Keeping Your Cool: The Secret to 30 Years of Safe Driving
Friday, March 25, 2011 3:54 PM
When Isaac Spencer Jr. was born 57 years ago, he was named after his father. Little did he know then that he would take after his father in more than just name.
The senior Spencer drove a bus for METRO for half a century with a nearly flawless attendance record.
The son started at METRO 31 years ago, and this year achieved 30 consecutive years of a flawless safety record. That means he drove three decades with no preventable accidents, no safety infractions and an impressive attendance record.
"It's very difficult to achieve this," said Robert McElyea, acting vice president of safety. "It's bragging rights: ‘I've been a safe operator for 30 years.' That's something to be proud of. The bottom line is that safety benefits our employees, our patrons and the Houston community."
Our safety award program recognizes full-time and part-time bus and rail operators, as well as mechanics. Click here to see a list of all our winners.
Spencer says after three decades on the job, he still finds carrying passengers on METRO interesting.
"I enjoy interacting with passengers. That makes your day. You look forward to the next day because you will find somebody with a different attitude, different problem," says Spencer.
An operator with seniority, Spencer gets to choose his shift and his schedule - and he enjoys mixing it up as a driver on the "extra board," which means he substitutes for drivers who are ill or on vacation. That way, every day is different.
"Lots of things are changing out there. You might go down one street and see a building and then four to five months later, and the building is gone," observes Spencer.
Spencer credits his prestigious safety record to learning to be calm and easy-going on the road.
"Stress - you just have to go with it. You have to adjust," says Spencer, adding that over the years, staying calm became second nature. "Take your time; try not to be in any rush. Keep your eyes moving. You're going to have obstacles thrown at you from all directions. Be patient, and go with it."
Spencer did exactly that in the early 1990s when a passenger started screaming after her baby stopped breathing. Spencer pulled the bus over, called dispatch and ran back to give the baby mouth-to-mouth resuscitation - a technique he says he picked up by watching television.
"It was cool. I did what I had to do," recalls Spencer.
Spencer says he wasn't always this serene behind the wheel. His first day on the job was nerve-wracking. "It's a whole different feeling when you're hauling passengers. You've got people's lives in your hands," he says.
Superintendent Robert Augustine, who started at METRO as a bus driver, recalls all the drivers who would try to go around his bus and then make a right turn in front of it.
"It's just amazing that an operator can go for 25 years without a preventable accident. A lot of operators work hard to earn that," said Augustine.
Spencer says it's more difficult now for younger operators to earn a 30-year safety award. The increased traffic clogging our roads makes it more stressful, safety standards are more rigorous and Houston drivers seem more impatient.
When he's ready to relax, Spencer hits the road again. But instead of a 40-foot bus, he climbs on his Kawasaki Ninja ZX-11 and becomes a street lord, riding long distances to Waco, Austin and Dallas with the Street Lords Motorcycle Club.