers who were so impressed with his skills and customer service that they called, emailed or wrote to Big Blue Bus management to share their positive experiences. “He loved to communicate with people,” Jabryan recalls. “Nothing seemed to get him upset. He was so patient and kind.”
Ernesto went on medical leave last year. He passed away on Saturday, May 25, due to an extended battle with cancer.
Ernesto came to Big Blue Bus in 2014 after a long career in restaurant sales. Very quickly, Ernesto made an indelible impact on our customers and among our staff. When asked about his approach to customer service, Ernesto viewed every customer boarding his bus as an opportunity to build a relationship with, and that it started with establishing rapport. He greeted every customer who boarded his bus warmly and consistently wished them farewell when they got off. When customers asked him how he was doing, he often said, “Just another day in paradise.” As Hermosa Beach City Manager Suja Lowenthal (who worked with him during her career at BBB) notes, "He meant that and made everyone around him feel it!"
On his days off, Ernesto could be found playing golf. During breaks in between runs, Ernesto could occasionally be spotted practicing his golf swing on a golf mat in the corner of the BBB parking lot.
BBB Director Ed King mourns his loss: “Ernesto embodied BBB’s core values, especially putting customers first, during all his years of service. He will be greatly missed by his colleagues and customers.”
Next time you see one of our Motor Coach Operators, give a wave and a thumbs up. It's a tough job and most of us could never do it. We are blessed to have heroes like Ernesto who love the job and do it so well.
Services for Ernesto will be limited to friends and close friends only. In lieu of flowers, Ernesto’s family has requested donations be made in his name to the American Cancer Society.
The family also appreciates any notes of condolence. They may be sent to Tina Rodriguez, 3919 Keeshen Dr., Los Angeles, 90066.