Meet the UVM CATS Bus drivers
April 13, 2023
Editor’s note: This story was updated April 17 at 6:34 p.m. to correct a stylistic error.
Transporting thousands of UVM students across campus each day, the faces of the UVM CATS Bus drivers are familiar to many students. Few, however, are likely to know the drivers’ names.
An average of 5,500 students utilize the CATS Buses daily, according to Windee Young, UVM’s transportation services supervisor.
“Our drivers are definitely a vital part of the community,” Young said. “We see these kids every day.”
For the week of March 29 to April 5, an average of 5,570 students utilized the buses, according to the CATS Bus Ridership Report, Young said. March 30 had 5,830 students and March 31 had 4,500
Young has worked in some capacity at UVM for almost 10 years, beginning her time at the University as a CATS Bus driver.
Drawing from her experience as a bus driver, Young expressed the many ways student interactions can make a serious impact in the daily lives of both students and drivers.
“When I was a driver, some kids would stand up front just to have a conversation with us,” Young said. “I’d say, ‘you have a good day?’ or, ‘how was your test?’ which was nice. I think the students appreciate when [the drivers] recognize them and acknowledge their lives.”
Young and the other drivers appreciated when students made them feel like they were part of the community, she said.
To learn more about UVM’s CATS Bus drivers, the Cynic spoke with three drivers about their lives and experiences driving shuttles at UVM.
Erwin Arnuco is originally from the Philippines, having moved to Virginia in 1988 and Vermont in 1992. He has been driving the CATS Buses since 2013, he said.
“Every year you meet different students with different personalities,” Arnuco said. “Overall they’ve been good. I’ve learned a lot.”
Before driving at UVM, Arnuco drove with the city bus in Burlington. Arnuco has received much more respect as a driver since starting at UVM, he said.
While driving the CATS Buses, ensuring student safety is Arnuco’s top priority, he said.
“You’re not only driving yourself, you’re driving a lot of [students], too,” he said. “So student safety is the first thing I’m working on.”
To make sure students are behaving safely and following the rules, Arnuco said he can be a little strict while driving.
“Sometimes I tell the kids, ‘I’m the captain of the bus,’” Arnuco said. “Because if someone were to get hurt, it’s my responsibility.”
Natalie Billings, who students may recognize from the Redstone Express, was born in Charlotte, Vermont. and currently lives in Colchester.
Billings has been with UVM for about 19 years, she said. The majority of Billings’ time at UVM has been spent driving the CATS Bus, but she also worked at the UVM Automotive Repair Shop for at least three years.
“The job has been very pleasurable,” Billings said. “I enjoy driving and I really enjoy my fellow employees.”
Throughout her experience with UVM’s Transportation Services, Billings said connecting with the students while driving has been the most rewarding part of her job.
“Being able to talk to the students is honestly the best part of my day,” Billings said. “Making student connections is very important to me.”
Billings said she loves when the students make an effort to talk to her. Many of the students she’s encountered have made a long-lasting impact in her life, she said.
“I have made many friends over the years,” Billings said. “And I’m still friends with probably five or six students that have graduated over the course of my lifetime being here.”
Linda Millette was born in Montpelier, raised in Highgate, Vermont, then moved to Milton, Vermont with her husband in 2017.
Millette has been driving the CATS Bus since the start of this academic year, she said.
Making connections with students has played a huge role in her positive experience driving the CATS Bus, she said.
“I love my job,” Millette said. “The students that ride the bus are fantastic. I get to see a lot of different people and cultures every day, and it’s just amazing.”
Millette also described the impact politeness can make in student–driver interactions.
“I always say, ‘have a great morning,’ ‘have a great afternoon,’ ‘have a great evening,’” Millette said. “And a lot of the students are starting to say it back. They’re mostly very polite.”
Millette’s experience driving the CATS Bus has been overwhelmingly positive, she said. However, she has also faced some stressful situations while driving.
Having to maneuver through so many pedestrians on campus can be stressful, and the situation is often made worse since so many students walk around looking down at their phones and not paying attention to their surroundings, Millette said.
“I would just like for students to be more aware of their surroundings also, not just on their cell phone,” Millette said.
Besides minimal downsides, Millette’s job has been extremely rewarding. Between her boss, her coworkers and the students, driving the CATS Bus has been an overall great experience for Millette, she said.
“All that [the drivers] are looking for is just a simple little ‘thank you,’” Millette said. “‘Have a good day,’ anything like that. It makes a world of a difference.”
To combat the bus staffing shortages and to save money, the administration had considered outsourcing bus drivers to a separate company, Young said.
“I feel like most of the leadership [at UVM] realizes that that’s not always an option,” Young said. “when you outsource to a different company, they’re just here to do a job, they don’t have the kids in mind.”
First-year Will Fiori, who utilizes the CATS Buses frequently, said he has always had good interactions with bus drivers.
“[The buses] have very nice drivers,” Fiori said. “They’re always friendly and welcoming while still keeping us all safe.”