Metro Transit drivers take volunteer Spanish lessons

If you hop on a Metro Transit bus in the near future, don't be surprised if you're politely greeted in another language. The Metropolitan Council surveyed drivers about how to better serve riders, and now, several drivers are volunteering their free time to learn a new language.

Yolanda Gomez is among the 16 percent of people in the Metro Transit service area who speaks a language other than English at home. Constantly encountering riders like her, many drivers want to learn how to make them feel more at home. Metro Transit now operates a Spanish class inside their east metro garage. All employees volunteer an hour of their midday break to steer themselves in the direction of inclusion.

Professor Teresa Schweitzer has been a Metro Transit rider for more than 30 years, and in her 10-session class, her students learn pleasantries and helpful phrases to better serve riders.

Last year, the American community survey found 80 percent of drivers interacted with English learners daily which the Assistant Director of Equal Opportunity at Metro Transit, Aaron Koski, said is very indicative of the changing demographics of the Twin Cities. Almost 90 percent of those operators felt that was part of their job to at least communicate with their customers who don't speak English very well.

"It's unrealistic they'll be fluent in Spanish, but in order just to ease a customer's hesitance in asking questions, be an extra resource, lower those barriers and increase ridership is something we're very proud of," Koski said.

Other languages drivers are interested in learning are Russian, Hmong and Chinese. After Schweitzer's test class, drivers reported applying the skills learned on their daily routes.

"When a bus driver tells me, 'Hi, how are you?' in Spanish, it makes me feel so good," Gomez said.

Metro Transit hopes to expand the language opportunity classes to all 5 metro transit garages.

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