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Angie Wieck, Published April 23 2012

It's My Job: In the driver’s seat

FARGO – Mike Chewakin considers the roads of Fargo-Moorhead his desk. That desk has gotten a lot bigger in the years since he started driving a MATBUS in 1998.

Chewakin is quick to credit his co-workers, elected officials and area college presidents for that growth. He recently talked to us about the changes he has seen in ridership and the community over the years.

Q. Do you drive the same route every day?

A. We have what we call “picks.” I’ve had Route 31 from August through May for the last 10 years. I don’t leave the NDSU campus. … I’m there eight straight hours.

We may have to cover other routes for people on vacation, so all drivers have to know all the routes.

What do you like best about your job?

I’ve been driving the campus route since it started in 2002, and it’s the people I like. Those young people out there are so good and so nice.

When I started in 1998, I had Route 13 that just went through the campus. I didn’t even see people. Now I have watched it double in size. I’ve watched 14 buildings go up. … I’ve seen it all.

Is there anyone on campus who teaches students about riding the bus or is that left up to drivers?

That’s left up to us. We help them along so they know what to do.

A large number of the students at NDSU are from area small towns, and they’ve never ridden a city bus. Fargo is a huge town to them.

We’ve taught them a lot. What if they graduate from NDSU and get a job somewhere like Kansas City? Now they’re going to know how to ride a city bus.

Are there any challenges to your job?

Now, no, because I’ve been doing it for a long time. It was a challenge when I first started like anything is. … When you drive 100 miles on the streets, you do realize how bad other people drive though.

How do you keep routes on time?

Practice. The more time you’re at it, the better you’re going to do and the easier it’s going to be. You learn to know what’s coming up, and you know how to go around it.

Can you go off course as long as you hit all your stops?

You can as long as you let dispatch know, because they’re the ones who will get the calls.

What kinds of changes have you seen over the years?

The roads. When I started in 1998, Fargo’s roads were terrible. Mayors Furness and Walaker have done one heck of a job. … The roads have so improved. This town is becoming more modern. To me, Fargo is just a beautiful, modern city now. I see that because my desk is out there.

Ridership is up tremendously. … When I first started we might have two or three people on the bus. I think it was there just because it was supposed to be.

I’m sure there are a number of reasons for increased ridership. First of all, look at the price of cars, gas and insurance. If you’re making $7 to $9 an hour, can you afford that? Mass transit is very important. Every big city in the world has a bus system, and it’s there to serve people who don’t have a lot of money.

What would you like to say to other drivers on the road?

Tailgating is a bad, bad thing. Keep a distance. Stay alert when you’re driving. I also wish I’d see more courtesy from drivers.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Angie Wieck at (701) 241-5501