BY Amanda Sotelo
With a shortage of transit drivers in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas State Technical College and the Brownsville Metro have partnered to create the RGV Transit Bus Driver Academy with the first group of students set to graduate later this month.
“This is a project that has been a couple of years in the making,” said Norma Zamora, director of Brownsville Metro. “I’m really excited and happy with the success we’ve seen with our first class.”
The partnership with TSTC came after the four metro agencies in the Valley – Brownsville Metro, Metro McAllen, Valley Metro and Island Metro – received a grant from the Department of Transportation with the goal of increasing the number of transit operators in the area. This grant allowed the agencies to begin a pilot program to train and prepare students for a career in public transportation.
The e RGV Transit Bus Driver Academy has training conducted by TSTC in Cameron County and South Texas College in Hidalgo County. TSTC offers the only Transit Bus Drivers Academy in Cameron County. The Department of Transportation grant provides scholarships to pay for the students’ tuitions.
“Our main mission at TSTC is to place more Texans. And there’s no better way than to partner with the employers who will hire our students. This is in perfect alignment with what we strive for every day.” said Cledia Hernandez, associate vice president for Continuing Education.
The academy curriculum is a three-week training period in which students are prepared in all elements required for them to become successful bus operators and secure a Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) and Passenger Endorsement (PE).
“Our students are excited for the opportunity that has been given to them,” said Zamora. “They’re ready to start working and we’re glad we’ve been able to give them the necessary training to ensure they successfully complete this program.”
Once all training is complete, required exams are passed and driving credentials are secured, students will be offered a job with one of the four local public transit agencies. Job placement is available in Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Willacy and Zapata counties.
“We focus on state and national credentials for our students, so these individuals are receiving national credentials that will help them get a job anywhere in the United States, but for now they’ve found a job close to home,” said Hernandez.
The official start date for the first class was April 18. The first cohort made up of six students has been trained by TSTC’s Continuing Education faculty and is preparing to complete the course at the end of the month. The students have been hired by the City of Brownsville transit department contingent on their passing all required tests to obtain a Class B Commercial Driver’s License and Passenger Endorsements. The students will be taking their driving test, the final step in the program on May 25.
Sandra Caballero, the only woman in the program’s first class, said she thanks God, TSTC and Brownsville Metro for this opportunity. After working many years in factories she was laid off and found herself jobless with a family of five to support.
“I didn’t know what else to do except move forward and look for a new job. It was a huge obstacle,” said Caballero. “When I came across the RGV Transit Driver Academy posting, I figured I had nothing to lose.”
Caballero said it took two months for her to receive a call back, she had already lost hope and was not having luck finding any other job.
“When they called I jumped at the chance at a new career,” said Caballero. “The class was a challenge, especially because English isn’t my first language, but I did it. Proof that nothing is impossible.”
Caballero said she is now looking forward to her future and hopes she can be an example for other women interested in enrolling in the program.
“This opportunity has been life changing,” Caballero said tearfully. “I’m still learning every day, but the RGV Drivers Academy gave me an opportunity I would not have had otherwise.”
TSTC and Brownsville Metro are currently recruiting students for a second round of training that will begin later this summer
For more information on the academy or to apply visit rgvdriveracademy.com or call 956-969-5761.