October 25, 2014
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After 31 years, Carol never gets tired of driving kids
Carla Aveledo
Warwick Beacon photo
KEEP TRACK: Fred Cordeiro, mechanic and technician for First Student bus company, runs a diagnostics test on the bus Zonar system in preparation for the first day of school next Wednesday. The system that requires each driver to log in with an identity card tells headquarters where the bus is at what time as well as how fast it is driving. Further, he explained, it provides a read-out of the bus and whether it is mechanically operating properly at the beginning and end of the day.

School bus schedules are out, which means vacation is coming to an end and drivers who will get students to school and back home every day are gearing up. Carol Minear of Warwick has driven bus 14 since 1983 and is now the senior driver.

“I like the children and I like my route,” said Minear.

She’s been driving the same route for about 31 years passing through Pilgrim, Aldrich and the Lincoln Park area. She enjoys the kindergarteners and the high school students best.

“They’re friendly and mellow,” she said of the high schoolers. “They talk amongst themselves but enough to know somebody’s there with you.”

“Since it’s the first year for the kindergarteners, they are thrilled to ride the bus and talk about their families,” said Minear.

When school is in session, Minear gets to work at 6 a.m., in time for the pre-trip inspection at 6:20 a.m. She checks the inside of the bus for any left behind belongings. She does the same at the end of each day, also checking for students who may be sleeping on the bus.

All the buses are equipped with the Zonar Systems, an electronic fleet inspection that monitors the vehicle’s tires, lights and performs other safety checks. Each driver has an individual Zonar card that tracks the driver’s speed and information of previous trips. If something comes up on the vehicle’s diagnostic, the message will be sent directly to the main office and be scheduled for maintenance.

First Student has a fleet of 105 buses to cover 92 routes in Warwick. There are no new buses this year, but Sue Barbour, location manager for Warwick and Jamestown, said there is always circulation of new drivers. The company has had some other legendary bus drivers along with Minear who started in the early 1980s. Robert Doyle, First Student’s senior driver of 35 years, retired this year. Lillian Fagundes started driving more than 44 years ago, then took a hiatus and is now back at the wheel.

Minear said that the children’s behavior is what’s changed the most over the years.

“And not for the better,” she said.

Minear wasn’t able to pinpoint exactly why the behavior has changed but thinks since it’s common that both parents are in the workforce now, kids are getting less supervision at home. The kids are not allowed to use their cell phones on the bus so she said technology isn’t playing a factor when they’re with her.

Sharen Souza, a special needs driver, said she loves her job.

“It’s my rolling desk,” she said while sitting in the driver’s seat.

She said she’s looking forward to the bidding process that is scheduled for Friday. Drivers bid for their routes each year.

Souza hopes the luck of the draw will place her in a good route.

“I believe the drivers and aides should stay the same each year,” for the special needs students, said Souza.

Drivers have more responsibility now, Minear said. When she drives, she is prepared for all situations. She said she is more vigilant of students and how they are doing. During the holidays, Minear said she sometimes receives gift cards and many thanks from students when they hop on and off the bus.

“I like my job,” said Minear. “I don’t like taking time off from it.”

The weather is the only thing that she complains about.

“Some of the weather that they send us out in is tortuous,” she said.

It takes her two hours sometimes to complete a route because of rain or snow. It makes her nervous to have to drive children home in poor weather conditions. It’s the other drivers who rush to get home that she doesn’t trust, she said.

Even when she is off the clock, Minear still holds on to the wheel.

“I do all the driving, I never let my husband drive,” she said.


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