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Inside the Ride

A Day in the Life of Your Bus Operator and Reasons a Bus is Late


In a transit utopia, all buses are on time, all connections are made, nothing interferes with a bus route, and passengers and operators never have a bad day. In reality, it’s not quite so magical. In fact, it’s probably not possible to create the perfect transit system. But we’ll continue to try.

What we would like to do is walk our riders through a day in the life of a bus operator – to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what really goes on behind the wheel and to hopefully shed some light on some of those not-so-pleasant bus experiences.

A Day in the Life

Every operator starts his or her day with a pre-trip inspection. William Several safety tests are conducted during the pre-trip, including tires, brakes, horn, lights, windshield wipers and wheelchair ramps. The bus is also checked for cosmetic damage like dents and graffiti. The pre-trip process reassures the operator that the bus is in good enough shape to be on the road.

Next the operators head out to their routes. Their schedules are pre-loaded into a computer program called Vehicle Management System (VMS), which helps track a bus’s departure time at each stop. Specific time points (the arrival times/locations referenced in the Transit Book) help keep operators like William Green on schedule.

“The VMS system tells us when we are running early or late on our routes,” said William. “It’s very important to wait at your time points until you are back on schedule. Leaving early from one of those stops is not an option.”

William says that the most common frustration he hears from his passengers relates to late buses.

“There are many things that can impact the timing of a bus,” he added. “Most of the time, an operator is late for a good reason.”

Heavy traffic, accidents or unexpected road detours can cause an operator to run behind schedule. So can construction, unusually busy bus stops or passengers with bikes. It also takes extra time and care to assist people who use a mobility device.

The Bus is Late You Say?

Teri Collins knows a thing or two about bus schedules – she helped develop them for 18 years. Now she manages Valley Metro’s bus contractors, working hand-in-hand with the operators and supervisors to improve the customer experience. Teri

“Bus schedules are developed based on averages,” Teri said. “We do our best to account for the things we can anticipate but there are so many things we can’t predict.”

For example, we can’t predict a broken traffic signal or an accident along the route, and both of these things can cause an unexpected delay. On the other hand, we know that peak service is during rush hour, so the bus schedule reflects that.

“It’s very important for our customers and operators to provide feedback if they see a pattern developing with a certain route,” Teri added. “We adjust bus schedules twice a year. We are very reliant on public input to help us implement the most effective changes.”

An example of a successful feedback process occurred with the Route 72. Our Customer Service Department received several calls about the route being busier than usual. The operator on that route gave his supervisors the same feedback. As a result, the schedule will be adjusted when service changes go into effect this October.

Above and Beyond the Call of Safety

Schedule management is important to a bus operator, but it’s not at the top of the list. William Green says the most crucial aspect of his job is driving safely.

“As a bus operator, you have to constantly be aware of your surroundings and pay attention to every detail,” William said. “You have to manage your own driving actions while anticipating the actions of all of the other drivers on the road.” Tyrone

And sometimes an operator will go above and beyond to ensure the safety of others. West Valley operator Tyrone Nelson was returning to the yard one morning when he noticed a pick-up truck going the wrong way on a Grand Avenue exit ramp.

“I was on my morning trip near 43rd Avenue and Camelback and noticed the truck entering the ramp,” Tyrone said. “That’s when I realized how serious the situation was and thought to myself – you’re going the wrong way here.“

Tyrone took quick action by stopping the bus and using his flashers and horn to get the driver’s attention. The driver, who was on his cell phone at the time, realized his error and was able to safely turn his truck around.

“If he had gotten up that ramp he could have hurt someone,” Tyrone added. “That really got to me, to know that I was in the right place at the right time.”

Tyrone was commended for his actions by Valley Metro and the City of Phoenix Police Department. Without his quick-thinking, the situation could have been much more severe, even deadly.

Striving for More

As you can see, there is a lot more to being a bus operator than simply steering the wheel. And it’s more than likely not your operator’s fault if he or she is running a few minutes late. Here’s a fun fact for you - Valley buses arrive on time 94% of the time. When you factor in all 100 bus routes, the 59.1 million people we transport every year, the 28 million miles we travel each year, plus all of the unpredictable situations that can interfere with bus schedules, that percentage is pretty good. But we will continue to strive for more – to work with our operators and passengers to become the most efficient regional transit agency we can possibly be.

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