By Gary Luster
Most teachers do their job in a classroom equipped to hold anywhere from 25 to 30 students. But what happens when your classroom is 40 feet long, weighs 40,000 pounds, and can accommodate as many as 50 people?
That’s when you bring in a guy like George Lewis, whose job at GTrans (formerly Gardena Mu- nicipal Bus Lines) is to train new hires who come to the company as prospective bus operators.
Whether the new drivers have a commercial license or not does not matter. Lewis trains and has trained both experienced and inexperienced drivers to handle a vehicle that most people never get an opportunity to drive. However, before sliding in behind the wheel, Lewis said all new drivers must start off in a traditional classroom setting.
“New drivers usually begin in the classroom learning funda- mentals such as wide turning, working without a rear-view mirror, and using the left and right side mirrors in lieu of a rear-view mirror,” Lewis said.
Making the transition from driving a car to driving a bus is different for everyone, according to Lewis, who has been a transportation professional for the past 24 years.
He said that some find that the job is not for them once they get behind the wheel, while others take to it relatively quickly.
“Most people who have never driven anything bigger than a minivan will, after about a week of training, realize that they can handle driving a bus,” Lewis said.
Once drivers complete the required classroom training on driving a bus, they are then taken to a closed course at the GTrans bus yard where they are taught how to make left and right turns and how to use the mirrors.
After two to three days of training at the bus yard, the drivers are then taken to the streets near Cal State University, Dominguez Hills (east of Gardena), where Lewis and the new driver will train on an empty bus.
This is the usual training area for GTrans drivers thanks to the fact that the streets near the campus are wide, mostly empty with very little traffic and very few parked cars. Lewis notes that the openness of the streets allows new drivers the ability to take their time and actually learn without distractions.
Once the drivers get comfort- able enough with the training near CSUDH, then the drivers start route training where Lewis, who has been training GTrans drivers for the past three years, teaches the drivers all of the routes they will drive every day.
Lewis will pick a different route and the driver just drives that route all day.
New drivers won’t begin taking on passengers for another three weeks which is the point at which the new drivers will go to the California Department of Motor Vehicles to take their DMV skills test; if they pass, they will get their Class B commercial driver’s license and join the approximately 85 drivers currently working for GTrans.
The drivers come back every quarter for safety meetings where Lewis will talk to the drivers about changes in laws or safety issues. Drivers also must attend monthly smart training where they take an 8-hour class that focuses on defensive driving techniques and customer service skills, including how to interact with the disabled.
“The most important skills [that drivers learn] are defensive driving and knowing how to recognize hazards and getting in the habit of moving your head and moving your eyes and anticipating what other drivers are go- ing to do before they do it,” Lewis said.
Anticipating what other driv- ers will do is one way to avoid accidents, which Lewis said is something no driver wants on their record.
If a driver is deemed at fault for an accident, then that driver will be brought back into the classroom for an hour or two of retraining where Lewis and the driver talk about the accident and then the driver will receive coaching on how to do better to avoid another accident.
Lewis said that one way for drivers to avoid accidents is for them to stay calm during their route and practice patience.
“My thing is to always take your time,” Lewis said. “There is no rush. If you’re late, stay late. Rushing causes accidents and you don’t want accidents. Most people who are not in transit think that buses have to be on time. It’s good for buses to be on time because people depend on it. but not if it’s going to cause you to rush.”
Lewis started his career in transportation as a school bus driver for four years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. However, school bus driving is not consistent (no work in the summer) so he jumped over to public transit with the city of Montebello.
From there, Lewis worked for the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica then went to the Orange County Transportation Authority and then the MetropolitanTransportation Authority before finally settling in Gardena at GTrans, where he has been since 2012.
Those interested in learning more about employment as a GTrans bus driver can contact George Lewis at [email protected]
GTrans is a municipal transit agency that serves Gardena, Ca. and surrounding Los Angeles County neighborhoods. It was founded on Jan. 15, 1940, as Gardena Municipal Bus Lines.
On the agency’s 75th anniversary, the agency was renamed as GTrans. GTrans provides public transportation services in the South Bay of Southern California including the cities of Gardena, Hawthorne, Compton, Carson, Harbor City, Lawndale and Los Angeles.