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CTA bus driver models customer service

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CTA bus driver models customer service

Chicago Tribune

December 12, 2010|By Jon Hilkevitch | Getting Around

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The Chicago Transit Authority manages millions of dollars worth of buses, trains and other financial assets, but there's no way to put a price tag on the value of customer service. There is also no way not to feel your mood brighten when greeted by Darlene Coleman, a CTA bus driver who describes herself as having "a big personality and big hair."

Coleman, 43, is right in both cases. The part-time driver, on the job less than 2½ years after working in an office for 18 years, says she loves the CTA. "Where else can you work and get paid to tour our wonderful city and meet new people?" she said. Your Getting Around reporter encountered Coleman on the No. 121 Union Station/Wacker Express route, a short but difficult run because of construction and lane closings on Lower Wacker Drive, rush-hour traffic congestion and the challenge of delivering Metra commuters to work and to their trains on time.

Simply, she gets it. She's an enthusiastic, standout performer.The same cannot be said of many CTA drivers, including a driver on the No. 151 Sheridan route who on a recent cold morning drove past me and others waiting at a bus stop, then refused to let us board when we chased him down at a red light a few feet away.But justice was served when I called the CTA to complain about the bus stop pass-up and challenged transit officials to download video from an external bus camera.

They did, and the driver was interviewed, charged with a behavioral violation, issued a written warning and a one-day unpaid suspension, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. I've ridden Coleman's bus numerous times, and the first impression she created — courteous, service-oriented and upbeat — wasn't a fluke. On more than one occasion when I thought heavy evening traffic downtown would prevent me from making my intended train to the western suburbs, Coleman surprised me. An assertive but not an aggressive driver, she prods other drivers to keep moving along the ramp from Lower to Upper Wacker, and she uses her horn and eye contact to get cooperation from city traffic-control aides who otherwise usually do little more than mimic traffic signals.

"One day, I got a standing ovation from the passengers," Coleman said. "Some came up and said they love me. I said, 'I love you more.'" "She's amazing," said Julie Cooper, of Orland Park, a Metra SouthWest Service rider. "I would ride her bus, and only her bus, all the time if I could." Not only has Coleman memorized the Metra schedules, she embodies excellent customer service, and CTA managers have rewarded her efforts with numerous service commendations.

It's a shame the CTA cannot clone her. Especially now, when relations between CTA management and the transit agency's labor unions are at what may be an all-time low. Poor morale at the CTA is reflected by many employees who misdirect their anger through indifference and rudeness toward passengers. The CTA received 1,241 complaints about rude bus operators in the first 10 months of the year. Over the same period, 826 complaints were filed about bus drivers failing to assist customers — more than the number of such complaints in all of 2009, according to records.

"I enjoy people, and they usually enjoy me back," said Coleman, who offers a big smile, a hello and the wish for a wonderful day to each boarding passenger. She also makes brief but well-timed announcements during many trips, like this one as her bus rounded a curve on Lower Wacker: "This is the CTA roller coaster. Please hold on." "People love the fact that I use the microphone," she said. "It changes the mood on the bus. Most customers didn't know until riding with me that the buses have microphones."

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I thought this was a worth while story to report. I don't live in the Chicagoland area but I felt this was a really great depiction of a model CTA bus operator (for once) who really enjoys her job. Big ups to Darlene for being customer centric and focused throughout some of the most challenging times with the CTA.

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I thought this was a worth while story to report. I don't live in the Chicagoland area but I felt this was a really great depiction of a model CTA bus operator (for once) who really enjoys her job. Big ups to Darlene for being customer centric and focused throughout some of the most challenging times with the CTA.

