March is Women’s History Month, a federally designated month intended to commemorate and celebrate the achievements and contributions that women have made in all facets of life. It is marked across the country with a variety of activities that range from exhibits at local libraries to special programs at the Smithsonian Institution and the Library of Congress. This year, tech giant Apple is marking the month by highlighting special content on its, books, music, and other platforms.
RIPTA is proud to mark Women’s History Month 2021 with a series of features highlighting some of the bright, dynamic, and dedicated women who help keep the transit authority running smoothly. They include executives, supervisors, drivers, and utility workers – and we are proud of them all. We start the series today in our newsletter and will continue throughout the month with stories on our social media. We hope you enjoy meeting these valued members of our team.
Appointed by Governor J. Joseph Garrahy, Eileen Cioe was not only the first woman to hold the top job at RIPTA, but reportedly was the first female manager of any major public transit system in the United States. “I always liked a challenge,” she said recently during a phone interview from her home Florida. “Even though I grew up in an Italian, male-dominated family, I was always given the sense that I could be whatever I wanted to be. They believed in me.”
Cioe coupled that confidence with an unflagging work ethic. Before being appointed as the head of RIPTA, she had been the mass transit coordinator at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation, and prior to that, the principal transit planner for the Southeastern (Massachusetts) Regional Planning and Economic Development District. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Bryant University and master’s degrees in sociology and labor economics from Memphis State University and Mississippi University. She published papers on transportation, economics and sociology, and was recognized with many awards and citations. She also found time to earn a private pilot’s license.
“I loved it,” she says of her two years at RIPTA. “It was like a family. There weren’t very many women there – but I never felt any barriers.” Cioe left RIPTA to take the helm of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and then moved on to other career opportunities in financial management. Now in her 70s, she never mentions the word retirement and is a successful, private financial advisor.
Her advice to any young women considering careers in public transportation? “I would say that no matter what you want to do, you can’t be afraid of challenges,” Cioe said. “If you are afraid, you won’t go anywhere. You have to be true to yourself, face the challenges and do your best.”
As we near the end of Women’s History Month, meet Flex Route Operator Miladys LeBlanc who helps keep one of our busiest Flex zones running!
If you want to learn about people, drive a bus for a while. That’s the advice of Miladys Le Blanc, a RIPTA operator for 17 years. Le Blanc drives RIPTA’s busy Flex route in Woonsocket. RIPTA’s Flex Division uses smaller vehicles to bring a localized transportation option to areas of the state that have little or no fixed-route service. RIPTA operates seven Flex Zones throughout Rhode Island and Woonsocket is the busiest.
“I see a lot of the same people day after day, and they do become like family,” Le Blanc says. “And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.” Like many RIPTA drivers, Le Blanc describes herself as a “people person,” and says it’s her desire to help people that makes the job rewarding. She says she tries to greet all her passengers with a smile, and she sees first-hand how important public transportation is to them as she takes them to medical appointments, grocery stores and more. Before joining RIPTA, Le Blanc drove a school bus and said she loved that as well because of the interaction with youngsters. Making the move to RIPTA was a good career move, she says, because it provided better pay and benefits, and more opportunities while allowing her to stay on the road.
She says that driving all these years has not only taught her about people, but also about the importance of “going with the flow.” You can’t get uptight when you get stuck in traffic (which happens a lot), or when there are last minute changes or unexpected detours, Le Blanc says. She is positive by nature and it carries over to the workplace where she participates in an informal company garden club that plants flowers around the administration building to help beautify the property. “I’m happy at work,” she says. “To do this job, you have to learn to go with the flow and you have to enjoy people.”
As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, see our conversation below with seasoned Customer Service Representative, Lori Adamo-Savard.
Of the thousands of phone calls that Lori Adamo-Savard has fielded in her 15 years as a Customer Service Representative for RIPTA, there are still some that can take her by surprise. She’s used to handling complaints, commendations, and inquiries about typical lost items — backpacks, cell phones, umbrellas. But then, there are unexpected inquiries — like the time someone phoned because they had lost their dentures and feared they left them on the bus. (They had.)
“We get a lot of different calls,” says Adamo-Savard, who is a Senior Customer Service Representative. “And we’re there to help with all of them. As far as lost items we get calls about, the list is long!” A self-described “people person,” Adamo-Savard worked as a hair stylist before coming to RIPTA and, for a brief period, drove a shuttle van for Brown University. She says she loves her work, even though every day brings a mix of contented customers and others who have concerns or complaints. “I’m here to listen to them, and help however I can,” she says. A large portion of calls come from people who are new to Rhode Island, or new to using RIPTA, and need help navigating the system. You can tell Adamo-Savard any two points in the state, and she can very quickly tell you how to travel between them by bus, or if an area does not have service.
Adamo-Savard is also responsible for processing the applications of people who qualify for RIPTA’s no-fare program for low-income persons who are also seniors or have a disability. “You really get to see how important transportation is to people,” she says. “A lot of people are dependent on the bus every day and we want to assist them.” Nate Hannon, Customer Service Operations Administrator, says that Adamo-Savard and the rest of the team are very important to RIPTA because they have so much interaction with passengers. “First impressions are important,” he says. “Our customer service reps are trained to listen, be patient, be empathetic ,and have clear communications. They do a great job, and we are proud of them.”
