Trained to Make a Difference

Shannon Kessler may have just graduated from STA’s coach operator training program, but she’s no stranger to professional driving. She was a long-haul truck driver for 15 years – long before coming to STA. 

Kessler, like several of her classmates, already had her Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) when she was hired. She and her classmates still needed learner’s permits in order to train and test for the CDL “Class B with Passengers” endorsement that all coach operators must have in order to drive for STA. But thanks to COVID-19, getting those permits was a going to be challenging. The Department of Licensing was open by appointment only.

“I’m not sure what magic wand he waved, but Senior Training Instructor Paul Hoffman arranged to get us in to get our permits and later, after completing the state testing, receive our licenses,” Kessler said.

With permit in hand, Kessler took on the next challenge of learning to drive the buses, which are anywhere from 30-60 feet long. She was a bit nervous at first, but also excited.

“Once I got into the mindset that driving a bus is like driving the ‘trailer’ of an 18-wheeler, not the ‘tractor’, I caught on pretty quickly,” she said. “It really helps that STA’s trainers go above and beyond to help you become the absolute best coach operator you can be.”

Kessler and her fellow graduates are thrilled to actually be out driving routes and interacting with passengers. This is a major milestone for them and, despite the fact that it happened during a global health crisis, they are optimistic about their futures with STA.

“Everyone is excited to be here and we’re all feeling very positive and upbeat.” Kessler said.

Although her first day as a full-fledged coach operator was just last week, Kessler has worked with STA before, as the receptionist for the agency’s Mobility Center. That is where she became fully aware of the varied and important roles public transportation plays in people’s lives.

“That is a big part of the reason I became a coach operator,” Kessler said. “Our service is truly essential, and that’s especially apparent during this pandemic.”

Because of COVID-19, Kessler and her classmates received additional training that covered STA’s advanced health and safety protocols.

They learned to properly maintain optimal air flow on buses, correctly wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and effectively use the plexiglass shields in the driver’s area. Training also focused on the importance of maintaining social distancing standards and enforcing Governor Inslee’s mandate that passengers wear masks.

Developing strong customer service skills was another major component of their training.

“For example, how you approach people makes all the difference, especially when you want someone to be amendable to wearing a mask,” Kessler said. “I always wear a big smile when I’m speaking to my customers. Even if they can’t see it behind my mask, they can hear it in my voice.”

The new coach operators were also taught when and where crews are available to come onboard to disinfect their buses and how to correctly gear up and do the job themselves during layovers.

“Safety is everyone’s responsibility and we’re all chipping in to get things done,” Kessler said. “We’ll get past this. We just need to be patient.”

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