On the job less than 2 1/2 years and their doing a story about her? Gimme a break!! She has no time on the job yet. She hasant seen or experienced what its really like to be a CTA bus operator! Using the #151 Sheridan route as an example to beat on bad CTA operators is unfair. I was a seven year veteran CTA bus driver, Ive been in the thick of it! I drove buses out of three garages, Ive driven most of the routes that go into and out of downtown, plus the mean streets of the west side, I know from experience, no CTA bus route can compare to the challenges of running routes such as the #151 Sheridan, #126 Jackson, 147 Outer Drive Exp. or the #20 Madison routes, the #121 route is just a short bus shuttle from the train station to to the Ill Ctr. You cant compare the #121 to the routes I listed!. Put this operator with only 2 years on the job and put her on a full run 5 days a week on the #151 between Howard and Union Station then do a story about her model operator status! Working busy bus routes is what makes a CTA bus operator! There are CTA drivers out there, with time on the job! that work much busier routes than the #121 that go the extra mile and never see one commendation! I cant speak for every CTA operator but nowadays along with the verbal abuse, theyre spit on, cursed out and physically attacked by riders and then many wonder why some CTA operators arent as friendly!. Many of the riding public arent allowing these operators to do their job. What a ridiculous article!

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The question I had, which was prompted by 5750, was that how could a part timer with only 2-1/2 years seniority escaped the layoffs, or didn't the layoffs go back that far?

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Jerry (5750) you couldn't have said it any better. I had many of the same thoughts when I read the article the other day. Anytime I see an article like this I think what crock. There are many of us in the transit industry who bust our onions day in and day out...do the job they way it is suppose to be, yet never get recognized and on top of it get ridiculed or persecuted for giving honest opinions on what it is really like out there. I often suspect that someone has a agenda when something like this gets out. All fluff no substance. To Jack, she probably was a part timer and circumvented full timers...remember the union suit/arbitration challenging the practice. Then because she is probably a suck up she gets preferential treatment and then is profiled to show what a wonderful operator she is to justify her status. Next thing, she will be a boss with 3 years, bypassing more qualified people and will be unable to make a decision and probably go out of her way to cruicify anybody she can.

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Jerry (5750) you couldn't have said it any better. I had many of the same thoughts when I read the article the other day. Anytime I see an article like this I think what crock. There are many of us in the transit industry who bust our onions day in and day out...do the job they way it is suppose to be, yet never get recognized and on top of it get ridiculed or persecuted for giving honest opinions on what it is really like out there. I often suspect that someone has a agenda when something like this gets out. All fluff no substance. To Jack, she probably was a part timer and circumvented full timers...remember the union suit/arbitration challenging the practice. Then because she is probably a suck up she gets preferential treatment and then is profiled to show what a wonderful operator she is to justify her status. Next thing, she will be a boss with 3 years, bypassing more qualified people and will be unable to make a decision and probably go out of her way to cruicify anybody she can.

Thats usually how it it is, these operators are given special attention, are given special treatment and are known to be CTA "suckholes" They will crucify or step over anyone to get to the top and they wont care or look back!. It kills me how some people have no self respect. Theres no doubt in my mind that she cruised past the layoffs somehow because she was given some sort of special treatment because she sucked up to management. I personally know a bus operator from FG who had more time than this Darlene person and she was cut! I know another bus operator in particular who was profiled on the CTA cable show "Connections" I wont release his name but I knew him personally to be a big time "suck up" to management. He wasant such a "model bus operator" but the show made him out to be one. He quickly gained a reputation for being a management "suck up" and this was before he was profiled on tv. Another bus operator (female) was allegedly romantically involved with a CTA Transportation Manager, that allowed her to remain as a part time operator and work shifts that benefited her. Id like to email John Hilkevich to criticize his ridiculous article. Like you said "What a Crock!" This article on this female "suckhole" with just two years on the job!, just pisses me off! Profile a real CTA bus operator who has many years on the job, has been in the thick of it, has experience, works runs and routes that many would not want. A real, seasoned professional bus operator!

