(Oxnard, CA) –Lupe Juarez recently logged 40 years as a Bus Operator for Gold Coast Transit District, the largest public transit operator in Ventura County. She is also part of the prestigious Two Million Mile Club, as determined by the National Safety Council. This designation recognizes operators who have driven 50,000 hours of drive time without a preventable accident.
“GCTD is proud to have Lupe on board, ensuring the safety of our passengers each day. She is our ‘Number 1’ driver as far as her seniority in the organization, but she is so much more. She is a mentor to other drivers and her perseverance is an example to follow for the rest of us”, shares Steven Brown, GCTD’s General Manager.
Lupe describes her first day on the job in 1980. It was her first time behind the wheel with passengers on board and she was feeling nervous – the pressure of safely transporting lives weighed heavy on her. As she began making a right turn, she had trouble maneuvering the bus – then not equipped with power steering – and she hit and drove over the curb, startling everyone on board. Her trainer demanded she pull over. Despite her rocky start, she was committed to her new career and vowed not to give up and return the next day. Lupe has returned, every day for 40 years.
She began driving for the organization, then known as South Coast Area Transit (SCAT) when fares were 25 cents, with limited routes, and less congested streets. Lupe has experienced so much throughout her career; she has driven through earthquakes, wildfires, historic economic and social changes, and most recently the global pandemic, COVID-19. Each bringing their own unique set of challenges to overcome. She has seen the organization evolve from SCAT to Gold Coast Transit District, operating from a three-acre site to a new 15-acre operations and maintenance facility. She is constantly learning new technologies, learning to drive new buses, new routes, and navigate through new policies, including the most recent mandates resulting from COVID-19.
Yet, she returns to work every day with the same passion and determination to move forward and adjust to what each season brings.
Lupe says she loves her job. The road provides her a sense of freedom and independence, while transporting passengers brings a deep sense of fulfillment. She has driven several routes in every jurisdiction the District serves, transporting students, a diverse workforce, seniors and passengers with disabilities to where they need to go. Along the way, she has developed special relationships with them, some of whom she has transported for over a decade.
If there is a message Lupe wishes to share with the public it is this, “I want people to know that Bus Operators have a lot to handle while driving, and we all want to have a good experience and get to our destination safely. So, please, be courteous to your driver and fellow passengers, follow the rules on board, and take a seat. I am the driver, not your mother”, Lupe says as she laughs out loud.
Another interesting fact about Lupe is that her son, Manual Barajas is also employed by GCTD, having himself provided 27 years of dedicated service to the community. He currently works as an Operations Supervisor.
For now, Lupe shares she has no plans to retire. “I love driving so much and I want to continue working as long as I can”. But when the time comes, she says she looks forward to retirement in Texas with family.
About the District: Gold Coast Transit District provides safe, responsive, convenient, efficient, and environmentally responsible fixed-route bus and paratransit public transportation that serves the diverse needs of the cities of Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Ventura, and in the unincorporated County areas between the cities. Utilizing a fleet of 61 clean natural gas-fueled buses, and 26 paratransit buses and vans, GCTD carries nearly 3.6 million passengers annually on its 20 bus routes. GCTD is the largest provider of public transit in Ventura County and is governed by a Board of Directors made up of an elected official from each member jurisdiction. For more information or to plan your trip, visit www.GoldCoastTransit.org.