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A Bus Driver in the Loop

One job: Wheeling a monster through traffic

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Bus driver Julia Pierre begins each day at Agganis Arena, ferrying members of the BU community through the city’s fray of cars, pedestrians, bicyclists, and construction zones. Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

Day in, day out, nearly 10,000 people show up at Boston University—not to go to school, but to go to work. Often unsung, their efforts make everything possible. This is one in a series of stories about jobs on campus and the people who do them.

Bus driver Julia Pierre always has to watch out for impatient drivers, maniacal cyclists, and oblivious pedestrians. But sometimes the threat comes from above.

“It’s like synchronized flying,” she says, pulling on the large steering wheel and glancing skyward. “They go from pole to pole, swoop down right in front of cars.”

Outside the window of the bus, the University’s intercampus shuttle (known as the BUS), a mass of pigeons swarms the pavement at the Huntington Avenue overpass atop Massachusetts Avenue. Another cluster of birds wheels against a patch of pale blue sky above Symphony Hall.

“There’s a lady who feeds them twice a day,” Pierre says, pulling away from the bus shelter and into the river of traffic. Brake lights glow. A siren wails.

At 7:40 a.m. Pierre, one of a half-dozen contracted drivers, is halfway through her first loop of the day, hauling bleary-eyed students, faculty, and staff from the Medical Campus in the South End to the Charles River Campus.

“Yesterday was terrible,” she says. “The wind and rain were horrible. The only good thing is they couldn’t do construction. That’s why it’s so busy now and traffic is so bad this early. They have to make up for yesterday.”

At least it’s not baseball season.

“Oh my goodness,” Pierre says. “Sometimes it might take a half hour to get from Agganis Arena to Sherborn Street on game days. It’s terrible.”

The Dorchester resident’s day begins at 6:15 a.m., when she shows up at Peter Pan’s central dispatch in Chelsea. Pierre, who has been covering this route for a year, opens the doors to her first riders at 7:10 a.m. at the corner of Harry Agganis Way and Comm Ave. Today, about 12 passengers climb aboard her 2003 RTS. Some say good morning. Others screw in earbuds, thumb out text messages, and flip through paperwork. The light turns green and Pierre wheels the 40-foot-long, 20-ton behemoth onto Comm Ave, the Prudential Tower rising on the horizon. A bright sun melts away a low bank of gray clouds.

“I’ve never experienced any real problems with students,” she says, “though there have been one or two incidents where students get upset when they can’t get on. What we deal with every day is overcrowding. One guy the other day kicked the bus. But for the most part, they’re very good.”

Pierre pulls over to pick up a young woman at St. Mary’s Street, checks sideview mirrors, and pulls away. It’s challenging to drive such a monster with no rear view, she says.

“No one wants to be behind the bus, so you’re always watching out for cars trying to speed past. Kids on the bikes, that’s one of the biggest factors. You still have to look out even if you have the green. A lot of people walk right in front of the bus.”

Kee Chan, a Sargent College assistant professor of health sciences and epidemiology, climbs aboard several times a month. She teaches undergrads on the Charles River Campus, but needs to meet her research collaborators on the Medical Campus.

“I’m really glad they have this shuttle,” she says. “It makes it possible for me to maintain contact.”

Pierre turns off of Mass Ave and onto Albany Street, dropping Chan and her fellow passengers behind Boston Medical Center. Pierre has made it with 10 minutes to spare, so she waits, Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in her bag if there’s time to kill. She doesn’t flinch at the sudden sharp release of air, like some angry steam boiler. “Everything works on air pressure,” she says, “the windshield wipers, the brakes. When all the air builds up and isn’t being used, it just releases.”

Pierre pulls up 20 minutes later to Danielsen Hall on Beacon Street, the most far-flung of BU’s residence halls. Estefania Munoz (CAS’13) and six more sleepy-eyed students get on.

“There are a lot of schools that have dorms far away and don’t have a system like this, so I’m really happy with it,” Munoz says, “especially today, because I woke up late. Now I’m going to make it in time.”

A few minutes later, Munoz hops off and dashes toward Morse Auditorium for her 8 a.m. Pierre spies a student sprinting toward her up Comm Ave, so she waits. The student, out of breath, staggers in and flops in a seat. Pierre closes the doors, and the bus lurches forward.

Caleb Daniloff can be reached at cdanilof@bu.edu.

This story was originally published January 14, 2010.

8 Comments

8 Comments on A Bus Driver in the Loop

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 10:27 am

    A Bus Driver in the Loop

    Very good story.

  • Lance on 01.14.2010 at 10:27 am

    I take the shuttle bus every working day and it’s great to learn about Ms. Pierre. She’s good but all of the other drivers are too.

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2010 at 11:05 am

    A Bus Driver in the Loop

    I take the shuttle on a daily basis it is a privilege to have this service to and from the campuses. I get very annoyed when the students even the adults get on the shuttle in the mornings and do not even say so much as good morning or thank you.

    I ask myself who brought these people up? espescially when the drivers stop and wait for them. I am very grateful that we have this a service keep up the good work and to all those passengers who froget to say thank you or good morning remember we are lucky to have this service.

  • Priscilla Ballou on 01.14.2010 at 11:25 am

    The BUS helps my commute

    I see Ms. Pierre quite often, as I regularly use the BUS to connect to and from the Orange Line as part of my daily commute between Roslindale and 881. The BUS stop near Huntington Avenue is just a hop, skip, and a jump from the Mass Ave stop on the Orange Line. Using the BUS shaves about half an hour off what my commute was when I was using just the T.

    Ms. Pierre and several of the other drivers know me by now, and when the bus they’re driving has the ability to kneel for the disabled, they lower it to help me get on with my arthritic knees. They’re always pleasant and helpful.

    Having shuttle bus service and having such good drivers is a great benefit to those of us who work at BU. I wish more of us would leave our gas guzzlers at home and let the T and the BUS do the driving. But make sure you leave me a seat!

  • Anonymous on 01.15.2010 at 11:51 am

    These stories about the people who work at BU are fantastic! Thank you! :)

  • Commuter on 01.15.2010 at 12:02 pm

    Like most of the comments here, I also take the shuttle as my commute every day. The BUS is great and Julia is probably their best driver. She’s quick and can manage some turns that I would give up on!

    Also, I don’t know how these drivers remain so calm in that traffic. Must be a zen thing.

    Thanks Julia!

  • Anonymous on 06.24.2010 at 9:52 am

    I am also grateful for this service and the professonalism of the drivers. Most students are polite but there are some who need to grow up. Thank you, too, for bringing out staff from the shadows. The tradition at this University (and others) of making believe the staff does not exist serves no one. I appreciate these articles.

  • Anonymous on 01.14.2011 at 9:27 am

    Doesn’t it bother you that all the comments above are all positive? While I appreciate the bus drivers’ impeccable service, the buses themselves are rarely on time. I live in West Campus and use the bus service everyday, and half of the time I ended up walking from or to class.

    An accurate representation of the opinions of the student body would come from surveying, not relying on the comments to the blogs.

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