Most people don’t give it much thought when they see a RIPTA bus go by. It seems like they’re everywhere, doing a daily dance of stops and starts. Simple, right? Not really. The amount of planning and data that goes into building a transit system would surprise most people. This work is done by RIPTA’s transit planners and they are some of the best in the business.
We have operations and scheduling planners who plot routes down to the second. We have long-range planners who work to balance community needs, land-use goals, economic development, and customer demand. Sarah Ingle, a RIPTA employee for the past six years, knows this balancing act well in her role as Director of Long-Range Planning. “At its most basic, transportation planning is about getting people from one point to another,” Ingle says. “But there are other goals. We look at quality of life issues in a particular community, and how to make it easy for people to get around without a car. We also consider the cost benefits to our customers, and how public transportation can help our state reach its climate goals by reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.”
Ingle came to RIPTA after more than 15 years in the Miami area where she held a number of local and urban planning positions. She has a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Boston University. She says she loves her work at RIPTA, and particularly likes challenging long-term projects such as researching how to add electric buses to the Authority’s fleet, collaborating with other state agencies on how public transportation can best meet human service needs, and working on the team that recently crafted the state’s first long-range transit master plan.
“I think people sometimes underestimate the public transportation industry,” Ingle says. “It is a very data-driven industry and it’s exciting to be working in transit here in Rhode Island. We are halfway between New York and Boston with world-class schools and businesses, and people need smart, affordable ways of getting around. The possibilities are endless.”
Today, as we continue with Women’s History Month at RIPTA, meet Street Supervisor Tina Robinson!
In 33 years working at RIPTA, there isn’t much that Street Supervisor Tina Robinson hasn’t seen. Having been a fixed-route driver for RIPTA about 15 years, she knows every route. And as a seasoned Supervisor, she is skilled at helping both our bus operators and passengers in varied, and sometimes difficult, situations every day. “We are there for our drivers and we are there for our customers,” says Robinson, noting that every day is different.
Sometimes, she is called to help resolve a misunderstanding between a driver and passenger. Sometimes it is to assist an operator who has encountered an unexpected obstacle – such as unplanned construction project – on their route. During winter storms, she and other supervisors check the roads to determine if they are passable for the buses. Other days, she spends a lot of time at Kennedy Plaza, answering passenger questions and helping them find their routes and make the right connections. “At times I still miss being on the road,” she said. “But I get to meet a lot of people and I get to help them. If there’s a problem, I’m there to make sure the passenger knows they are being heard and to try to help rectify the situation.”
After more than 30 years with RIPTA, a lot of passengers recognize Robinson, and she says she is appreciative of the times people stop by with a hot cup of coffee or just to greet her when she’s making her rounds at the Plaza. “Even someone just stopping to say thank you means a lot,” she says. She wouldn’t hesitate, she says, to recommend public transportation or RIPTA as job opportunity to anyone who might be thinking about – particularly young women. “Literally, the sky is the limit,” Robinson says. “You can build your career here.”
As a Customer Service Supervisor in RIPTA’s paratransit division, Dianne Chappel knows that she’s going to get a lot of questions – and she’s ready for them. Our paratransit division, called RIde, provides service for passengers who are not able to use regular, fixed-route bus service. It is a provided in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and is governed by very specific federal rules and regulations. It can be difficult at times for passengers to navigate the rules, and that’s where Chappel is happy to help.
She has 18 years of experience with the RIde division and also helped customers prior to that when paratransit services in Rhode Island were overseen by a private company. “I like dealing with the public,” Chappel says. “I also like explaining the law to people and helping them understand the program.” If a customer’s question requires research, Chappel says that she’s happy to do it. “If I don’t know the answer, I will get the answer,” she says. “I love doing research.”
Having worked in customer service for the Social Security Administration before switching to public transportation, Chappel says she is comfortable with the sometimes complicated language of federal rules and regulations. She is also comfortable listening to people, she says, stressing that listening is an important part of being able to provide good customer service. “People reach out to us for a reason, and you have to be willing to hear their story and learn why they are calling,” she says. Chappel has never let a visual impairment slow her down, and says she understands how important the RIde service is to its customers.
“When I’m done speaking with someone, I want them to know that they were listened to and that they received a good answer,” she says. “They may not always get the answer they want, but it’s important that they have the correct answer.”
Bus operator Luisa Xon laughs when she tells the story of the time a man boarded her bus looking slightly perplexed. “I saw the bus,” he said, “but I didn’t see the driver.” At just under five feet tall, Xon might look diminutive when she’s behind the wheel of one of RIPTA’s 40-foot, 14-ton buses, but if you ask anyone in our transportation division, not many people can fill her shoes. Xon has been a RIPTA operator for about 13 years. Before that, she drove school buses in Providence and then tour buses up and down the East Coast and into Canada. “I always liked the idea of driving big trucks,” Xon says, noting that she originally got her commercial driver’s license after training at a tractor trailer school.
