October 21st, 2010. That was when I graduated from MTA Training and started my official career as a bus operator.
That was also the day I knew my career as a bus operator was over.
I know it sounds weird at first, how could I just start a new job and already know I won’t be there. Was this training just a waste of everyone’s time and the taxpayer’s money? Hardly. It was on October 21st that I realized that driving the bus wasn’t a job, it was a platform, an opportunity. A tool to create.
It was a solid foundation to start building my transportation career the way I wanted.
As I crossed the stage and got my certificate I shook hands with our CEO, a gentleman by the name of Ralign Wells. I didn’t know much about him at the time, however as he begin to speak his closing remarks, one thing he said would follow me for the rest of my life.
Value The Opportunity.
He at one point was a bus operator too. Started as a part-time driver at the young age of 21, and by his mid 30’s was the CEO of the nation’s 8th largest transit operation.
At this time I was also a part-time operator who had just turned 21.
(The rule of thumb in any form of influential media or content creation is that the best way to influence anything is to make sure that people who consume it can see themselves in you)
My mind was blown, and from that point on, my ceiling had been recalibrated. I no longer wanted to be a bus operator until I retired. I wanted to be Ralign. Why? Because he showed me what could be possible with this platform.
I have no shame in saying that transit helped me get out of the environment that I was in. An environment that did not expose me to successful black men in the corporate or “white collar” world.
Ralign’s influence would follow me for a decade. It would keep me grateful to be a bus operator and to convince me to approach every day behind the wheel as an opportunity to build to the next level. Every day, I gave my all, doing the best I could to provide my passengers the best experience possible because I had already been influenced to believe if I did this, there would be great things for me on the other side of my career.
Unfortunately, this is experience is not the norm for our industry.
I recall my training and getting introduced to older veteran operators and noticed there was a common theme amonst the current culture.
Do the bare minimum.
Cliches such as “keep your head low” keep your nose clean and “stay outta dodge” were super popular. It all suggested that it is more beneficial to me, to remain mediocre.
But this comes down to one key point.
Transit as it currently stands operations-wise influences you to survive not to thrive.
As society began to pivot to a more digital footprint in 2015, we would see the emergence of people called “influencers”.
It was their sole job to influence people to think differently about what they see in front of them. However it is important to consider, influencers have been around for ages. In theory, Confusious was an influencer minus a cell phone.
But what made transit’s influential impact hit differently was that all the user-generated content from people who had slight followings was negative.
As other industries hopped on the trend, transit left it alone as operators online and offline begin to paint the job and industry in a less than favorable light.
(We Just Launched The Bus Life Podcast! Get More Operator Insights On The Podcast Platform Of Your Choice)
Even our CDL counterpart, OTR Trucking has an abundance of influencers who help sing the industry’s good graces. Check out Tik Tok if you don’t believe me. The reality is every industry will have its group of online and offline complainers, transit went wrong by not having an influential figure with a following present the other side of the coin.
As the internet would grow we would see the emergence of people like Gary Vee or Grant Cordone. Digital or Social Influencers.
Their platform influenced people to take a shot on themselves in entrepreneurship or real estate. They leveraged the internet to show millions the result of what only 1% of people could or would do, and it worked.
Because 1% of One Million is still 10,000 and that is more than enough social proof to “influence” anything.
Ralign Wells was my social proof.
The social sell is the only way to market anything in the current world.
Gary and Grant built their platforms on what real estate or entrepreneurship could be if it was executed correctly.
Ralign showed me what Transit could be if I executed it correctly.
Gary and Grant leveraged their success with real-world examples, good stories, and reframed the argument.
Their platform suggesting overwhelming wealth is obtainable for regular people. If you do it this way.
Kinda the same way Ralign showed me that overwhelming success for a “regular” bus operator is obtainable.
The world is currently in a space where how you are perceived online is more important than how you are perceived offline, and as things like blockchains, NFT’s, and bitcoin gain traction it’s clear that Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta concept is a lot closer than we believe.
If transit truly wants to survive and solve its shortage, it will have to put its time and investments into digitally influencing people on all social platforms why the job is great, without the corporate or political B.S that people can see through.
In 2022 every company is a media company, even the government.
Transit agencies should be bumping out relevant influential and trendy media daily if it wants to change the way the public perceives it.
While I can appreciate the “day in the life of an operator” videos on youtube, what the operators are actually saying on Facebook holds more weight because they have a wider reach and people value their transparency.
User-Generated Content and Media Are Everything
As the world transitions from Web 2 To Web 3 everything is a platform for its users, and having social influence is no longer optional.