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Jerry (5750) you couldn't have said it any better. I had many of the same thoughts when I read the article the other day. Anytime I see an article like this I think what crock. There are many of us in the transit industry who bust our onions day in and day out...do the job they way it is suppose to be, yet never get recognized and on top of it get ridiculed or persecuted for giving honest opinions on what it is really like out there. I often suspect that someone has a agenda when something like this gets out. All fluff no substance. To Jack, she probably was a part timer and circumvented full timers...remember the union suit/arbitration challenging the practice. Then because she is probably a suck up she gets preferential treatment and then is profiled to show what a wonderful operator she is to justify her status. Next thing, she will be a boss with 3 years, bypassing more qualified people and will be unable to make a decision and probably go out of her way to cruicify anybody she can.

Wow...such hate for the lady. Give her a break.

As one who has driven (albeit commuter routes with motorcoaches) AND being a rider, I can say the following.

Certainly driving a bus has its challenges. You are more likely to get better reviews if you have a regular route with decent passengers. I had one route where the passengers LOVED me because I was always on time and got them to and from work quickly and safely. Sometimes I was forced to do another route where the passengers had to get used to me because I was punctual. Their regular driver almost always ran 10 - 15 minutes behind schedule in the P.M. rush, which was okay with the regulars, but if the passengers were dependent on that on a day when I was driving that route, they would still be standing on the curb. I wound up with this route often because, other than the regular driver, no one else would do it (they were some rough people, but they never called in on me either). I was courteous and polite, but I told them I adhere to the schedule and if you want to get home with me, you'd better be on schedule like me.

Some of this lady's riders probably have never ridden with her before, so seeing someone so energetic made them take notice. Just last week I witnessed a passenger and a driver going back and forth calling each other's mothers whores and such, because the passenger felt the bus was running 20 minutes late (in the frigid cold)for no reason. She gave it to him and he gave it back. So yes passengers can cause drivers to go off.

Good customer service is part of the job, period. "Over the top" customer service is what gets attention and commendations. Based on what I read, she is 'over the top"

That is probably her personality (not sucking up). People like her and the old guy that used to drive "the LOVE BUS" are outstanding because they stand out. I would agree that most do a good job and don't get appreciated for it, but I'd bet there are more "surlies" than over the tops which is why there are way more complaints than compliments.

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To have so much hate for this lady is just wrong. I mean Customer Service is Key. There are many bus drivers that shows up with the worst attitudes, and Darlene is making up for that. She don't have to be a SUCKHOLE or KISS uP, She is just probably excited to have a job in these hard times. It dosen't matter if she drove for 20 years.....Her Hard work and enthusiasm made her stand out. And no, She's not doing this for camera time, I ride with her alot, and yeah on the 82,145, and even the 151.

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To have so much hate for this lady is just wrong. I mean Customer Service is Key. There are many bus drivers that shows up with the worst attitudes, and Darlene is making up for that. She don't have to be a SUCKHOLE or KISS uP, She is just probably excited to have a job in these hard times. It dosen't matter if she drove for 20 years.....Her Hard work and enthusiasm made her stand out. And no, She's not doing this for camera time, I ride with her alot, and yeah on the 82,145, and even the 151.

Its not about HATE! Dont start throwing that word in! "Hate" as you say, has nothing to do with it. My question is how is it that this operator who has no time on the job, is being made the "model operator" when there are bus operators at CTA who I know, put in much more effort and have way more time on the job than this person and have never recieved a single commendation or have an article written on them? Time on the job has everything to do with it! Then Mr. Hilkevitch has the nerve to bad mouth operators on the #151 Sheridan route, a route that I have experience on, that I can speak of. Its not an easy route to work. Unless theyve been in our shoes they have no right to write a bad piece that makes other hard working CTA bus operators look bad! Plus they work real routes! real runs! Ive worked the #120, 121, 122, #123 routes, I know them very well theyre not that busy! Theyre very short routes. Like I said put this "model operator" on the #151 Sheridan from Howard Station to Union Station and back for a whole pick, 5 days a week lets see how well her attitude stands up to that! And since she is a Kedzie operator, my first garage! Lets see how she deals with the #12 Roosevelt. That route can be a challenge because you have many incidents as well as non-paying passengers, lets see if she can handle doing that full time, 5 days a week! I guarantee that she wont have that smile on her face at the end of the day! The Marshall and Crane high school runs too! Also how is it that an operator with only two yrs. on the job is not laidoff! And a friend of mine with more time on the job than her was laid off! Something here dosent smell right!! In my experiences, Ive treated my passengers well, Ive recieved two commendations in the seven years I worked at CTA, one so far at Pace and I didnt have to be an "over the top" operator!. Any situations, good or bad, I handled it according to how I saw it!

