T Roadeo shows off wild side of drivers

By Richard Weir | Saturday, October 15, 2011 | http://www.bostonherald.com | Local Coverage

Willis Rose floored the gas pedal of the 36,000-pound MBTA bus and then slammed on its air brakes, coming to a screeching halt before a tough crowd watching his every move.

This wasn’t a narrow, traffic-snarled street in Boston. It was a more demanding patch of pavement: the obstacle course at the Charlestown bus yard for the T’s annual Roadeo — a contest in which its best drivers vie for bragging rights and the chance to go to the nationals.

“These are the cream of the crop as far as bus drivers go,” Susan Lebbossiere, the T’s head of bus training, said of the 12 finalists who competed yesterday. “It wasn’t easy to get here. They have it all together.”

In order to even qualify for competition, the drivers need to have, over the past year, excellent attendance and disciplinary records, no preventable accidents, clean driving records and no customer complaints.

“Dealing with the public isn’t easy,” Lebbosiere added, not to mention the hazards of the road, such as hard-to-see scooters. “I think people take for granted the ability to drive a bus. … It’s the hardest job at the MBTA.”

Mastering the cones isn’t easy either, especially when backing up a 40-foot rig into an “alley” not much wider than the bus.

“You never back up a bus on the street,” said Sean Glynn, 40, who has competed in the Roadeo each of his seven years driving a T bus. “If you don’t set up the bus right, you’re going to wipe out the cones.”

Drivers have to maneuver through 14 obstacles, including accelerating rapidly through narrowly spaced barrels before hitting the brakes.

Points are deducted for every ball, barrel and cone they hit. They are also judged on how smoothly they stop and pull forward, whether they use their signals, and how close they pull up to two mock bus stops.

While the second- and third-place finishers took home $500 and $300 cash, Rose, 52, won $100 and a trip to Long Beach, Calif., to compete in the nationals by earning the most points: 574 out of 800.

“There’s a lot of good drivers here,” said Rose, who also won the 2009 Roadeo. “I’m glad to bring it home.”
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