Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

How do you become a bus operator?

There are lots of reasons why people drive for TriMet. 

Some are attracted by the pay and others by the great benefits. For many, it’s a stable job with opportunities to grow. More still don’t want to be cooped up in an office all day and would rather see the city and interact with people. For most, it’s a combination of all these.

No matter what the motivation, the process of becoming a TriMet bus operator is the same. Here’s what you can expect.

Application

Several times per week, Operations Recruiter Chartisha Roberts reviews online applications. While a consistent work history is important, two things make an application stand out. First is a professional driving history. This is valued but not a requirement. Second is a background in customer service. It’s easier to teach somebody how to drive a bus than it is how to interact with people in a professional and respectful manner.

If your application passes the initial review, Chartisha orders your driving records — a safe driving history is a must — and asks for verification of your high school diploma or GED. About half our operators have a college degree, even though it’s not required for the role, estimates Chartisha. 

Orientation and Group Interview

If your education and driving history check out, you’re invited to an orientation and testing session that’s offered twice a week. For the first hour, Chartisha will walk you through the role. Then you’ll have three pre-employment tests to complete. Two of them are video tests featuring scenarios that could happen on a bus; we want people who are helpful and aware of their surroundings. The third test is a personality assessment that helps us identify safety-minded people with the right disposition for operating a bus in a busy city.

You could get this far in the process within a week of applying

Each orientation is attended by 5 and 12 applicants. Sometimes everybody passes and moves on, but usually we’ll lose a couple people. Those who do pass are invited back to a group panel interview. These interviews happen every Thursday and take about 90 minutes. If an applicant is motivated, they could get this far in the process within a week of applying.

Background check and CDL permit

Those who pass the group interview are invited back to complete paperwork and get fingerprinted for a background check. You’ll also need to go to the DMV to get your CDL learner’s permit (if you don’t already have a one, or a CDL) and visit our doctor to make sure you’re medically fit for the job. We’ll also check your references — three from supervisors and two from co-workers — and conduct drug screenings. Even though we have tolerant laws and attitudes towards many substances in Oregon, you must be able to pass a drug test to be hired as a bus operator.

Training

If everything checks out — congrats! You’ve got an offer to drive for us. You’ll now join a class of 22 new hires for paid training — $15.16 an hour. Five days a week for the next six weeks you’ll be in the classroom, a simulator and (primarily) on the road learning how to be a bus operator. 

After the six weeks of training, you’ll need to pass the CDL test with the DMV. We’ll pay for your test and you have two chances to pass. Training completed and license in hand, you’ll become a part-time bus operator working 30 hours per week. You’ll get an immediate raise to $17.16 an hour, with guaranteed raises every four months for the next three years.

After training, you’ll get an immediate raise to $17.16 an hour

During your 6 month probationary period, your training class will meet monthly. Expect a welcoming environment, a benefit of our hiring friendly people with strong social skills.

Want to work full-time?

Every operator starts part-time with TriMet, but you should have the opportunity to go full time after a month or two. And if you want to become a rail operator, you can apply as soon as your probationary period is over.

It takes some effort, but in the end you’ll have a job you can stay this about:

Sound interesting? Join us as a bus operator!




Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts

How Transit Works in Snow and Ice

We’ve enjoyed a mild fall, with less precipitation than normal and plenty of sunshine.

That means we can expect a mellow winter, right?

We’re certainly not counting on it.

Over the years, we’ve learned that winter storms can appear out of nowhere. Of course, we monitor forecasts and share information with partners like PBOT and the National Weather Service to help us prepare for snow and ice. But weather isn’t always straightforward — and no two storms are the same — so we’re always at the ready with a plan.

Making the Call

We value safety, so determining whether to alter service in a winter weather event is simple: If a situation is potentially unsafe for riders, operators or equipment, we take action.

In practice, this means being ultra-aware of conditions across the system. To make this easier, we set up an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) that’s staffed around the clock during severe winter weather events. Representatives from every division of the agency convene to track conditions and respond accordingly. This nimble structure streamlines and speeds up the process of gathering information, making decisions and disseminating information. (Activating an EOC during an emergency is standard practice across all types of agencies.)

The Plan for Buses

Preparing buses for snow and ice often begins before service starts for the day. Specialized crews known as “Snowbirds” head out to assess bus routes, particularly those at high elevations, to see if they’re safe for normal bus operations. They might call for a sanding truck, put the line on its snow route or cancel a run entirely.

Like other cars and trucks on the road, buses will often be chained if they’re running on snowy or icy streets. It takes a little under two minutes to install chains on each tire, and up to ten hours to chain all our buses. Depending on the forecast, we may chain just part of our fleet — if the weather suddenly improves, we need to be able to remove the chains quickly.