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Its not about HATE! Dont start throwing that word in! "Hate" as you say, has nothing to do with it. My question is how is it that this operator who has no time on the job, is being made the "model operator"

You're the only one calling her a "model operator." The headline says she "models customer service," and that's exactly what she's doing. Customer service isn't about seniority, it's about being nice to people.

If you take a step back and read this thread from a viewpoint of a regular passenger who doesn't know or care anything about seniority, union issues, etc., perhaps you could even see why a lot of bus operators have the reputation of being rude, surly, etc. If you're going to go around with a chip on your shoulder, it gets notice by the riders. And no, they're not going to excuse you just because you spent the first half of your shift dealing with high school students on the #20.

You may not think it's fair just because someone with limited seniority gets their picture in the paper. If that really gets you worked up, then you need to find another world to live in, because this world isn't fair. If I had a dollar for every time someone else got recognized for doing something I have done just as well or better, I could probably afford to buy my own paper. But instead of complaining about it, I would just shake their hand, say good for them, and thanks for giving all of us a better name.

You say it's not about HATE (your own words), but then you use phrases like "SUCKHOLE," and "suck up" to describe this very operator, which "pisses [you] off" (again, your very own words). If it's not about hate, then what is it? Jealousy?

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This story just shows to me the power of the media. If you please the transportation writer then you get your picture in the paper. If you make him mad then it's your own bad luck. There are plenty of good operators out there, but there not picking up media so there not going to get noticed. When a major event happens, like a derailment and the media shows up first, then CTA supervision is rushing to the scene, because the first words out of those riders mouths are where is my shuttle bus? where is the supervisor? and too much negativity makes the agency look bad like there screwing around. Same here the rider doesn't know the situation of the #151 operator. Maybe there's a bus behind or the bus is overloaded. But there assumptions has swayed the riding public to believe what they will, that there a bad operator when that may not be the case at all. How would it look if the media then went to the airwaves saying well CTA is not taking action on this person. Then the higher ups pay the fiddler.

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Hey RMadison! If my opinions are a problem for you then dont read them! Move on!. I have the right to speak my mind when I feel I dont agree with it!. If thats an issue for you, then I dont know what to tell you! Your response dosent change my opinion! And I dont care for the childish "jealousy" remark as you say. Call it what you like, if you have to go as far as offending someone because they have a different opinion than yours, then maybe you have issues amigo!. You dont agree with this but in my opinion "Experience is everything!" which this operator lacks! I have my share of commendations working at CTA and Pace. :)

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Hey RMadison! If my opinions are a problem for you then dont read them! Move on!. I have the right to speak my mind when I feel I dont agree with it!. If thats an issue for you, then I dont know what to tell you! Your response dosent change my opinion! And I dont care for the childish "jealousy" remark as you say. Call it what you like, if you have to go as far as offending someone because they have a different opinion than yours, then maybe you have issues amigo!. You dont agree with this but in my opinion "Experience is everything!" which this operator lacks! I have my share of commendations working at CTA and Pace. :)

Frankly, I could write the exact same response. If an article saying nice things about a bus operator is a problem for you, then don't read it. I have a right to speak my mind when I don't agree with what you say (I don't see why you should have free reign of the board, while I should just "move on").

