Any public transit operator will tell you that the job is about much more than driving the bus. It’s about helping people find their way. It’s about answering questions on the fly. It’s about juggling a multitude of tasks, all while maintaining a constant focus.
For Halimah Hatchett, it’s about finding a rhythm.
“It’s about having that efficiency, and it comes with experience.”
Hatchett has driven for C-TRAN for more than a decade. She’s used to the job and its demands now, and says she’s here to stay. But spend a day with Hatchett or any other driver, and you’ll get a glimpse of the many facets of driving the bus that may go unnoticed by the public.
On a recent Friday, Hatchett starts her day just before 4:30 a.m. She first reports to dispatch in the C-TRAN Operations building, then signs in, gets her bus number for the day and gets moving. Hatchett walks out into the bus yard and begins pre-trip checks on the vehicle where it’s parked. Drivers have about 10 minutes to inspect their buses before rolling out. It’s an extra precaution – C-TRAN Maintenance crews work around the clock to keep the fleet safe and ready – but it’s standard practice. Drivers are looking for any possible safety issue or malfunctioning equipment that might need to be reported. If everything checks out, the bus starts its day.
On this day, Hatchett is driving Route 78, which runs between 99th Street Transit Center and the Vancouver Mall Transit Center. Once her pre-trip checks are done, she drives the vehicle from C-TRAN headquarters to 99th Street Transit Center. The first trip of the day on the 78 leaves at 5:00 a.m. from 99th Street. Hatchett arrives a few minutes early, so she stops in the driver break room to start some coffee. It will be waiting when she returns to the transit center before her second trip at 6:00 a.m.
Like many drivers, Hatchett has gotten to know some of the familiar faces she regularly sees on the bus. It’s one of the things she likes most about the job.
“I talk to my passengers quite a bit. If they talk to me, I’ll talk back, and I get to know them pretty well,” Hatchett says. “It’s almost like you’re a bartender or something. They tend to tell you a lot about them.”
In the dark pre-dawn hours, Hatchett knows to look for certain passengers she picks up at the same stop each day. She also notices when they’re not there. As the sun rises on a cold, clear morning, each trip gets busier than the last. Hatchett gets into a rhythm. She warmly greets each rider as they board, occasionally chatting with the ones who sit close to the front of the bus to talk to her.
Hatchett has driven just about every C-TRAN route. She says the 37 is her favorite. It’s a long route, and it’s busy – those are the ones Hatchett likes most, she says.
Stacy Moore is relatively new to C-TRAN, having started driving about a year ago. She’s “floating,” which means she fills in on different routes every day as needed. That’s common of newer drivers in a schedule that’s almost entirely seniority-based. Drivers bid for new routes every four months – the longest-tenured driver gets first pick, followed by the No. 2 driver, all the way down the list. Doing a variety of routes is a great way to learn the system, Moore says, but the irregular schedule can be a challenge.
Moore says she likes the Express routes that brave the freeways and carry commuters in and out of Portland each day. That’s not an opinion shared by all of her colleagues. But like many other drivers, she appreciates the atmosphere and the challenge that driving a bus provides.
“It’s structured. I really like that,” Moore says. “But I also like the fact that it still feels kind of like a family or a team, like everybody works as a team.”
Hatchett never saw herself driving a bus before joining C-TRAN. Her outlook is different now.
“I really like it here. The people – the people I work with, the people that I pick up every day – it makes it easier to come to work.”