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Nearly a decade ago, I decided I needed a change after 15 years of work for the Big Red Bottling Company.  My uncle had recently retired from a career at VIA Metropolitan Transit and encouraged me to apply for a position there. 

Today, I work as an extra board operator, which means that I don’t have a regular schedule or route. My job is to cover for other operators who may be out sick or on vacation, in addition to routes that haven’t been assigned. While the breadth of assignments may seem daunting to some, it’s not to me. I enjoy the challenges that come with each new assignment. The variety is great. I find it keeps the work interesting and prevents stagnation. 

The most rewarding part of working at VIA is interacting with my coworkers. I have meaningful connections and friendships with them, and I consider them all to be my family away from home. We all share a common goal, which is to provide a service to the community in a safe and professional manner.

Vernis Barrera performs a safety check on a bus before it’s driven from the VIA Metropolitan Center on Wednesday. Barrera checks the lights, tires, any defects, scratches or malfunctioning parts in or on the bus.
Vernis Barrera performs a safety check on a bus before it’s driven from the VIA Metropolitan Center on Wednesday. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

Equally important to me is having the opportunity to mentor new operators. Over the past five years, I have trained and guided more than 100 new operators. Each shadowed me during their last two weeks of training. Two of my mentees have become mentors themselves, and I have watched these individuals blossom.

Recently, I had the opportunity to help lead VIA in our efforts to raise funds for the annual United Way campaign. In two weeks, we set up fundraising activities that included games, raffles and employee donations. We set a goal of raising $75,000. I’m proud to say our work helped surpass the original goal, and we raised a whopping $86,000! 

While there are many positive aspects to working as an operator, there are also some challenges that arise, such as adapting to the constant growth of our community. With constant growth comes constant construction. Operators must be aware of potential hazards, detours, and adjustments along the routes, which makes communication between the city and VIA very important so we can ensure safe operations. As an operator, I know it’s essential to always be aware of these changes so we can reduce confusion and service delays for our passengers.

In my nine years at VIA, I’m most proud of helping with oversight on new bus designs in production and providing my honest feedback. Our union selected me to represent VIA to travel to Livermore, California, to the Gillig Manufacturing Plant, where I gained in-depth insight, from inception to production, into the development of bus design for operators.

Vernis Barrera explains that VIA is in constant communication with the city to learn of any construction projects that may cause detours along the more than 200 routes the bus operators take every day. Credit: Bria Woods / San Antonio Report

While many people might believe that operators simply drive an air-conditioned bus for the duration of their shift, what many people don’t know is that there are many more duties and responsibilities that come with being an operator.

First and foremost, safety on the bus is our priority. We’re tasked with ensuring passengers get to and from their destinations expeditiously and safely. Part of doing that requires that we commit to memory more than 200 routes — without a GPS system — and while providing exceptional customer service. 

I admire the exemplary leadership and work ethic of our current manager of bus operations and hope to one day be in that role. The knowledge and experience I have obtained during my time here, along with various other skillsets, have prepared me well for the position. I look forward to continuing to serve VIA and help our community members make connections to opportunity and prosperity.