And if it gets really cold, buses will idle overnight to keep their engines warm and to prevent air systems from freezing. (Essential components like brakes, doors, wipers and starters are all air-operated.)

For riders, it’s important to keep in mind that chained buses travel slower — no faster than 25 mph — so they won’t stay on schedule. And in winter conditions your bus won’t pull up to the curb, lest it slide or become stuck. If that happens, we have rescue teams on standby to get it moving again.

MAX Service

MAX typically does well in snow, and we take measures to prevent ice buildup. Throughout the system, switches on the track are equipped with covers (some have heaters, too) and portions of the overhead wire have caps to keep ice at bay.

Some of our Type 1 MAX cars (the model with the stairs) have a special pantograph (the arm that connects the train to the overhead wire) equipped with an ice cutter that can shave about a millimeter of ice off the overhead wire with each pass. It doesn’t sound like much, but every little bit helps.

Recently, we installed a heating system on the overhead wires in the Ruby Junction rail yard as part of a pilot project to prevent ice buildup. If it works, we’ll consider using the technology throughout the system.

If necessary, we’ll run some trains overnight to keep ice from building up on the overhead wire. And if you’re at the station when one of these trains pulls up — for whatever reason, at whatever time — we’ll let you board!

Facilities

We have a supply of ice melt on hand to keep walkways, platforms, stairs and transit centers walkable. (We use magnesium chloride, an environmentally friendly and biodegradable liquid.) If you find that your stop or station is dangerously slick, let us know. We’ll try to get someone there to help as quickly as possible.

This is common sense, but it’s worth repeating: If it’s snowing or icy, be very careful when you’re making your way to your stop or station. Even if a path looks clear, it can be slippery.

What You Need to Know

We often need to alter service in the face of unpredictable weather, so start by checking for updates on your lines: You’ll find service alerts and snow route updates at trimet.org/alerts and on Twitter, or you can subscribe to email updates for the lines you ride. And if you have questions or comments, we’re available 24/7 to help.

We’ve already mentioned that your bus will likely be running late and a little slow — and perhaps on a snow route — during snow and ice. If it gets too far off its normal schedule, we’ll turn off TransitTracker so estimated arrival times (which aren’t accurate when buses are traveling slower) become approximate distances.

When you’re ready to catch the bus, keep in mind that it it can’t safely stop on a slope — so if your stop is on a hill, head to the top or bottom to board. And wait on the sidewalk until the bus comes to a complete stop before trying to board. There’s always a chance it could slide toward the curb once the brakes have locked the wheels.

Aside from checking the status of your bus or train before starting your trip, make sure your phone is charged and that you have water and warm clothing — don’t forget gloves and a hat. Leave plenty of time to walk to your stop or station and be extra careful on slopes. Along with our regional partners, we do our best to de-ice roads, bridges, garages, platforms and parking lots, but you’ll likely find some slippery spots along the way.

As we mentioned at the top, our goal is to keep everyone safe. So even as things slow down, know that there’s a lot going on behind the scenes to coordinate safe travel in difficult circumstances. Winter weather requires extra effort from all of us, and we appreciate your trust, patience and preparedness when the time comes.

Which reminds us: Have you learned your snow route?

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

More Posts

How We’re Speeding Up Buses

Sometimes a small change in our roads can have a big impact on how fast we all get home.

Recently, we’ve been working with PBOT and ODOT to improve intersections where buses (and cars) frequently get stuck in traffic. Here’s what we did at SW 4th Avenue and Harrison in Portland:

Before we worked with PBOT to tweak this intersection, left-turning cars would block buses from continuing east towards Naito. Just one turning car could cause delays to the buses that travel this busy corridor — including lines 35, 36, 54, 56 and 99.

But we saw an easy fix: Create a turn lane for eastbound traffic. Now, turning cars don’t block traffic. In the months since PBOT made this change, delays during the afternoon rush hour on those lines have dropped by nearly 20%. Small change, big impact.

We’ve worked with our partners to roll out similar improvements at nine other places across the region, from SE Stark at 82nd, to NE Holman at Airport Way, to the westbound approaches to the Hawthorne Bridge, and more. And there are dozens more intersections that we think can be improved. Think of these as the “low-hanging fruit” for speeding up buses and cars around our region.

This is just one small way we’re working to make transit — and the Portland region — better.          

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts

Watch: What happens behind the scenes during a MAX disruption?

What’s happening on the ground when MAX stops running and our construction crews descend on a section of track?

Lots, it turns out. Let’s look at one stretch of tracks between SW Adams and S 1st during our recent Hillsboro MAX improvement project.

In the weeks before the disruption started, we removed most of the concrete around the rails. While the exposed rails — also known by the Halloween-appropriate term “skeleton rails” — look dangerous, they’re safe to run trains over.

