Oct 20, 2023
The Beginning of the Journey
A friend’s recommendation, along with a telegram stating The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) was hiring drivers for their Community Responsive Transit (CRT) service led to James “Jimmy” Smith joining the authority in 1978. CRT was a pilot project with the initial goal of providing transportation for the senior community in select neighborhoods, during limited hours, and without fare collection. As CRT expanded, it evolved into a county-wide eight-hour shift service, employing 30 drivers, a crucial step in Jimmy’s career as it provided him an entry point into GCRTA. In the early 90s, CRT transitioned into GCRTA’s current Paratransit service. That service provides door-to-door convenience to passengers, assistance with packages, and ensures riders a safe arrival to their destinations. In addition to being a Paratransit Operator, Jimmy also briefly worked in dispatch and as a Service Monitor during his GCRTA career.
Riding the Waves of Change
Over the span of 45 years, the Paratransit industry has undergone profound technological changes, and Paratransit operators have been at the forefront of these transformative changes. Originally working with manual dispatch systems and paper-based records, Paratransit operators have witnessed the integration of cutting-edge technologies such as computer-aided dispatch (CAD) systems, GPS navigation, and real-time scheduling software. These advancements eliminated the use of singular dispatch radios and the printed Mapbook of yesteryear.
Paratransit operators play a crucial role in their passengers' lives. Beyond merely transporting passengers from point A to point B, their compassion and dedication instill a sense of independence and belonging among their passengers. Just like Jimmy’s mantra “The road always has a special attraction to me, that is to serve our passengers." From Jimmy’s perspective, Paratransit operators witness firsthand the daily struggles and joys of individuals from all walks of life. Simple acts of kindness, such as a smile or a kind word, and offering assistance with packages can make a significant difference in someone's day. Unlike fixed-route services, Paratransit operators have a more intimate connection with their passengers. Passengers often tell operators stories surrounding their personal lives, along with stories of historical significance. Passengers sit closer to the drivers due to the type of vehicle used, and its capacity for fewer passengers. As a result, a personal bond develops between the passengers and Paratransit operators. For instance, passengers call operators by name, and in some cases, operators are even given endearing nicknames. Jimmy described being called "Grandson" by some of his passengers. This closeness is also evident among Paratransit staff, Jimmy describes his coworkers as “family”. Even outside of work, Paratransit staff members participate in social activities, like going to Edgewater Beach and Paratransit Rodeos. Paratransit rodeos put the Paratransit staff's abilities to the test in obstacle courses. (Rodeos were conducted at during the beginning of CRT).
Passing the Baton - The Legacy Continues
Jimmy's dedicated service at GCRTA has made a profound impact on both the community he served and his fellow colleagues. For over four decades, Jimmy demonstrated his exceptional driving skills and commitment to safety, earning numerous accolades such as Operator of the Month, a Champions of Safety Award, and a 40 Safe Operator award. As a mentor, he instills the importance of the "Look, Listen, and Learn" approach in new employees, urging them to take note of their positive contributions, heed instructions carefully, and seek knowledge from others. The legacy Jimmy has made is one of trust from passengers, support of his coworkers, and encouragement from his experiences.