Bus Operators Are An Impressive Bunch

As we’ve been studying the Port Authority to help them in their rebranding process, we’ve all been paying a little more attention on our daily commutes.

We won’t reveal any spoilers from our research, but one thing is clear: driving a bus is always hard and driving one in Pittsburgh is extra hard. One of the reasons that tech giants have come to Pittsburgh to test self-driving vehicles is how tough the conditions are on the road.

The weather is often tough, especially in the winter, but that’s not unique to Pittsburgh. The topography however makes it a real challenge. Steep hills, including the steepest officially recorded public street in the United States, tight winding roads, bridges, tunnels… simply put, Pittsburgh has it all when it comes to making driving tough. And don’t forget the Pittsburgh left.

Safely maneuvering a massive bus through these streets is an impressive feat. On this month’s episode of 90.5 WESA’s series Still Working, an interview with Jill Smallwood, a Port Authority bus operator opens an even greater window into the other aspects of driving the bus - the parts of the job that hardly have anything to do with staying under the speed limit or keeping the bus from sliding on ice.

She makes it clear that being a bus operator is more than just, well, operating the bus. It’s a job that serves the public and interacting with people is a huge and challenging part of the work. “People are watching everything that you do and they are listening to everything you say,” she said.

They deal with every segment of the public, and not everyone is having a great day. “There has to be some kind of empathy shown by the bus operator,” she said.

In the end though, it’s a rewarding occupation. Transit is a critical part of life in a city. It connects people to the things that make life possible - jobs, groceries, friends, the doctor’s office, and any other need. The operators know that they are part of making the city function.

“Our service is what really can make the difference in someone’s life,” she said.