A friend and I were staying in Albany this past weekend for the annual NYAPT (New York Association for Pupil Transportation) School Bus Roadeo. Yes, that is spelled correctly. We were talking to the people staying in the room next to ours who were there for their own adventure unrelated to the roadeo. It took about 5 minutes of slightly confusing conversation before everyone understood that it was a driving competition, and that there was not going to be a stampede of buffalo in the Holiday Inn parking lot.
The above confusion is common, bus drivers often find themselves explaining exactly what a bus roadeo is. It is spelled roadeo to emphasize the word”road”, and to distinguish it from the rodeo with animals, something I am totally unfamiliar with. In the state roadeo in Albany, contestants from around the state who place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in their local roadeos compete for a chance to represent New York in the National competition.
The day usually begins with the drivers taking a written test and performing a pretrip inspection of the type of vehicle they drive. At the state roadeo there are additional activities and presentations for contestants to participate in: This year the “smokebus”, a simulation of a bus fire emergency, was a huge hit.
The obstacle course varies from place to place and year to year, but usually tests the same types of skills. The course this year in Albany began with the “straight line”. This obstacle consists of two parallel lines of tennis balls (10 balls total) that are spaced slightly farther apart than the width of the bus’s rear tires. The driver has to run the right wheels of the bus through the tennis balls, knocking as few over as possible. Next came the serpentine and offset alley, which are usually paired together. First drivers must weave the bus through a line of barrels, and then maneuver through a tight set of barricades that are “offset” rather than in a straight line. The Railroad crossing came next, where contestants had to perform all the proper procedures for crossing railroad tracks. (School buses must stop, look and listen at all crossings, whether the gates are down or not.) After crossing the tracks, drivers had to parallel park, and then come around the corner and pick up a student (judge). Then can the alley dock, which required contestants to back the bus into a “stall” with limited space to maneuver the vehicle. The “student” was then dropped off and crossed the “street” for the next event. The final leg of the course consisted of the diminishing clearance and stop line. Drivers had to drive the bus through sets of barricades that get closer and closer together, the final set being only 2 inches wider than the bus. At the end of the barricades was a stop line, where the goal was to get the front bumper of the bus as close to the line as possible without going over. After this the drivers pulled the bus up for the next contestant, checked for sleeping children, and finally got to relax until the awards ceremony and dinner.
Drivers in competition all use brand new buses of the same type (Van, Conventional or Transit style). While the regular roadeo is going on, there is also a special needs and mechanics roadeo going on simultaneously. Although not everyone will go home with a trophy or a ticket to the nationals, it’s worth the trip to have fun, eat, and meet people from across the state that love their jobs. And nobody knows how to party like bus drivers. ;-)