As for you having a problem with my remarks...well, don't read them. Move on. You have gone out of your way to write offensive things about the bus operator in this article. You never did answer my question about your motives behind calling the operator a "suckhole." It isn't hate, you claim. It isn't jealousy (well, you never said it wasn't, just that you didn't care for the remark). Then, what is it. What could possibly motivate you to write such an offensive remark about someone you have never in your life even met, and about which you have only read a commending article.

You say my jealousy remark is "childish." Then, please tell me what kind of a remark "suckhole" is.

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5750, I still agree with you, no matter how much anyone here doesn't get it. WE are in the minority. And it was I who first made the comment about "suck-up", 5750 simply agreed. It was not made based on fact, but as a reference to the pattern of advancement inside the service boards. Unfortunately, I have seen this all to often...sorry if anyone doesn't believe it and takes issue with it. Also, my comments were not made towards trashing customer service, rather than how the fluff pieces find their way into the media and create a distortion of the real world. Note the picture in the article...is this woman paying attention to traffic. No she is completely turned around and yucking it up...and yet no one seems to have a problem with this. The point that is attempted to be made here is that you don't have to be a showboat to be successful at customer service. It is about safe movement, attention to detail, answering questions (no matter how dumb they may be), providing information when necessary and operation of the vehicle under rules set forth.

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5750, I still agree with you, no matter how much anyone here doesn't get it. WE are in the minority. And it was I who first made the comment about "suck-up", 5750 simply agreed. It was not made based on fact, but as a reference to the pattern of advancement inside the service boards. Unfortunately, I have seen this all to often...sorry if anyone doesn't believe it and takes issue with it. Also, my comments were not made towards trashing customer service, rather than how the fluff pieces find their way into the media and create a distortion of the real world. Note the picture in the article...is this woman paying attention to traffic. No she is completely turned around and yucking it up...and yet no one seems to have a problem with this. The point that is attempted to be made here is that you don't have to be a showboat to be successful at customer service. It is about safe movement, attention to detail, answering questions (no matter how dumb they may be), providing information when necessary and operation of the vehicle under rules set forth.

Thanks Trainman!. Those of us who are or were once "in the thick of it" can understand our point. What kind of customer service do I want??? I just want to see the bus operator doing his or her job by driving safe, doing what their suppose to be doing and not doing what they shouldnt be doing! I see your point of the operator's picture, yet no one seems to point out that she looks as if shes not focused on her duties while in traffic. Safe bus operation should always be a bus operators number # 1 priority, not showboating!!

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seeing that the car in front of her is stopped. you can see the brake lights. and her foot is on the brake, it is obvious that the bus is stopped :blink:

How do you know the car in front of her is stopped? Brake lights can still be activated while the vehicle is still moving.

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I'm quite confused as to why a fellow bus driver is so upset over the publicity given to this woman. It shows in your profile that you are also a fireman, so you are very familiar with public service. You must do your job well, seeing that lives are in your hands everyday. You also posted that you worked for the CTA before PACE. I've looked at many of your posts in the past, and they are always helpful whether answering a members question or just general knowledge of the CTA. I just dont get it, I find it hard to believe that its jealousy as someone implied. Or maybe the layoff situation is the key to this????

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I'm quite confused as to why a fellow bus driver is so upset over the publicity given to this woman. It shows in your profile that you are also a fireman, so you are very familiar with public service. You must do your job well, seeing that lives are in your hands everyday. You also posted that you worked for the CTA before PACE. I've looked at many of your posts in the past, and they are always helpful whether answering a members question or just general knowledge of the CTA. I just dont get it, I find it hard to believe that its jealousy as someone implied. Or maybe the layoff situation is the key to this????

