After 2 years at the wheel, woman sits in driver's seat of expanding bus company

January 13, 1994|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,Staff Writer

Willie Nixon drove a school bus for two years in the 1970s to support her five small children after her first husband died. Then one day, her employer, Benjamin Keene, told her he was calling it quits, selling the buses and retiring.

Figuring the best way to save a job and feed her family was to buy two of the buses and start her own business, Ms. Nixon set off on a frustrating search for financing that yielded nothing but rejection from bankers until Mr. Keene and his wife stepped in.

Mr. Keene, who has since died, called his bank, Farmers National in Annapolis, and asked them to grant Ms. Nixon a loan. The bank did. And just in time.

"We went down Tuesday and got the tags," said Ms. Nixon, 74. "The buses were supposed to be on the road that Wednesday."

They were. And Glen Burnie-based Nixon Bus Services Inc., founded in 1973, started transporting Anne Arundel County youngsters to school. The company now serves more than 10 schools.

The bus company has expanded over the years, adding service between the Pioneer City low-income housing project and Glen Burnie in April after the Mass Transit Administration dropped the route for lack of ridership. On Saturday, it is scheduled to start a new service from the Cromwell Station/Glen Burnie light rail stop to the state prisons in Jessup.

The bus will make one trip to the center at 7:15 a.m. and a return trip at 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays only. Fares are $1.50 each way.

Ms. Nixon said more trips and days may be added later if there is enough interest in the service.

The idea for the new service came from passengers on the Pioneer City to Glen Burnie run who complained that they had no way to visit relatives imprisoned at Jessup, Ms. Nixon said. She started the Pioneer City route with a $27,437 federal grant funneled through the MTA as part of its "Access to Jobs" program, which provides privately operated transportation where the public transit company does not offer service.

The first day the bus rolled from Pioneer City, it had only one passenger. But gradually ridership has improved, averaging about 80 passengers a day now.

"One of the problems people down there said is we don't have any way to get out," said Darrell Ford, Ms. Nixon's son-in-law. "Now they got transportation to get in and out to try and better themselves instead of just being down there on state assistance."

Added Ms. Nixon: "We're trying to be of some service to the community, and we're also trying to better ourselves. It's helping them, and it's helping us, too."

Ms. Nixon said the business has helped improved her children's lives.

"I didn't make that much money," she said. "I wanted to send my children to school, and when I got the buses that made it possible."

In the early days of the business, Ms. Nixon drove the buses and worked on them as well, tinkering with spark plugs and hydraulic pumps into the wee hours of the morning when they broke down. She had learned about the insides of an engine from her father, a mechanic, when she was a young girl.

Now, she and her children, their spouses and in-laws, many of whom are certified to drive buses, say they hope to further expand the business to offer charter service to out-of-state destinations. On Christmas Eve, they took delivery of a new 41-seat coach.

Sitting in the company's office across from her home on Hartwell Road, Ms. Nixon and her son-in-law said they are optimistic about the future.

"I feel like if you do all you can with the help of God you will make it," Ms. Nixon said. "Everything will be all right. It might take a while. But it will be all right."

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