Get “on board” with us on March 18 to celebrate the nearly 5,000 CTA bus and train operators who keep Chicago moving each day by using #TDAD
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) is celebrating Transit Driver Appreciation Day 2019 on Monday, March 18, 2019 and encouraging transit customers to take a moment to thank their bus or rail operator for the great work they do each day.
No matter the challenge—weather, traffic or time of day—CTA bus and train operators strive to provide excellent customer service to 1.5 million customers daily. These dedicated, hard-working employees care about their customers and take their job of providing an affordable, reliable and safe commuting experience seriously. This is our customers’ opportunity to say, “thank you!”
“Our bus and rail operators are the lifeblood of our organization and without them, most Chicagoans would have a difficult time getting to work, school and other activities each day,” said CTA President Dorval R. Carter, Jr. “So, I ask our customers to join me in offering a well-deserved, ‘thank you,’ to those operators serving on the front lines of the CTA.”
On March 18, CTA will feature some of our many outstanding bus and rail operators on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram channels. Among the rail employees we’re profiling is operator Gregory Davis, better known to Brown Line riders as the amiable “Transit Doctor,” whose greetings and words of encouragement have become renowned among regular riders and transit enthusiasts.
We’re also highlighting, among others, bus operator Viveca Mustiful, who takes great joy in getting to know her passengers and seeing entire families grow up before her eyes. Additional operator profiles are below.
During Transit Driver Appreciation Day, CTA suggests customers “thank” their operator, either in-person or by giving them a “shout-out” via social media, using the hashtag #TDAD (Transit Driver Appreciation Day) on their social media accounts. Customers also can offer praise to employees by filling out an online contact form or by calling CTA Customer Service at 1-888-YOUR-CTA (1-888-968-7282).
As the nation’s second-largest transit system, CTA moves the equivalent of the population of the entire City of Philadelphia each weekday and provides safe, reliable and affordable transit service to the City of Chicago and 35 surrounding suburbs.
For more information about Transit Driver Appreciation Day 2019, visit our social media channels on Facebook or Twitter (@CTA) or Instagram.
On this special day of recognition, meet a few of CTA’s most outstanding bus and rail operators:
Elexa McCracklin – North Park Garage
For Elexa McCracklin, being a CTA Bus Operator is the fulfillment of a childhood dream. “I’ve wanted to be a bus driver since I was five years old,” McCracklin laughingly says.
In addition to getting to drive a bus, McCracklin enjoys interacting with his passengers and knowing he can assist those he transports.
“I help all my senior passengers off the bus, make sure they’re safe,” says McCracklin. “I always tell my customers ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Good Afternoon.’ Makes them feel better about the rest of their day.”
McCracklin remembers an incident when he wished a customer, “Good Morning,” and the customers retorted, “What’s so good about it?” McCracklin responded, “Well, you’re alive! That’s one good thing!” The customer apologized to him a few stops later, saying that his sunny attitude helped turn her day around.
“The key to working with customers is to stay positive, smile and help as many people as you can,” says McCracklin, who enjoys fishing on his days off. “This job is about more than just a paycheck, you’ve got people’s lives in your hands.”
During his almost five years as a bus operator, McCracklin has learned to take the good with the bad. “Some people are quiet, some are in a bad mood, but I just smile at them, wish them a good day and keep on moving,” he says with a chuckle.
“Sometimes, I’m even a counselor, listening to a passenger’s problems and reassuring them.”
McCracklin’s positive energy on the job is contagious and often brings happiness to customers’ faces. “Smiling and being courteous to people is free and makes my day go better – It’s a win-win situation!”
Viveca Mustiful - Kedzie Garage
Bus Operator Viveca Mustiful is a big believer in the power of a kind word.
“It can change someone’s whole day, hearing a simple, ‘Good Morning’ or ‘Thank You,” Mustiful says. “A kind word goes a long way, and it costs nothing to give.”
A grandmother of two who loves to watch movies, Mustiful enjoys most things about her job as a CTA bus operator, including her passengers and her coworkers at the Kedzie Garage. “We’re like a family over there,” Mustiful says with a smile. “We share stories, listen to each other. I’m blessed to have such a great team at Kedzie.”
Having worked on the #7 Harrison route for about ten years, Mustiful has gotten to know entire families and see them grow and change through the years.
“It’s wonderful driving children to elementary school, taking their grandparents to shop for groceries during the day and bringing home their parents in the evenings,” Mustiful says with a laugh. “I see these kids grow up before my eyes!”
