THE PEOPLE of Annapolis have spoken.
Last week during national "Try Transit Week," they selected as their favorite driver Amelia Wallace, a nearly 20-year veteran of Annapolis Transit. Wallace joins Annapolis native Keith Queen, the city's newly selected Bus Driver of the Year, for recognition for outstanding service to the people of Annapolis.
The announcement of these honors was made Friday as part of the weeklong promotion to highlight the importance and benefits of transit. Both drivers were recognized during a lunch at the Department of Transportation's headquarters on Chinquapin Round Road.
Wallace was last year's City Employee of the Year and was recognized for her efforts in helping police apprehend a bank robber who had gotten on her bus as a getaway vehicle.
She is well-known by city transit riders as the driver of the morning shift of the yellow route, which loops from Spa Road through Eastport, into downtown, out West Street and back to Spa Road.
Queen's award as driver of the year rewards excellent performance, safety and general job habits during the previous year. He normally drives the afternoon shift on the green route, which makes a large figure eight around the city.
"Keith has always been a good driver and this year he has truly become an excellent driver," said Transportation Director Danielle Matland. "He's reliable, considerate and most of all, he is interested in helping his customers."
He received a certificate of recognition from the city council and a wristwatch from Ron George of Ron George Jewelers on Main Street during Friday's lunch.
Matland said the city has many outstanding drivers and it's a difficult decision every year. "This year was no different," she said, "but we think Mr. Queen really deserves this recognition."
Queen, 38, began driving with Annapolis Transit in April 1994 and became a full-time driver a year later.
It is transit drivers like Wallace, Queen and their two dozen or so colleagues that keep the award-winning Annapolis transit system and the community moving.
"Most of the drivers are Annapolis natives," said city Department of Transportation Marketing Specialist Paul Foer. "They know the city, know their customers, and really know what is going on. They are in many ways the eyes and ears of the community."
In addition to the drivers, most of the administrative staff live in the city, making the department a service run by the community for the community.
"Try Transit Week" recognizes the drivers' everyday hard work, reliability and positive outlook as well as the benefits and importance of transit.
While some of the week's events were canceled because of the tragic events in New York and outside Washington, Customer Appreciation Day on Tuesday encouraged voters to take mass transit to the primary election polling places by offering free rides all day on any bus or trolley. The week ended Saturday with an Annapolis Transit trolley at the Anne Arundel County Fair in Crownsville.
Ridership has doubled in the past five years, with 1.156 million one-way rides tallied in the fiscal year that ended June 30. "We are rising to meet increased demand, but I can't stress enough that we are also building demand through marketing and improved services," says Foer.
Among the most visible of the transit system's improvements are the 30 new, clean and well-lighted bus shelters where people can comfortably wait for their rides. The shelters also provide significant income to the city. Clear Channel Adshel designs, installs and maintains the shelters and pays the city a fee to do so. Without the sponsorship, the shelters would cost $7,000 to $10,000 each and would require major grant writing and additional staff, according to the city. The shelters are wired to eventually provide electronic up-to-the-minute announcements of bus arrival times.
The city has also installed bike racks on a number of buses, received shipment of three modern, low-floor small buses, and expects to have three similar but larger buses in the spring. Routes have expanded to include the gold route serving the Parole area and the Harbour Center, and a temporary route extension serving Harry S. Truman Parkway where the Anne Arundel County Health Department, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Motor Vehicle Administration are located. A trial bus service over the summer ran between Annapolis and Edgewater.
To accommodate a growing Hispanic population, two bilingual Hispanic bus drivers have been hired. Marlon Alvarado and Maritza Vasquez, natives of El Salvador, began driving full time in July. According to Matland, both drivers have the friendly customer-service attitudes the department looks for in all of its drivers.
The city's bus drivers get us where we are going on time and with a smile. Give a wave when you see them behind the wheel or offer a welcoming smile and hello or hola when you board the bus.
Transit maps are available online at www.ci.annapolis.md.us, from bus drivers, most city government buildings or by calling 410-263-7964.