Once the disruption started, we were able to cut the rails out.

With the rails gone, we were left with a shallow empty pit.

From there we laid the new rails and switches…

…welded them together and secured them to the ground.

We poured the new concrete…

…and then we ran test trains to make sure the new switches and rails were safe.

Here’s a time lapse covering the time from the last train before the disruption until the first test train going over the new rails.

This was far from the only work we did the past two weeks. It was a lot to accomplish and we couldn’t have done it without your patience!

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts

This Bus Platform Has Room for Bikes, Pedestrians and More

Last week, we tested a full-scale model of a new type of bus platform; one that accommodates bikes, pedestrians and 60-foot articulated buses.

We expect to have these extra-long buses running along Division Street, between Gresham and Downtown Portland, as soon as 2022. For this test, we borrowed a Vine bus from our friends at C-TRAN.

The purpose of the platform is to allow buses to stop without having to pull over (and cross a bike lane) to the curb. So it’s designed to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and scooter-ers who are passing through — as well as bus riders who are waiting, boarding or disembarking. (People on bikes and scooters are required to stop when the bus pulls up to let riders on and off.)

The test involved people using the platform in different scenarios while technical experts, transportation advocates and accessibility advisors observed. The adjustable platform allowed us to test two- and four-foot “step-outs,” the space between the bus and bike lane. We also tested wayfinding signs that instructed bike and scooter riders to stop and wait for people to get on and off the bus.

The next step is to integrate the feedback from the test into the design for the 30 platform stations we want to install in East Portland.

Want to keep up with the Division Transit Project? Visit trimet.org/division

Brian Lum

Brian Lum

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to help tell our story, and to share the interesting things I find along the way. When I'm not here, you'll find me out riding my bike and taking pictures.

More Posts

Buses to the Rescue

If you need buses, and you need buses fast, Alex Ubiadas is who you call.

Whether you need to quickly evacuate a large number of people, like during 2017’s Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge, or you need a space to warm up first responders during a winter emergency, TriMet’s Emergency Manager is the person who can make it happen.

“We’re the only people in the area who can move lots of people in a short period of time,” says Alex, “This is not our primary mission, but as a taxpayer-funded public agency, we believe this an important role for us to play in our community.”

When something bad happens, people across the region know to contact Alex directly. If it’s a valid public emergency, and there are extra buses and operators available, he’ll coordinate with TriMet’s Operations Command Center to make sure the buses get where they need to go.

A common misconception is that the buses and operators being used for emergencies are being pulled off their regular runs, with TriMet’s service suffering as a result. “We always have extra buses and operators standing by in case of any issues, like if we need to replace MAX with shuttle buses, or a bus breaks down, or an operator calls in sick,” explains Alex. “As a last resort, we’ll pull some buses off Frequent Service lines to replace MAX during lengthy disruptions. But we only use our spare buses and drivers for responding to emergencies.”

Water and other supplies for Eagle Creek Fire evacuees

2017’s Eagle Creek Fire was one of the largest — and farthest flung — emergency operations Alex has helped coordinate. As the fire raced through the Gorge, thousands of residents needed to be evacuated. Even though the evacuation zones extended far beyond TriMet’s service area, several buses were sent to help shuttle people to shelters and to bring water and other supplies to the evacuees. “Because the fire moved so quickly, we only had a couple hours heads-up on that request. With the amount of people we transported and the distance from Portland, it was our largest emergency operation in recent memory.”

TriMet has also recently provided buses that helped evacuate people during the 2018 junkyard fire off NE Killingsworth Street. And in 2016, TriMet buses took children from their school near the NW 23rd Avenue gas explosion to a safe location where their parents could pick them up.

Beyond evacuations, TriMet will provide buses to help police departments with transportation when a large number of people have been arrested, such as during a riot. Alex will also help arrange for warming or cooling buses. “If there is a fire during the winter months, we’ll often provide a bus for firefighters to rest and warm themselves. Likewise, in extreme heat, we can provide buses to help cool first responders or other people. A few years ago there was a large outdoor festival that had a lot of people from vulnerable populations attending. The county director of emergency management asked if we could provide a bus to help cool people who were showing signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.”

One thing Alex has yet to provide buses for — but is prepared for — is an earthquake. “We have plans to provide assistance for major emergencies, such as an earthquake. The Portland Transportation Recovery Plan provides for TriMet to use buses to potentially move people but also supplies to distribution points within the city,” says Alex.

“I love that we’re able to do this,” continues Alex. “It’s just the right thing to do.”

As part of National Preparedness Month, Alex encourages everybody to visit ready.gov to learn how they can prepare for a disaster.

