MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Drivers in the downtown Milledgeville area may have noticed a distinct lack of Georgia College transit buses on the roads this week.
That’s because the college’s transit drivers have been busy undergoing refresher training before the hustle and bustle of students returning to campus begins Thursday. GC operations manager for parking and transportation Millie Dempsey says this is the one week of the year that the college does not have routes running. For five years now the transportation department has finished off the week of professional development and safety course review by tapping into the drivers’ competitive spirits. No, they aren’t drag racing 34-foot, 33-passenger shuttle buses through low-traffic areas of town. Instead, they take to the Georgia College parking lot on Irwin Street for the annual bus “roadeo” where they put their training to the test in a controlled environment before loading down with college students and personnel.
Drivers were split into teams to participate in the roadeo Thursday morning and pitted against one another to see which team could come away with the lowest score and be crowned 2018 bus roadeo champions. Though the teams were measured against each other, there was another foe present for the competition — the dreaded highlighter-yellow cone. One point was added to each driver’s total for even barely swiping a cone because, of course, in the real world that cone could be another vehicle or even a pedestrian. The team with the lowest score at the end of the day was declared the winner. The winning team walked away with some free Georgia College merchandise, but all drivers get treated to lunch in the lead-up to the start of the school year.
The practice is more about creating a sense of togetherness within the department and less about drivers’ individual performances.
“We do this every single year before the school year starts,” Dempsey said. “We split our drivers up into three teams, and they go through an obstacle course. There are multiple obstacles set up that they have to go through to really test their skills, but it’s also a way for them to come together as a team. While one person on the team is driving the rest can watch for cones, guide them, and give them advice on where they need to go.”
The lot was lined with cones, giving drivers different obstacles to overcome like driving through and backing into spaces not much wider than the bus itself. They attempted to weave their way in and out of the cones and even encountered a sort of optical illusion that started out wide and got more narrow as they made their way through. A time limit was added to this year’s competition just to throw another variable into the mix.
The exercise began five years ago under Dempsey’s predecessor and is modeled after the American Public Transit Association International Bus Roadeo.
“They started it, and now the drivers ask us when are we doing the bus roadeo every year. … It’s a great way to bring unity to P and T (parking and transportation),” Dempsey said. “Since we’ve been doing this, I don’t know if it’s directly correlated, but our turnover is very low in our department. Most of our drivers have been with us for three-plus years, which is really good, and we’ve grown a lot over the last three years. We’ve added about three new positions since I've been here. We just think it’s a way to have fun, but also bring everybody together.”