Transit Career Stories

From Bus Driver to Finance Manager – Jerry Garcia’s Drive to Succeed

Having moved from Mexico to Idaho as a teenager and later working in a handful of different roles at Mountain Rides in Blaine County, Idaho, Manager of Finance and Administration Jerry Garcia has embraced change and transition in his life. Read about how he has stayed motivated while cultivating a satisfying transit career in our Q&A below.

How did you get started in your transit career, and what were you doing before?

Before I started working for Mountain Rides, I worked in eight different places, all of them customer service, but I was a barista/manager at a local Starbucks. I just love talking to people, and that’s how I met the operations manager in charge of the drivers. One day I asked him, “What would it take for me to work for you and drive one of those buses?” He said, “Apply,” so that’s what I did. I was hitting the highest [level] I could get at the Starbucks. I just wanted something different and [liked] the idea of driving the bus, helping people go places. At first, I wasn’t old enough to drive, because back then you had to be 25 to drive the bus, so I was an ADA driver for a couple of years, driving sprinters and small vans. I was able to get my CDL (commercial driver’s license) and become a bus driver. It took me a little longer because I didn’t really speak English back then (Jerry and his family moved to Idaho from Mexico when he was in high school). My English was very limited, so it took me a couple of tries to pass the CDL test. Then after that, I was a bus driver.

What appealed to you about being a bus driver?

I loved [being a bus driver], because you get to meet all these different people, from kids to older people, and one of the best things is the relationship you build with the community – the people that actually need the help, people that depend on the service. There were many people – like older ladies – their families worked all day, and they were the older generation left home alone. They couldn’t drive anymore, they couldn’t walk, but they would wait for me at the bus stops and give me their prescriptions and money to get them groceries and go pick up the prescriptions. The pharmacy people knew who I was. The most amazing thing is how much you can contribute to the community.  

Why do you think people should apply to be bus drivers?

Anyone with proper training can be a bus driver. I have a friend I told years ago when I started working here, “I’m going to be a bus driver, you should come work with me.” She was always afraid, [saying], “No, no, no, no, no. I can’t.” She’s a bus driver right now – she loves it – and she regrets not doing it sooner. I mean, your office is everywhere. Right now, I like what I do, but my office is just here. Being a bus driver, your office is everywhere. It’s a beautiful thing. I love it. I tell people, anyone with the proper training can do it. I don’t care if you’re a guy or a girl, you’re tall, big, or small. You can do it. It’s not that intimidating. It might be before you start doing it, but then it’s just easy. It’s all about the training and following the guidance of the trainers. Being a bus driver is a great thing. I mean, they pay you to drive. What else can you ask for?

For all of those who are not that social, being a bus driver is a great job for them, because all you have to do is just greet people, and that gives you a chance to start building your confidence to become a better customer service person. I don’t care wherever you work, there’s always going to be a customer service side of whatever you do. When I started working for Mountain Rides, I was a very quiet person. I was very timid, but this helped me build my confidence because it gives you a chance to realize it’s not that bad to talk to people. Being a bus driver, that’s actually the best way to start building up your confidence.

Jerry Garcia talks about an unexpected perk of being a bus driver

What are your thoughts on the impact your career continues to have?

People who don’t need the service don’t realize how important public transportation is. The only way [some people] can pay is they bring you an apple, a burrito, or a sandwich. That’s what motivated me to just keep on giving to the community. That’s when I decided to go to school to do accounting and bookkeeping, because the other thing that I see, at least in this valley, is there’s not a lot of help for the Hispanic population when it comes down to doing their taxes or helping them with any of those things. Mountain Rides knew that I was going to school for accounting and bookkeeping, so when the position [as Finance and Administration Coordinator] opened, they offered me the job. I took it in a heartbeat because I was going to be able to help keep providing and giving back to the community.

After a few years of being the Finance and Administration Coordinator, I got promoted to Manager of Human Resources, where I was getting more involved with helping my coworkers, and that’s when I realized that there are a lot of things that people don’t talk about because they feel like they’re not being heard. I want them to know that I am here whenever they want to talk, whether it is personal, or just they just want to vent. You realize the importance of your job and that people depend on it, and you understand when someone comes in and wants to talk to you. I remember when I [was] driving all day and I just wanted to talk to someone. I just wanted to know that management understands where I’m coming from. I think that it’s a good thing for people [in management] to get the experience [of being a bus driver].

The position that I’m currently in right now (Manager of Finance and Administration) opened up, and I’m glad they gave me the opportunity to give it a try. Being a coordinator is one thing, but now when you have to be in charge and make sure that everything you’re doing is correct, it’s a completely different game. If we make any mistakes, it could eventually affect everyone, not only the employees, but the community, the people that really need the help – those older ladies that depend on the transportation to get their medication, to go on to their medical appointments. All these people, like so many people, their only way to get to work is using public transportation. I love working for a company that gives so much to the community.

Can you describe how you stayed motivated while you were both in school and working?

It was not an easy journey to go to school and work full-time. There were times that I wouldn’t even sleep. It was having to do homework but still having to do your full-time job. My parents and family were always encouraging me to quit, “Because you’re not resting. You don’t have a life,” [they’d say]. I’d reply, “I’m doing this so I can have a life. I’m doing this so I can rest, so when I get to a certain age, I can have an easy job and not have to work as hard.” Once Mountain Rides knew that I was going to school for accounting and bookkeeping and this position opened, they were helping me pay for some credits. That gave me more motivation to keep going and better myself.

Did you have a mentor, role model, or anyone you looked up to while developing your career?

I see how hard my dad, my parents work doing landscaping, working really long, hard hours. I didn’t want to do that. My dad, more than anything, was my motivation to do something for [myself] in my life because I didn’t want to end up like that. I mean, my dad has a hard time walking and my mom has diabetes, and they still have to go out there and work so hard to make a living. That was my motivation. My family, my siblings were my motivation to better myself. I am the only one of my family – I’m the youngest of seven – that graduated high school.

Two years ago, [my former] high school reached out to me, took a picture of me [along with a biographical] short story, and it’s hanging on one of the hallways at the high school. What they’re trying to do is just to show and motivate [kids] that you can do something else. You can become a professional.

As Jerry’s journey illustrates, public transportation offers a wide variety of roles with rewarding opportunities. To learn more about other workers’ experiences in the industry, bookmark the TWC Blog to follow our series on inspiring transit career stories.

This interview has been edited and adapted from a longer conversation with Jerry Garcia.