For 3 Decades, County Bus Driver Has Brought Sunshine to Riders' Days
Dorcas Figueroa has driven a few miles for her clients - 18,851 miles in the last year, to be exact.
Figueroa is Hillsborough County Sunshine Line's longest-serving driver. Over the course of a nearly 30-year-career, she has logged close to a half-million miles. Sunshine Line serves seniors, low-income residents, and people with disabilities, providing transportation for those who have few other options for getting from place to place.
Figueroa begins her day before dawn performing a safety checklist on her 12-passenger bus. The rest of the day will be spent taking people to doctor's appointments, senior centers, grocery stores, and shopping malls.
Excellent drivers like Figueroa get to know their passengers - their schedules, their needs, what's going on in their lives, said Felicia Piechowiak, a senior supervisor at Sunshine Line.
"Because you know that's our mom, our sister, our brother, our aunt, and you would want them to be treated the same way we treat our family,'' Piechowiak said.
Figueroa said she knows that for many of her passengers, their Sunshine Line driver means more than just a ride. "I've seen them on their best days, and I've seen them on their worst days.''
"I try to always have good energy for them even when I'm feeling at my worst, at my bottom,'' Figueroa said. "I try to always have a smile for them. Because I know they need it.''
Figueroa has become a familiar figure to her passengers, sharing tales, laughing with them, or just listening. That ability to connect has made her a favorite driver for many. On a recent weekday, Flavia Torano of Tampa was one of a group of seniors who were going to an indoor mall to walk for exercise, with a little window shopping thrown in for fun.
"Doesn't matter if people are in a bad mood, she has a smile,'' Torano said. "She's good to people. She knows how to handle people. She knows how to be a friend to us, which we need.''
Sunshine Line employs nearly 50 drivers. Those interested in being a Sunshine Line driver should have a good traffic record, be punctual and reliable, and have a professional, friendly demeanor.
If they meet that criteria, well, maybe they'll be on their way to being the next Dorcas - driver, confidante, friend.
"Sometimes these people, the only person they get to see all day is that driver,'' Piechowiak said. "So when they get on the bus, that driver is kind of like their person that they talk to. And she listens and talks back to them.''