VIA celebrated its 45th anniversary at the Roadeo, honoring all of the dedicated employees from past and present who’ve helped move our community.

The VIA Roadeo – the Bus, Van and Maintenance competitions, made a return on Nov. 4, after a three-year pause, with more than 375 employees, family members, and friends supporting the event that also featured a carnival and a car show

The Roadeo competition tests the knowledge and skills of bus operators, van operators and technicians, who must complete timed technical challenges. The top competitors from VIA’s Roadeo advance to the statewide competition, which will be hosted in San Antonio next March as part of the Texas Transit Association (TTA) conference. From there, winners advance to the International Bus Rodeo held in Portland, Oregon, in April.

Bus and van operators have seven minutes to complete the obstacle course, which includes 11 obstacles, worth 50 points each. Penalties are assessed for making contact with cones, curbs, and barrels or for unnecessary transmission shifts, among other things. The competition also includes a pre-trip inspection where operators identify and record equipment-related defects and a security hazard within a set time limit.

Outside of completing the driving course and inspection, paratransit operators also complete specific challenges that require tying down and securing a wheelchair. This aspect of the competition is designed to test the operator’s ability to safely load and secure a passenger using a wheelchair while ensuring their safety in a professional manner.

Most bus operators agreed the most challenging portion of the course was the “serpentine,” where they had to weave “like a snake,” around tightly spaced cones. The course finale was a crowd favorite as operators maneuvered a sharp left turn and accelerated to 20 mph through a narrow path of barrels, then abruptly stopped at a cone marker.

Rogelio “Roger” Dominguez, a recently retired VIA bus operator and 14-time VIA Roadeo champion, was visiting with operators on the sidelines preparing to drive the course. When asked what his biggest piece of advice was, Dominguez said, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Marcus White, the most recent Roadeo champion, took first place in the bus operator competition with a total obstacle course score of 565 out of 600, followed by Jose Meza with 503 points in second place, and Roberto Martinez with 467 points in third. Jesse Rodriguez claimed first place in the paratransit operator competition, with Robert Colunga in second and Moises Garcia in third. All six operators will advance to the statewide competition.

Six technicians competed in the Maintenance portion of the Roadeo. The competition features eight modules, including a written test covering general knowledge, engine, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, brakes, electrical and transmission, with points awarded for correct answers and tiebreakers based on time and specific questions.

The vehicle inspection event tasks technicians with identifying up to 14 equipment-related defects on a bus, with points awarded for each defect found and penalties for various issues, such as not returning the bus to its original condition or unsafe practices. Other modules focus on powertrain, air brakes, HVAC systems, and more, testing technicians’ knowledge, skills, and abilities in bus maintenance and repair.

For three of the six technicians, this year marked their first Roadeo competition. One technician remarked there were modules that tested abilities outside of his current shop assignments and was proud of his ability to navigate them after only about a week of practice.

In the Technician Roadeo, Phil Davis went home with first place scoring 1,512.5 points, David Berrelez ranked second with 1,432.5 points, and Marcos Lopez took third place with 1,195 points.

“I’m always impressed watching our technicians in action under the pressure of the clock, showing their level of focus and talent,” said Sam Marra, Vice President of Fleet and Facilities. “We’re excited to see them compete together at the statewide event in March.”

Local civic and business leaders joined in the fun by taking the wheel of a GILLIG bus to attempt the bus course during the “Celebrity Roadeo” portion – a long-standing tradition. Among the participants were JR Trevino, mayor of Castle Hills, John McFadden Sr., Rey Feo LXXV, Rebecca Viagran, president & CEO of the South Texas Business Partnership; District 3 Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran, District 4 Councilwoman Dr. Adriana Rocha-Garcia, VIA Board Chair Fernando Reyes, VIA Board Vice Chair Laura Cabanilla, and The Ballapeño, San Antonio Missions mascot.

When interviewed after his run on the course by VIA’s emcee, Kenny Davison, Rey Feo said, “I think it’s less about who did best — and more about who didn’t do as bad.”

Reyes walked away with first place, scoring 126 points, followed by Cabanilla, who scored 119. Rey Feo placed third with a score of 109.

Celebrities participated on a shortened course.

“Our weeks of hard work preparing the course, practicing, and getting the details together paid off,” said Michelle Garza, Bus Lead Supervisor and Roadeo Organizer. “We had a lot of fun cheering on our coworkers and can’t wait to see them take home state.”