When asked what she would like bus customers to know, Mustiful provides a reminder that, “we are human too! When customers ignore us or are unkind to us, it hurts our feelings.”
Mustiful’s favorite part of the job is interacting with and getting to know her customers. “Chatting with regulars, asking them how their day is going, it just makes any trip that much better.”
Rolando Nieves - Forest Glen Garage
Bus Operator Rolando Nieves’ love of conversation and human interaction makes him ideal for the job.
“I always try to help my customers any way I can,” says Nieves, who has been a bus operator for more than 20 years. “And if I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask my other passengers to see if they can help!”
Nieves’ inspiration to be the best at his job comes from his mother, who just turned 70, and still uses the CTA to get around.
“Sometimes she forgets where she needs to go and has to ask the driver,” says Nieves.
“It reminds me that everyone I come in contact with is somebody’s mother, father or child. I owe it to my passengers to be as helpful and respectful as I can.”
Nieves remembers one incident in particular where excellent customer service helped save one passenger $10,000.
"This older lady boards the #151 bus, reminding me of my grandmother,” says Nieves. “She needed to go to the tax office, so I told her I would call out to her once I reached that stop. I think I startled her when we finally got there, because she jumped out of her seat and quickly exited the bus, leaving her purse behind. Luckily, I was able to pull the bus over and return the purse, which had $10,000 in cash she was taking to the tax office!”
A family man who enjoys date nights with his wife and playing baseball with his three sons on his days off, Nieves wants CTA customers to know, “It’s OK to speak to us, we don’t bite! Passengers shouldn’t be afraid to ask us a question or say hello to us, we’re there to help them and get them where they need to be.”
Michael Toomey - Forest Glen Garage
For Bus Operator Michael Toomey, there is nothing like the freedom of driving a bus for a living.
“I love everything about it, the change of scenery, the fact that I get to see every corner of Chicago and meet some of the residents of this great city,” says Toomey, who has been an operator for more than 15 years.
It is this positive energy and sunny attitude that makes Toomey a great CTA employee. “My motto is: ‘Whatever vibe you offer your customers, you get back in return.’ So, I work hard to make my passengers feel welcome because you never know what struggles people are wrestling with.”
Toomey fondly remembers a “Thank You” letter he received from a passenger after turning in a brand new iPad that was left in his bus right after the holiday season. The iPad owner had written “I didn’t know people like you existed anymore,” which moved Toomey.
“I still have that letter because it reminds me that what I do and how I respond to my customers has a profound impact.”
In addition to enjoying water sports in the summer and day trips out of the city in his spare time, Toomey likes to uplift his passengers and encourage young people to stay in school and complete their studies.
Looking back on his years as a bus operator, there is one thing Toomey wants customers to know: driving a bus is not as easy as it looks.
“I was a CTA customer for years before I became a bus operator and let me tell you, we make it look easy!”
Phyllis Alexander – 95th Terminal
When it came to choosing a career, CTA Rail Operator Phyllis Alexander had to look no further than her family. Her aunt and several relatives had worked on the bus operations side of the agency.
So, of course, Phyllis decided she’d go to the rail side!
“I thought, ‘That would be interesting work. Seeing people on the train and at the stations? Wow!’ I was sold.”
Phyllis worked her way up in the organization, starting as a customer assistant, then a flagman, and finally a rail operator.
It’s all about the people for Phyllis. She was so conscientious; she memorized the different rail signals, while serving in the customer booth at various stations. She also demonstrated a love for meeting passengers from different walks of life.
Now, as an operator, she even takes the time to greet passengers, chat with them, and sometimes try to cheer them up if they look beaten down by the day they’re having.
“It can change someone when you say, ‘How are you doing?’ Positive energy can change their negative mood and attitude. More than once, someone has said to me, ‘Thanks, I needed that.’” Her skill at communicating with commuters even paid off when Phyllis had a special guest on one of train runs.
“CTA President Dorval Carter was once a passenger and he commended me for the way I handled a customer who was harassing other passengers and trying to sell cigarettes on the train. He presented me with a pen and a certificate for the job I’d done.”
When she’s not rolling Red Line trains, you can find Phyllis rolling strikes at the bowling alley. She also loves taking long walks along the lakefront. Perhaps that is where she develops the calming nature she brings to her job.
“You can make a difference in someone’s life in this job and that’s what I try to do.”