Header photo courtesy KPAM News Talk 860 & Afternoon Northwest

 

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts

What You Want In The Next Generation Of MAX Trains

In a few years, we’ll be sending our high-floor MAX trains — which have been rolling since MAX first opened in 1986 —  off into the sunset. We’ll miss our Type 1’s (you never forget your first love…), but we’re excited about their replacements, the Type 6’s. Evidently, so are you.

Earlier this year, we asked what features you wanted to see in our next generation of MAX cars. Your requests were diverse and interesting, and we noticed some common themes. While we can’t yet make any promises about what our new trains will include, your suggestions are being used to guide our planning.

Here are your most common requests:

More and better interior displays

We’re on board with you here — clear interior displays that tell you where you are and where you’re going are essential. For our Type 6 trains, we’re asking for an upgrade from our current LED displays to dynamic route maps and next-stop displays. Our hope is for high-definition displays that can show graphics.

Comfortable seating and easy-to-navigate layouts

Your feedback on the open layout of the Type 5 trains — which were introduced in 2015 with the Orange Line — has been very positive, so the Type 6 trains will likely be similar. Regardless, we’re going to explore seat cushioning and layout options, so we can give you the most comfortable ride possible.

A safe ride

This is as non-negotiable for us as it is for you. For our Type 6 trains, we’re looking to add a silent alarm you can use to notify operators of security issues, higher definition on-board cameras for the recording as well as live streaming of security footage, and higher quality rear monitors so operators to have a clear image of what’s happening around the train during boarding.

There were several other common requests that we’ll be looking into, including WiFi, charging stations and USB ports, more leg room, easier boarding and exiting with wider doors and faster ramps, and more and better bike storage. Again, we make no promises but we’re looking at which requests we can accommodate.

So when you can expect these new train cars? Soon, but not too soon. You cannot go to the train store and pick out new cars to drive home (we wish…). These cars will be custom designed and built. We’re going to be looking for a manufacturer for these cars starting this year. Then the actual car design will kick off next year and manufacturing will start in 2020. If everything goes well, we hope to have the first new cars rolling in Portland by late 2021 or 2022. Stay tuned.

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts

Recap: Providence Park MAX Track Work

It may have only lasted six days, but we got a lot done.

The MAX track work last week outside of Providence Park allowed us to rebuild an aging section of tracks that was causing reliability issues. Here’s what we did:

There were several improvements we wanted to make going into this project.

The asphalt around the tracks had broken down, which made MAX trains sway as they traveled through the area. It was uncomfortable for you and it caused unnecessary wear and tear on our trains.

Technology has improved since this section of track was built in the early 1990s, so we ripped out the rails and the materials supporting them and replaced them with materials that will be more durable, reliable and longer-lasting. When replacing the rails, we secured them with a new grout that should keep the rails in place better —  preventing that swaying — while also proving to be more durable than asphalt.

Finally, we replaced the old switches and improved the drainage underneath them. This should also increase reliability and lessen maintenance needs.

We were able to accomplish other necessary work at the same time. We moved the poles that hold the overhead wires, which should minimize future disruptions. 

There is still a bit more work to do: You’ll notice some gaps in the pavement near the tracks that still need grout. It’s safe for trains to pass through but the street will remain closed for the rest of this week.

This necessary work wouldn’t have been possible without your patience. We can’t thank you enough!

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts

MAX is Back at Providence Park. Thank You for Your Patience!

And that’s a wrap! We’ve finished our Providence Park MAX track work and trains are running normally again.

We want to thank you for your patience during this work. We understand how inconvenient these disruptions can be. We’re commuters ourselves, after all.

New rails outside Providence Park.

This six-day disruption allowed us to replace the rails and outdated switches near Providence Park. The next time you ride MAX past the stadium, we hope you notice the smoother ride. (Or at least that you don’t notice any bumps.) This necessary work should improve MAX reliability, as well.

We’ll share a video overview of the project next week, but until then: Thank you!

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts

Bus Driver by Day, World Champion by Night

That bus operator you thanked as you exited the bus this morning? They may have a whole other set of super powers you never knew about.

Take Tofer Sneed, a TriMet bus driver since 2014. This April, Tofer took home gold at the Men’s Roller Derby World Cup in Barcelona, Spain. Watch to see him in action and to learn how he balances training with work:

Driving for TriMet is a great platform for pursuing your passions. Bus operators make more than $60k/year after three years, receive generous paid time off and get great medical, dental and vision benefits, even while working part-time.

Want to know more? Visit trimet.org/driveforus.

Tom Williams

Tom Williams

I'm TriMet's Web & Social Media Coordinator. I'm here to share our story, and to keep you up-to-date on how TriMet can help you navigate Portland. When I'm not working, I love to read, spend time outdoors, and visit tiki bars.

More Posts