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Potsdam Central driver takes top honors in bus road-eo

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MASSENA - Drivers saddled up in their 66-passenger buses for Saturday’s bus road-eo at the shared transportation facility in Massena and, when the last obstacle had been cleared, Joey Foster from the Potsdam Central School District emerged as this year’s top driver from the region.

Mr. Foster, who had also won the competition in 2010, finished with 267 points, followed closely by Jaimee McQuade from First Student with 264 points. David Page from Massena Central finished third with 252 points.

The top three finishers qualify for the state competition, which will be held July 14 in Saratoga.

In addition, there were cash prizes for the top finishers. First place earned Mr. Foster $150 plus a gift such as a jacket. Ms. McQuade received $125, while Mr. Page took home $100. The fourth-place finisher, Wayne Foster from Potsdam, earned $75 and the fifth-place finisher, Edward Cousino from First Student received $50.

Saturday’s event was organized by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation North, which encompasses St. Lawrence and Franklin counties, from Saranac Lake in the south to Malone in the east and Gouverneur to the west.

Eighteen drivers competed this year, and NYAPT North President Allen W. Rowledge said the event was voluntary, with drivers choosing to use a day off to home their skills.

“They’re just doing it for the competition and fun,” he said. “They test their skills. We try to make it a fun event.”

Mr. Page said he has participated in the road-eo for at least 11 years.

“It’s fun to do, the competition with other drivers. You stay in practice a little bit,” he said.

Altogether, drivers took part in 14 areas of the competition, from a written exam to kick off their knowledge of procedures, to behind-the-wheel exercises like student loading, railway crossing, straight line, surprise event, alley dock, serpentine, offset alley, parallel park, diminish clearance/stop line and student unloading - areas that they might encounter along their daily bus driving route.

“They have 12 stations they have to maneuver through,” Mr. Rowledge said. “The written test separates the veterans. They change the written test every year.”

A K turn, challenging bus drivers to make a three-point turn, was the newest challenge added last year, he said.

“Everything else is pretty much the same. The alley dock is a little bit more challenging. They have a limit line they can’t go past and it’s narrower. They have to be more exact when they stop,” Mr. Rowledge said, referring to a portion of the course where drivers must back up their buses and stop at a certain spot.

Some of the participants are veterans of the road-eo, according to the NYAPT North president. Mr. Page has been a regular participant, as has Wayne Foster. His son, Joey Foster, who won this year’s local event, has been a competitor for the past six to seven years, Mr. Rowledge said.

He noted that the road-eo gives drivers an opportunity to brush up on skills that they use regularly in their jobs.

“A bus driver is required to have a yearly evaluation by a certified supervisor. They’re evaluated on their driving skills while they’re picking up and dropping off students,” he said.

In addition, drivers have a bi-annual test in which they’re evaluated on their pre-trip preparations with their buses and maneuvers through areas such as a downtown zone and railroad crossing, as well as their ability to parallel park.

They must also pass a yearly physical and have a physical performance test every other year, when they’re required to do tasks like walking up and down the bus stairs within 30 seconds and carrying 125 pounds for 35 feet within 30 seconds, Mr. Rowledge said.

Mr. Page said much of what they did on Saturday is what they face during their regular days on the road.

“Driving every day is the same. We do some of the same things every day,” he said.

Mr. Page is a past local winner and in 2002 he tied for first place in points at the state competition. However, when evaluators examined the amount of time it had taken the first-place winners to drive through the course, Mr. Page lost by 2 seconds.

Still, his advice to others is, “Just take your time. Don’t sweat it and have fun.”

That’s what Massena’s Paula Mendies did.

“It was great,” she said after making her run through the course. “You’re a little nervous, but it’s a lot of fun. I took down a few tennis balls, but it’s fun.”

Other competitors were Tim Irwin from Potsdam, Laurie Gill, Sheila A. Rae, Kim Trippany, Dawna Stewart and Nancy Dyck from Massena, and Anthony Besaw, Diane Goodelle, Patricia Cousino, Yvonne Fuller, Lafayette Young and Iva Walrath from First Student.

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