They are the first graduates to emerge from GoTriangle’s innovative program that offers employment and benefits from Day 1 along with comprehensive CDL training. GoTriangle started the program this spring as a way to attract operators amid a nationwide shortage that also hit the agency hard.
A former welder, Roanoke Chowan Community College teacher and factory worker, Ingram says she was looking for a career change when she saw the application.
“I got excited because it was a new opportunity, and I’m a person who likes a challenge,” she says. “Being a bus operator was something I really wanted to do but never really pursued. I guess sometimes in life, you’re doing something and as long as the pay is stable and you can get by, then you get in a comfort zone. But then, sometimes, you want to step out and do something different.”
A 48-year-old mother of five, Ingram says that her children were – and are – proudly cheering her on. They were especially excited to learn she had earned her CDL. She says the training at GoTriangle was an “awesome experience,” covering the inner workings of the bus – from braking and power steering to engine operation – to learning how to drive the bus safely.
“The trainers were excellent,” she says. “I basically learned just about everything I need to know about the bus. And it taught me the importance of knowing how a vehicle operates.”
Fleming, who turned 40 this year and has two children, was working as a driver of smaller buses that transport children with special needs when she heard of GoTriangle’s new CDL training program. She had been thinking of getting her CDL so she could drive larger buses professionally.
“I did the application, and I got a phone call to come in for an interview, and I was really excited,” she says. “That was a great opportunity [to get my CDL] so I’m grateful for it.”
Fleming, who suffers from test anxiety, says she found the program challenging but got a lot of support from instructors and trainers along the way.
“They made you feel comfortable and welcome, so I actually had a great experience through the whole thing,” she says. “They are very thorough, and they make sure you reach to the highest of their expectations, which is really great, too. If you had any questions – which I had a lot of questions – they were always answered.”
GoTriangle’s Manager of Safety, Security and Training Jimmy Price says the agency’s bus training instructors, Greg Langley and Tamika Wilson, are second to none.
“With a combined 35 years of transit bus driving experience, they do an exceptional job training operators with no experience to years of commercial driving experience,” he says. “It takes a skilled person to train others, and I’m proud to have them on our team.”
Fleming says she also is so proud of herself, especially because when her instructors first told her and Ingram all that they would need to learn, she thought she would need two sessions of the course to succeed.
“But now if somebody asked us anything about that bus, we know every single thing about that bus, just on the strength of what we got from our instructors,” she says. “They were awesome.”
And along the way, the two women have become close, a gift they hadn’t planned on getting, she says.
“We actually became friends in the non-CDL class,” Fleming says. “We’ve been tight ever since.”
Now the two say, with the CDLs firmly under their belts, they’re in a place poised to advance in their new careers even as they feel a sense of personal accomplishment.
Quoting her favorite motto, Ingram summed up her feeling: “Anything that you don’t know, it’s going to be a challenge learning it,” she says. “But as long as you stay focused, you can get it. And I’m proof of it.”
Interested in learning more about GoTriangle’s new CDL training program. Visit gotriangle.org/careers to learn more.
GoTriangle teamwork and training creates new paths to a bus operator career
The old adage that necessity is the mother of invention played out in real time as GoTriangle worked to keep services flowing amid a severe national bus driver shortage. But Necessity would get nowhere without its children, Teamwork and Creativity, tackling the tasks at hand.
As the COVID-19 pandemic led to staffing shortages in bus operators, GoTriangle staff from every department banded together to create and carry out a new recruiting plan. The result is a new career pathway for people who want to become bus drivers to join the agency’s ranks. The training program allows anyone with a regular driver’s license to apply to become employees with benefits while they work to acquire a Commercial Driver’s License, a requirement for large bus operators. During training for a CDL, these new employees begin to serve the public using smaller “light-transit” vehicles that carry passengers along some of GoTriangle’s bus routes. The effort is designed to attract new operators while lessening the strain on existing operators and supervisors who have been working overtime to keep service running.
To launch the program this spring, Chief of Operations Pat Stephens – now retired – counted on the support of GoTriangle staff from a range of departments who met remotely each week to overcome issues as they arose. They adjusted transit routes and operator assignments, and planned advertising and social media campaigns to alert the public that service would be arriving in smaller vehicles. They tackled problems that included finding vehicles and retrofitting them with new signage. They forged ahead promoting the new bus operator pathway at job fairs. They came up with a campaign slogan to grab recruits’ attention and spread it far and wide: “No CDL? No problem. GoTriangle has you covered.”Pictured from left: Shanda Fleming and Evangeline Ingram