He got the chance to drive one.
Kleis’ opportunity to drive a 35-foot vehicle came at Metro Bus’ event, Wings and Wheels. The event brought out members throughout the community to shed light on public transit before the 28th Annual Minnesota Statewide Bus Roadeo. The Statewide Bus Roadeo brings transit drivers from all over the state to be judged on various driving courses.
Friday night’s event was the idea of Metro Bus Executive Director Ryan Daniel, who wanted to give the community a look inside public transit. The event showcased historic buses and gave people the opportunity to take a bus through three courses, as well indulge in wings from Lily’s Wings & Things.
“This gives commissioners and local business leaders a chance to see what our bus operators do day in and day out,” Daniel said.
There were 23 people who stepped up to drive the buses in a competition to see who could hit the fewest cones while driving through the course. Mayor Kleis took home the prize, only hitting one cone.
“Here they can knock down cones, but in the real world (our drivers) can’t do that because cones represent human lives and other traffic,” Daniel said.
Those who had the opportunity to drive said they all left the driver’s seat with a new appreciation what bus operators do everyday.
“You see a bus going down the street and you just take the whole gig for granted,” Stearns County Commissioner Leigh Lenzmeier said. “The reality is there is more to it than that.”
Kleis said that many people see the transit system running smoothly with no issues, but don’t think about traffic and obstacles that drivers must avoid while driving a 35-foot bus with patrons.
“It’s a good opportunity to come out and see a little taste of what our drivers see on a regular basis in a controlled setting,” Kleis said.
Amber Duncan, of Kasson, is the operation director for SEMCAC — a transit organization in southeast Minnesota — and oversees bus drivers every day, but had never set foot behind the wheel of one until Friday.
“It is definitely a different experience than I thought it would be and I have so much more respect for my drivers who drive buses,” Duncan said.
Most of the first-time drivers said the most difficult part of driving the Metro Buses was breaking, as well as turning with 35 feet of vehicle behind them.
As patrons left with a new view of what it takes to drive a bus, Daniel felt the event served its original goal.
“Next time they see a bus on the street they’ll yield to the bus,” Daniel said with a chuckle