• Meghan Sorensen

Inside the Life of a Bus Driver

Ryan Waselik is a 23-year-old bus driver who is currently enrolled in UMass Amherst’s school counseling graduate program. Waselik started working with Transit Services as an undergraduate psychology student and has now been driving for almost three years. UMass Voices sat down with Waselik to get the inside scoop about what it’s like to be a driver. (Comments edited for length and clarity.)

What is it like to be a bus driver at UMass?

Much like everyone, I wasn't sure I'd be able to drive a bus because it seems so daunting. But then I got introduced to it and it was a very friendly, welcoming environment. And here I am, three years later, I couldn't have imagined working driving a bus for so long. It's such a great experience and it's a very tight knit community. Even throughout this pandemic, we really haven't broken stride with our camaraderie and our closeness despite all the challenges. I think that really speaks a lot to the culture that we've created here and the enjoyment we get out of working for transit.

What is it like to be a part of the Transit Services community?

From the get-go, they were super friendly, comforting and made it a very welcoming environment. They took it step by step to make sure we understood the tips and tricks of how to work here — once you become a full-fledged driver, they welcome you in with open arms. I felt nervous being on my own once I started driving without supervision, but they support you, and they really emphasize the fact that we're all doing this together. If it wasn't for us, then the buses wouldn't be moving so it's a really great environment. Now I'm actually one of the longest tenured people still working here, because most people graduate and move on, but I stuck to UMass with grad school. It's really cool to see that, from being one of the new people to one of the old faces, the camaraderie and closeness is very much the same, just with different people.

What has being a bus driver taught you?

It's funny to remember how I viewed the transit system before working there. From the little things like “why are the buses always late?” — you don't understand the inner workings of what's going on. I definitely gained a big appreciation for how much goes on the background. I think the biggest thing is that we always keep a smile on our face and we always really emphasize having good relations with our passengers. You get people from all walks of life riding your bus, so we really emphasize just making sure that you have a nice big smile on your face, and you really know what you're doing. Otherwise, what's really the point if you're not enjoying yourself?

How has the pandemic affected your experience as a bus driver?

Our higher ups really took it upon themselves to take this pandemic seriously from the get-go. I really respect and admire the fact that they were willing to change the way things have been done for the last 50 years, in order to make this a safe environment for the passengers. Our literal job is to transport people, and if we can do that as safe as possible, then that's the way we have to do it. So, it certainly changed how Transit Services looks on the outside as far as trying to limit the number of passengers and try and effectively distance everyone.

Once the mask mandate went into effect, for the state of Massachusetts, we had to enforce mask wearing and sometimes that was a little bit of a struggle because you get passengers occasionally that are a little bit harder to work with. But now, over a year in, we've created a good system of enforcing the rules while also creating an enjoyable ride for the passengers. So, it's affected how we drive people and how we go about our job, but we still approach the job the same. The pandemic really made me realize how useful we are, not just to the students but to the community. I love helping people and we're helping not just students, but everyone in the Amherst area. It's just really nice to know that rain, snow, pandemic or shine, we're still running and we're still helping people as best we can and in the most safe way we can.

What would you say to other students who are interested in becoming a bus driver?

I think the biggest thing that scares people is the fact that it's a 35-to-60-foot bus that you're driving, so it’s daunting and it seems like something you couldn't do. Change and something different is always an uncomfortable feeling and I definitely experienced that when I was being introduced to working there, but I decided to take a leap of faith and give it a whirl. You realize that it's just a different kind of vehicle and just like you had to learn to drive a car, you’ll learn to drive a bus. It is different, but you have a great support system here and it's super flexible hours and great pay on top of it all, which is just icing on the cake. There's so many positives and little to no negatives about this job, and it really works for anyone schedules, no matter how busy they are. No matter how much you think you will enjoy driving the buses, it always is way more enjoyable. It’s a great job, and you enjoy it tenfold more than you expected in the best possible way.

Interesting in becoming a bus driver? UMass Transit is hiring! Learn more about the opportunity here.

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