To provide 8.7 million local bus rides each year, Pierce Transit operates 153 buses and 33 bus routes. These stats become even more impressive when you factor in an additional 300,000 paratransit rides, the coordination of 786,000 vanpool trips and the express bus service the agency operates for Sound Transit involving another 143 buses and 15 routes.
To make it all possible, Pierce Transit employs some of the most skilled and dedicated South Sound citizens to ensure a well-functioning system: 71 mechanics and seven maintenance lead mechanics, as well as 554 transit operators, all who keep the vehicles safe and moving.
Providing Pathways for Mechanical Careers
“Our mechanics maintain all the buses and a good majority of shuttles, as well as the fleet of vans our supervisors drive,” says Rebecca Japhet, communications manager for Pierce Transit. “Plus, there are many other vehicles they service, such as those for maintenance. It is a tremendous skill to maintain all those vehicles. Mechanics are critical to the success of a transit agency.
“Their contribution is what ensures residents can rely on transit to get them to and from their jobs, doctor appointments, religious gatherings and so much more,” she adds.
This highly trained South Sound staff works around the clock, behind the scenes, and is an important part of the region.
“I contribute to my community by putting the best possible product out on the road,” says Harry Morris, who started as a laborer and is now a lead journey level mechanic.
There are many opportunities to move up in this field. For example, one employee had been with Pierce Transit as a bus operator for 18 years, and even reached “Million Mile Club” status (driving a million consecutive miles or more without a preventable accident). He then joined Maintenance and became a state certified journeyman mechanic.
Another employee started as a laborer, entered the apprenticeship program, successfully becoming a journey level mechanic and ultimately a lead mechanic (running the work on the floor).
“In our minds, the sky’s the limit,” Japhet says. “If an employee approaches his or her manager with a desire to move ahead into a different position, we will work with that person on a pathway to help them achieve their goal.”
In fact, Pierce Transit is kicking off a pilot apprenticeship program designed to recruit, retain and promote skilled maintenance employees and help them move forward in their career at Pierce Transit. “We are currently recruiting for three people to enter a state-certified apprenticeship program,” Japhet explains. “They’ll be offered training at Bates Technical College, which offers curriculum relevant to skills Pierce Transit needs, including diesel and heavy equipment training. They’ll also receive about 8,000 hours of fleet maintenance experience at Pierce Transit and some additional leadership training.”
Transit Operators Keep the South Sound Rolling
While the apprenticeship program may be new, the idea of promoting hard working community members, especially from within, is not. Pierce’s CEO, Sue Dreier, started as a bus driver in Oregon.
Bus operators often begin with no experience and receive multi-month intensive training. “We help new drivers get their commercial license and provide a family wage, a well paying job and great benefits,” Japhet says. And there is also room for advancement for operators; they can go on to become service supervisors that assist wherever needed throughout the system, assistant managers that manage the drivers or even higher in the agency.
“We keep it rolling!” says Vicky Simpson, service supervisor on Pierce Transit’s Dispatch team that makes sure there’s an operator assigned to every route, every day. “The work is different every day and keeps transit moving. What we do goes beyond work; it involves collaboration and gives us a sense of satisfaction for getting it done.”
Every person at Pierce Transit embodies two main qualities: real attention to safety and excellent customer service.
“I love what I’m doing and how we’re helping our community,” says transit operator James Bickerstaff, who has worked at Pierce for 11 years. “I love to see the smiles on my customers’ faces and I appreciate the opportunity to be of service to them and display a servant’s heart in my work.”
To learn more about organizations supporting the South Sound community, visit SouthSoundProud.org.