The driving course at the 2012 International Bus Roadeo in Long Beach, California.
Drivers maneuver around 11 obstacles. They need to get close to curbs, tennis balls, and cones, but can’t touch them. They need to go fast, but not over the speed limit. They can’t brake where they shouldn’t, or too hard—there are judges and special tracking equipment on board to make sure the ride is nice and smooth. They need to complete the course as designed (and every course is different). They’re docked points for infractions—for bumping, scraping or knocking over a cone, for passing on the wrong side, for backing up, or for stopping, even just for a moment.
They’re steering buses—some up to 40 feet long. And they need to use the buses provided by the competition’s home agency, not the ones they drive at home. They have seven minutes.
Welcome to the International Bus Roadeo, hosted by the American Public Transit Association as part of its annual Bus and Paratransit Conference. In early May, 75 transit drivers, mostly from Canada and the U.S., gathered in Fort Worth to compete in this year’s bus driving competition. They hailed from world-famous agencies—San Francisco’s Muni and D.C.’s WMATA—and from much, much smaller ones—MET Transit, in Billings, Montana, and the Star Tran from Lincoln, Nebraska. Most drivers had to win at least one state or local Roadeo to be there. Some had won three.
What makes a great bus driver? Past and current champions of the International Bus Roadeo should know better than anyone. CityLab spoke to a few.