Shuttle driver adds personal touch to transport
After completing the pre-trip vehicle inspection, Pierce College’s Campus Shuttle roars to life as the driver turns the key in the ignition of the Ford E-450 turtle-top bus.
Exiting the Admissions parking lot, that reserves a section to park the bus, Patrick Sykes, 47, drives up Brahma Drive on a cloudy morning and enters the Student Drop-off round-about.
Here, Sykes stalls the bus for a few minutes and waits for any student hoping to get a ride as he begins his routine route throughout campus.
After waiting a few minutes, there’s no sign of a student wanting to ride the shuttle.
Sykes shuts the electric bi-fold doors and hauls the bus up the hill towards the Performing Arts East parking lot.
It’s the second stop on the shuttle’s route, consisting of eight stops in total.
“I have a lot of students tell me, ‘oh I can do this’, and I say ‘yeah, but you have to have a Class B and CPR training’.
There’s a lot more to it than just driving,” Sykes says gripping the steering wheel and shrugging his burly shoulders.
Sykes, a pastor at Victory Outreach, a non-denominational church in Whittier, Calif. has been a professional driver for 10 years.
He has previously driven for FedEx.
Trained in performing CPR and holder of a Medical Examination Card, Sykes is more than qualified to aid passengers during a medical emergency.
Arriving at Parking Lot 6 West, located behind the Music building, two students, Sadaf Gharahbaghi and Sahar Ekhtiar, eagerly walk up the steps and board the bus.
“Hey! Are you the cool guy?” Gharahbaghi asks, happily greeting the driver.
“Always!” Sykes replies and asks, “so where you ladies headed?”
Ehktiar lets Sykes know they want to be taken back to the first stop.
At the same time, Sykes nods and draws a tally next to today’s date on his log sheet, where he keeps track of the number of students riding the bus.
He calculates that the shuttle service transports 50 students a day, on average.
Putting the vehicle back in drive, Sykes skips the fourth stop and drives down the hill.
At the intersection of Mason Avenue and Olympic Drive, he quickly notices that there is no one waiting at the southwest corner, the fifth stop.
Taking a left, he pulls up in front of the Child Development Center, again driving past it when he sees no one is waiting.
“I know it’s important for students to get to their classes.
So when I have riders, I drive through the stops until I let them off. After, I just keep going again,” Sykes says taking another left and entering Parking Lot 8.
Coming up to the exit that is perpendicular to El Rancho Drive, the seventh stop is empty.
The driver decides to bypass the last stop, located in Parking Lot 9 next to the Equestrian Center.
Sykes takes a quick left and then a right, merging back onto Mason Drive.
He drives back up the hill and then down onto Stadium Way.
He stops the bus in front of the Student Dropoff, as he waits for the oncoming traffic to pass so that he can enter it.
“You’re a big help on campus. Thank you,” Gharahbaghi exclaims as she and Ekhtiar depart the shuttle.
“No problem. Have a good one,” Sykes responds.
Sykes then restarts the route all over again.
Taking about 15 minutes to complete each revolution, riders hop on and off while Sykes drives his course.
Sykes, the chief driver of the shuttle, is employed by SMS Transportation Services.
The company is contracted by Pierce College to facilitate students’ campus commute.
During one of the rotations, frequent rider Sheri Sutherland boards the bus.
She praises Sykes for adjusting his route and transferring her as close as possible to her car.
“He even knows what my car looks like,” Sutherland proclaims, smiling at Sykes through the rear-view mirror.
“Yup. It’s a white truck,” Sykes states.
Sutherland laughs in response and wonders out loud why students don’t take more advantage of this free service.
“During the first week of school, I had all these fliers I was passing out,” Sykes says. “You know, trying to let students know about the service because not enough people know about it.”
Arriving at Sutherland’s destination, she exits and says she’ll back later.
Sykes drives every day from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Without his supervisor on campus, Sykes texts his boss, Armand Hamai, letting him know when he has clocked in and out for the day.
At 3 p.m., SMS Transportation Services sends an available driver to relieve Sykes for the day.
Turning over his log sheet to the next driver, Sykes completes his day.
Tomorrow, Sykes will restart his day inspecting the vehicle for any malfunctions and will cheerfully help students get to wherever it is they need to go.
Pierce College offers free rides to its students using the shuttle bus.
Operating Monday through Thursday from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and on Fridays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., students can hitch a ride and be transported to their desired location.
“I’m in the customer service business, you know,” Sykes says. “So, I try to meet the needs for everybody.”
The shuttle service here at Pierce could be utilized by students not wanted to fight for central parking, as the shuttle picks up from many areas of the campus.
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