Thursday, March 18, 2021

Over the past year, transit operators across the nation have faced unprecedented challenges in delivering essential transportation services amid an ongoing pandemic.  While many workers have transitioned to work-from-home, most essential workers - including healthcare, manufacturing, and grocery - have continued to report to work.  These essential workers and many others rely on the nation’s public transportation systems to provide safe and reliable transportation.

Since March 2020, University of Iowa CAMBUS student employees have continually adapted to the challenges of serving the university community during the pandemic.  They have learned and adapted to new routes and schedules several times over.  They have implemented new cleaning and disinfecting procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  They have adjusted to driver barriers and mask policies.  Most importantly, they have continued to show up every day during this pandemic.

two people wearing blue mechanics uniform install plexiglass barrier, two people clean handles by rear bus doors, two people seated at desks in operations center, person seated in drivers seat of bus with door open

“Every day, I have gotten to witness the incredible resiliency of our CAMBUS team through the challenges of the pandemic,” says Mia Brunelli, CAMBUS Operations Manager. “It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s amazing to see this team work together.  They truly care about this campus and about the service to every rider.”


person seated at desk wearing black shirt and multicolor scarf, person wear grey hoodie and posed in front of bus, person holding sanitizing spray, person standing near drivers seat wearing white and black stripped shirt, person wearing brown hat

Leading up to Transit Operator Appreciation Day, some CAMBUS employees have reflected on their experiences over the past year. Their thoughts are collected in this article to share their experience and recognize their tremendous work.

Megan F., driver | Doctorate of Pharmacy student

“Everyone has adapted pretty quickly to the changes.  We’ve all pulled together.  We’re a close group that find our jobs awesome.”

Mason Z., driver | Marketing student

“Everyone in the ‘Cam-Fam' had to adjust to some changes, but we did that together.  We’re one giant family.  One of the best things of my day is going to work, and not many people get to say that.”

Luke D., dispatcher | Biomedical Engineering student

“Providing transportation services during the pandemic makes me feel like I’m an integral person for health care workers and the advancements involving the vaccine for this pandemic.”

Brie C., dispatcher | Biomedical Engineering student

“We’ve maintained a sense of community at CAMBUS during the pandemic by being considerate of each other and checking in on each other.  CAMBUS is a great place to work.”

Maddy W., training supervisor | Biomedical Engineering student

“I always try to ask my coworkers how they are... even during a pandemic, we find ways to make each other happy and encourage each other. It’s meaningful providing rides to those who still need to get to work and go to class during the pandemic.”


Continually improving cleaning processes

Since March 2020, CAMBUS has made changes to the cleaning and disinfecting of buses to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. Throughout all these changes, CAMBUS employees adapted quickly and provided suggestions on how to make processes more efficient or effective.

March 2020 April 2020 June and July 2020 August 2020 - current
Disinfecting spray added. Backpack sprayers added. Intensive cleanings increased. UV light treatment added.
CAMBUS began using a disinfecting spray on all high touch points of the bus interior that is approved by the EPA for use against COVID-19. CAMBUS began using backpack sprayers to spray disinfectant throughout the entire bus interior surfaces, including seat fabrics, each night. Teams of CAMBUS employees worked deep-cleaning shifts to more thoroughly disinfect and clean the bus interiors.  Each bus was deep cleaned at least once per week. In addition to nightly cleaning, at least once every 48 hours a bus receives a UV light* disinfecting treatment.
  *UV light treatment replaced deep-cleanings so labor resources are focused on service during academic session.  Vehicles are still cleaned nightly in addition to the UV light treatment.


Going above and beyond

Each CAMBUS driver is required to complete 20 clean-up shifts in their first year of service.  Clean-up shifts happen each night and involve performing light maintenance, cleaning, disinfecting, and fueling of each bus.  CAMBUS employees have established their own recognition program for those who complete their 100th clean-up shift.

Many employees have gone above and beyond when it comes to maintaining the fleet – even with extra cleaning and disinfecting procedures in place. CAMBUS student employees Charlie Franks and Nick Madden recently completed a combined 500 clean-up shifts during their careers at CAMBUS.

person holding large cookie with 300 written in icing, person seated by cake with 200 written in icing, mechanics standing at rear of bus discussing, person using towel and spray bottle to clean drivers area

Charlie F., driver | Spanish and Human Relations

Franks has worked over 200 clean-up shifts since starting at CAMBUS in September 2017.

“I immediately knew I loved clean-up after my first shift, which was actually with student mechanic, Nick Madden.  My favorite part about clean-up is the crew and the mechanics – you get to know so many awesome and hardworking people!  It’s also a bonus to switch up from driving.”

Nick M., student mechanic | Informatics and Economics

Madden has worked over 300 clean-up shifts since starting at CAMBUS in April 2017.

“Although the jobs are the same and the objective is the same for clean-up, there’s new conversations to be had, problem solving with sudden issues to be resolved, and a hacky sack to be kicked.”

Read article highlighting Franks and Madden


Quick Facts

In the fiscal year 2020*, CAMBUS drivers provided over 2.7 million rides to the university community – including over 6,400 rides on Bionic service for persons with a disability. Prior to the pandemic, CAMBUS provided over 65,000 rides for special events.

CAMBUS drivers provided over 73,000 hours of transportation services to campus and over 650,000 miles of service.

On an average academic weekday, CAMBUS provided over 17,500 rides prior to the pandemic.  In the immediate months of the pandemic (March – August 2020), CAMBUS provided an average of 2,100 rides each day to students and staff who were essential to keep the university operating during that time.  This largely was healthcare works on the frontlines of the pandemic at UI Hospitals & Clinics employees.

*Fiscal year 2020 includes July 2019 through June 2020.

About Transit Operator Appreciation Day

Transit Operator Appreciation Day is celebrated each year to thank public bus and rail operators for their service.  The date of March 18 was selected to commemorate the first bus line in Paris in 1662.

Transit Operator Appreciation Day was originally proposed as an idea in a blog in 2009 to recognize bus drivers in Seattle, Washington.  By 2014, the day was celebrated at public transportation agencies across the U.S.


CAMBUS consists of 150 student employees that operate the transportation system.  All drivers, trainers, dispatchers, maintenance assistants, and supervisors at CAMBUS are students, and all start out as a driver.  The CAMBUS student teams are supported by full-time staff: two managers, a maintenance supervisor, and six maintenance technicians.