Ronald Carr – 54th/Cermak Terminal
CTA Rail Operator Ronald Carr always knew what he wanted to be in life. His calling was apparent from a young age.
“My hobby was collecting model trains. I knew when I applied for the job that it was for me. When you have the desire and passion for something, you go for it and you give it 110%.”
For more than 20 years, Carr has operated rail cars on our various lines, happily transporting Chicagoans to wherever they needed or wanted to go. It’s a labor of love, performed with love, dedication and hard work, day in and day out.
Such devotion to his work brought Carr one of CTA’s most distinguished and sought-after honors, one very few operators have received.
“I have had the privilege of being one of the train operators chosen for the Holiday Train. It’s such a special treat getting the chance to see families enjoy what CTA brings to their community throughout the holidays.”
Carr treats his passengers like a second family. But his wife and family do not take a backseat to his job.
“In my spare time, my wife and I spend as much time with each other and our family as possible. That is the most important thing in my life: Keeping the communication and romance alive!”
Carr is grateful for the senior rail employees who mentored him when his CTA career got rolling. Today, he’s the one offering advice to the next generation of rail operators.
“Have a positive attitude, get as much knowledge and experience from senior rail employees as you can. And, most of all, be courteous and helpful to our paying customers.”
Gregory Davis – Howard Terminal
When rail operator Greg Davis steps aboard a Brown Line train to begin his run, rest assured, you’re in good hands. “The (Transit) Doctor” is in!
Tired? Sad? Grumpy? Davis has a cure for what ails you! For more than 20 years, the man known as “The Transit Doctor” has “operated” on Brown Line passengers, making them smile with his banter and words of encouragement over the train’s public address system, such as, “Remember, today’s a good day to have a great day!”
Davis refers to different routes with different names. For example, boarding passengers on the CTA Red Line will hear the operator say, “Welcome to the Friendship Train.” On the Purple Line, he’ll call his train, “The Love Connection.”
Davis – known as Uncle “G” to many of his coworkers and riders - found his calling, thanks to Chicago’s notoriously cold weather.
He started at CTA in rail construction, which meant working outdoors when temperatures would plummet well below zero.
“I knew trains had heat and air conditioning, so I thought it would be a good place to go and serve the public,” recalls Davis. “I’m a people person and I love interacting with all the ice cream flavors of humanity.” Davis’ personality makes a ride truly memorable. Customers constantly compliment Davis, either with calls or letters to CTA headquarters or just directly to him.
“One day, a man walked up to the train cab window and said, ‘Hey, Mister, in my opinion, in the dictionary, there should not be a definition of a true professional, there should only be a picture of you!’”
Davis loves traveling, not just on a train, but to visit his daughters and grandkids. He also stays busy as a musician and co-managing a popular R&B group, The Ronnie “G” Band. But, nothing gives Davis more joy than riding the rails. The Transit Doctor’s prescription on how to be a good rail operator is simple.
“Talk to the people, not at them. Treat customers like family and make the train a community.”
Cleo Lofton – Ashland/63rd Terminal
There was a time when Rail Operator Cleo Lofton – better known to her Green Line passengers as Operator #601 – did not know what career path to follow.
Today, her CTA family and passengers are grateful that her husband, a chauffeur, steered her towards a life in transportation. Now, in her 34th year on the job, Cleo still loves operating a train and has no desire to retire.
“I love my passengers, I love them, they’re like family,” says Lofton. “They keep me going and I get about ten hugs a day from my regulars.”
Over the years, Cleo has worked on every rail line. She’s seen her customers’ children and grandchildren grow up. They even give her cards during the holidays.
“They know me because I greet them and treat them with respect. I tell young operators that I mentor to always be kind and thoughtful and it will come back to you. My regulars know how much I care about them.”
Cleo’s caring nature has brought her many honors and accolades during her career, including a special award from the American Red Cross for resuscitating a baby on her train who wasn’t breathing.
“We’re in this together and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for my customers.”
What even the regular Green Line passengers may not know about Cleo is what she does when she’s not operating the train. She’s at home, raising teacup Maltese dogs, the smallest version of the already miniature Maltese. They’re white and can fit in the palm of your hand, just perfect for Cleo to take them to La Rabida Children’s Hospital to play with the sick kids.
But, as rewarding as that time can be, nothing compares to Cleo’s love of being Operator #601. She lives to drive a train.
“If I can make a passenger smile, it makes my day. I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.”
# # #