Hi, Ill just call you Rat! If thats okay! :) Like I stated before, I just dont agree with the story thats being told here. There are bus operators out there with much more time on the job and do their jobs well and they never see any commendations in their entire career. I believe experience is everything! This operator in the story has only two years on the job and has very little experience behind the wheel and shes being made into a "model bus operator" by the news media. To me it just takes away from those bus operators who have many years behind the wheel and do a good job who arent recognized. My dad was 27 year veteran of the CTA. In those years that Ive ridden with him Ive witnessed the abuse my dad had to endure trying to do his job. He was never rude to passengers despite some of them becoming verbally abusive. My dad always handled his cool and didnt let it break him. So this news story just dosent sit well with me. Im an open minded person, I listen to what people have to say but when I dont agree with something I will speak up.

For me, I enjoy my work both in the fire dept. and Pace. Ive had a great experience working at CTA for 7 years. It was tough to leave but I had to make a choice in 2005 and it wasant an easy choice to make! I left CTA but I still had the passion for buses, Ive always had it since I was a kid, like most if not all of us here on this website. Two years after leaving CTA, I was hired by my current bus company and was excited because I would be working Pace. The bus company has been very good to me and theyve been very cooperative with my scheduling. I feel fortunate to be doing the two things I have a passion for, firefighting and buses. I take my jobs seriously and Im proud of both jobs. I really dont concern myself with the thought of being laid off at the bus company. I just go to work each day and enjoy both my passions. For me theres nothing to be "jealous" about! to quote another blogger here. :)

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The operator got a write up in the paper so what. Why she did or didn't get laid off is really nobodys business. Ask yourself how is she affecting your paycheck and your job. To be perfectly frank we're all suck holes at one time or another, stop hating on someone who has done nothing to you personally, and get on with your life.

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To 5750 and trainman:

I can understand your frustration with some of the inner workings of CTA, though I don't work there. It seems there are politics and people with connections that get people places that they may or may not deserve to get to at the expense of some equally or more qualified people.

I'm not completely sure how the part-timer rule works at CTA, but it seems all transit agencies, motorcoach companies, etc, need part-timers. One, it is not as costly (little to no benefits, little to no overtime, flexible schedules, etc). Also, would any full-time driver really want to go to part-time status? I would imagine some would and some wouldn't.

As I stated in an earlier post, this was about "outstanding" or "over the top" customer service. All bus drivers are expected to navigate traffic and its hazards and get passengers from point A to point B safely. But her personality and friendliness is what got her this attention. The customers certainly love her, and I think the author just happened upon her bus and wound up with a story, a positive one at that. Usually you guys take a beating in the papers concerning rudeness, etc. I would think you would be glad to see a good write up in the paper about a co-worker. Perhaps to some people it is just a job, some people try to do the best job they can, and others LOVE what they do.

The article said that she memorized most of the Metra train schedules. That is not part of her job, but she did it for the benefit of her riders. It is people that go beyond the call of duty that get commendations.

BTW, based on the picture it looks like the bus was stopped behind the vehicle waiting on Lower Wacker, possibly approaching Randolph where I am sure all lower level traffic must exit due to construction.

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Here's my .02 cents worth...

This Operator was most likely recommended to Hilkevitch(Busjacks favorite reporter :P ) probably through compliments from her customers through 1-888-YOUR-CTA. Being a Public Servant myself, it really makes my day when a Customer says something nice about me to a Supervisor. I still wear my #1 Service pin that I got a few years ago from when a Customer called my Store Mgr. and made a compliment about me to him(and there are plenty of other cashiers with more experience then me). If I see a Bus Operator go out of his/her way to do something nice for passengers, I'll call and make a compliment to the CTA Operator, because I know what kinda stuff they have to put up with on a daily basis. The only difference is my venue is a cash register, theirs is a seat behind the wheel of a 35, 40, or 60-Foot Bus.

Bottom Line: If you do your job satifactorily, nothing comes of it. If you do it above expectations, you'll get some merit, like this Operator did. It doesn't matter if you've been with your company 1 year, 5 years, or 45 years.

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