Once she had her license, she picked school buses, she says, because she wanted a job that let her be near her four children, and she was able to drive the routes they rode when attending Providence schools. When they got older, she switched to the tour buses and then had an opportunity to join RIPTA. Xon says she felt that the transit authority was good career move. “It’s a good place to work, and I love being on the road — I couldn’t be inside,” she says. “And I like helping people. I try to greet everyone with a smile, and my job is to get them where they need to go.”
Xon says she loves working at RIPTA and has not missed a beat during the pandemic. “I wear gloves and two masks,” she says. “You do what you have to do. I really appreciate this job — everyone here is terrific.” The feeling is mutual. Paul Harrington, RIPTA’s Executive Director of Transportation says that Xon is “one of the best” and that her work ethic is second to none. “She does an exceptional job, day in and day out,” he says. “The transit authority is fortunate to have her.”
When Ramona Gonzalez sees a RIPTA bus, odds are that she will recognize the driver and know their name. It’s not just 22 years of experience with the transit authority, it’s also the fact that as a member of RIPTA’s human resources team, she has likely already met them and helped them learn about working at RIPTA. “In human resources, we think that it’s really important to pick the right people for the right jobs,” she says. Gonzalez is currently the agency’s benefits specialist, a job that involves overseeing benefits for 800-plus employees as well as the administration of pension plans. “It’s a lot of work, but I get to help employees and see the human side of what we do,” she said.
Thinking back to when she started at RIPTA as a temporary employee helping out in the Marketing Department, Gonzalez said she did not know that that first job would open up a career path in public transportation. “I was lucky,” she says. “I had wonderful mentors and amazing women role models here at RIPTA.” Although her current position focuses on benefits, Gonzalez says she has filled other roles in human resources, including hiring and employee recruitment. “I think that’s one of the reasons why I know so many of our drivers by name,” she says. “They sometimes seemed surprise, but usually, here in ‘HR’, we know who they are.”
Gonzalez says that she is grateful for the career path she’s been able to follow at RIPTA as well as ongoing professional development opportunities that have allowed her to enhance her skills “There’s always something new to learn here,” she says. “I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend working here to anyone. I would say that when you start at RIPTA, you are starting a career for life.”
Olginia De Los Santos’ quiet, second-floor office sits above the humming and clanking of the cavernous garage where RIPTA’s buses are tended to. While the buses move in and out of the garage all day, De Los Santos is busy at her computer making sure that the work flows smoothly. A RIPTA employee for 15 years, De Los Santos is a Maintenance Records Specialist, responsible for overseeing schedules, work orders, payroll records and more. It is quite a change of pace for her. For 14 years, she was more visible, working at Kennedy Plaza and visiting senior centers across the state to process applications for RIPTA’s reduced and no-fare programs for qualifying seniors and persons with disabilities.
“I loved it,” she says of her years dealing with the public. “Then this opportunity came along, and I love this too.” Her enthusiasm, can-do attitude, and strong work ethic are well known at RIPTA. She says that most people would be surprised at how much work it takes to keep a statewide transit system running smoothly. “It takes a group effort here to serve the state of Rhode Island, and residents should be proud of what we have,”’ De Los Santos says. COVID has impacted almost every aspect of operations at RIPTA, and De Los Santos now tracks the records of crews who work through the night to sanitize the fleet. “This year has been quite a challenge,” she says. “I’ve seen people come in on their days off, and some work until 4 in the morning to get the job done.”
She may be out of the public eye for now, but De Los Santos says that she still values the time she spent helping passengers. “I got to see people at all points in their lives,” she says. “You can never judge people, and it always felt good to be able to help whenever I could.”
Krissy Kleamovich is Superintendent of Operations for RIPTA’s paratransit division, RIde. The job entails overseeing almost every aspect of the day-to-day workings of our division that provides transportation to passengers who are not able to use regular, fixed-route bus service. Typically (before the pandemic), RIde operates more than 1,000 trips a day. A RIPTA employee for 18 years, Krissy worked her way up in RIde, and now reports directly to the division’s executive director. She combines a no-nonsense management style with a commitment to making sure that work is a collegial place where RIde drivers feel supported and encouraged. She loves morale-boosting initiatives — whether it is an office garden club that helps beautify RIPTA grounds, or a special recognition program for drivers with exemplary safety records. She says that the RIde division is her home at RIPTA because she loves to help people and in paratransit, you get to see how much mobility can enhance people’s lives.
“You have to have compassion in this job,” she says. “It is emotionally fulfilling.” It’s clear that Kleamovich’s compassion and leadership are appreciated by employees. Her office is filled with cards, posters, stuffed animals, and other tokens of appreciation, almost all of which are in her trademark color – pink. “It’s my favorite color,” says Kleamovich who once wanted to be a hair stylist before she earned a commercial driver’s license and became a school bus driver years ago. She also worked as an administrator for a private bus company before joining RIPTA. “I’m a girly-girl,” she says with a laugh, adding that public transportation has turned out to be the perfect career fit for her. The small (pink, of course) placard on her desk says it all: “This Girl Can.”