Robin Short was inspired to apply for her first transit job because of the impression left by her sixth-grade school bus driver, a man named A.J. who took the time to connect with the children he drove to school every day. For 50 cents in the morning, a cold soda would be waiting for her in the afternoon, and A.J. played music on request.
Decades later, now working as a transit operator and trainer for the Harrisonburg Department of Public Transportation, Short was recognized in 2019 as one of the top operators in the nation.
Short won second place in the van division of the 2019 national competition organized by the Community Transportation Association of America. But this is far from the first honor Short has received since beginning her career at HDPT in 2006, starting as a school bus driver for Harrisonburg City Schools.
In 2016, Short first qualified to represent HDPT at the national level while competing against other transit operators. In that year alone, Short made history when she won the Rookie of the Year 2016 award, placed 1st in the van division and subsequently became the Otis Reed Driver of the Year, as the competitor with the largest winning margin. After 27 years of CTAA competitions, Short was the first to win all three awards at one time, and she became the second woman to win the Otis Reed award.
“I’m not the type of person that really toots my own horn,” Short said. “I’m happy for my accomplishments, but I think they show off more of what we do here in training and safety, and how we develop our drivers.”
In the following three years, Short continued to qualify for nationals at the state level, and then placed nationally in the van division. She placed first in 2017, seventh in 2018 and second in 2019. For Short, participating in these competitions — called rodeos — is her chance to help HDPT showcase the best of the department and to continue supporting the community of operators fostered by the competitions.
Short credits her four-year streak of success in these rodeos to the training of HDPT operators and the department’s primary priorities: safety and customer service.
“We put such a focus here on our training,” Short said. “We go by the motto of ‘Safety, Customer Service and then the Schedule.’ A lot of people don’t understand what all that entails. If you’re not driving one of our vehicles safely, then you’re going to hurt somebody. If you’re not giving your passengers the best customer service that you can give them, it doesn’t matter if you get them there on time.”
HDPT is proud to be producing drivers that are recognized on the national level for their skills in safety procedures, said Avery Daugherty, transit superintendent for the city of Harrisonburg. Such high placements in national rodeos highlight the quality of training that each operator receives.
“We’re just very proud, obviously, of Robin’s accomplishments in this competition,” Daughterty said. “And for the city, I think we’re most proud because we’re not doing our jobs if we’re not putting the safest transportation option out there.”
Community is a large part of the transit department’s focus — a value Short represents with her daily effort to have meaningful interactions with the people she serves as a transit operator. As a Harrisonburg resident, she aims to make lasting connections with the community she works and lives within a priority for HDPT operators.
“I think it’s a big value to have people in the community working for that community and serving that community,” Daughtery said.
When she had the chance to drive a school bus for the city, Short was determined to leave just as much of a positive impact on the students she worked with. After four years working as a school bus driver, Short transitioned into her career as a transit operator for city and JMU campus routes.
Her focus shifted to her preferred division: working in paratransit, where she works with riders with limited mobility and who often need a greater amount of care and human connection, said Short. She finds that the most rewarding part of working in transit is the opportunity to provide her customers with the best possible customer service.
“You see all the different kinds of buses we have out in the yard, and things are constantly coming in and out,” Michael Parks, director of communications for the city of Harrisonburg, said. “It’s a real testament to our operators here, and to the staff, that you have people that can go from driving a school bus for kindergarteners to later that night, picking up kids at JMU or serving residents throughout the city.”
For Short, it’s the city’s unique quality of training and focus on safety and customer service that has led to her rodeo wins. She believes every transit operator in Harrisonburg has the potential for the same success.
“Bringing home a trophy is nice,” Stamp said. “But when you can stand and love the job that you’re doing, see the impact that it’s making on not only the city but even JMU. At the end of the day, when I clock out and know that I’ve done the best I could … that, to me, is the most important part.”
Contact Jamie McEachin at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.