Safety first

LIHUE – When Michelle Yaris moved to Kauai from the Big Island where she drove a city bus, her manager at Roberts Hawaii didn’t know what they were going to do with her. Yaris knew how to drive, but she didn’t know the island.

“For three months I trained with all the senior tour bus drivers,” Yaris said. “I’m a sponge and I asked a million questions. Some of them have been driving for more than 40 years. They told me I had what it takes, the gift of gab.”

But a way with words was only the tip of her talents. 

Yaris is one of 30 drivers at the Kauai transportation company that dispatches as many as 50 vehicles on Kauai. In a statewide competition on Oahu earlier this month, Yaris showed her efficiency when it comes to vehicle inspection. 

The Hawaii Transportation Association holds the event for commercial passenger vehicle drivers every year. Various obstacle course tests challenge drivers to move large motor coaches, mini buses, school buses and other vehicles in a safe and professional manner.

“I was sweating bullets when I competed last year in the inspection test. I lost focus and bombed,” Yaris said. “But this year I got some tips from a previous winning driver Donna Camello. She said don’t forget when you find the defects during the vehicle inspection to say the word ‘defect’ out loud.”

Camello’s advice paid off. Yaris won first the pre-trip inspections category. The challenge was to find seven major simulated defects and 10 minor ones within seven minutes. 

A total of 18 Roberts Hawaii drivers statewide won various categories including the School Bus and Passenger Vehicle Grand Champion title.

“The first year I did the motorcoach obstacle course my leg was shaking like a leaf,” Yaris remembered. 

But she is steady as she goes when it comes to her Kauai Island tours.

“If you ever need anything you can call on Michelle. She’s not afraid to work hard. She goes out of her way,” said her supervisor Galyn Fujii. “Once I had to drag her out of bed at 4 a.m. to fill in for a driver who called in and she did it willingly.”

 Yaris, who has worked as a certified nurses aide and also ran a lunch truck on the Big Island for five years, didn’t always have her eye on driving tour buses.

“Ten years ago, if you had told me I’d be doing this I would have laughed,” Yaris said. “But I feel really blessed. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”

Her passengers appreciate her professionalism.

“They tell me how well I speak, how well I drive and how much fun they had,” Yaris said. 

Her fascination with vehicles winds back to her early school days.

“My uncle had a junkyard when I lived on Oahu. My sister and I could run around there and play with the cars and forklifts plus my Dad sold cars,” Yaris remembered. 

As far as winning first place Yaris said she knows her Mom who recently passed away would be proud of her.

“Competition has always been fun for me,” Yaris said. “It’s not about winning, it’s about doing your best.”

Roberts Hawaii is the state’s largest tour and transportation company, with a fleet of 900 vehicles and a full line of tours, entertainment options and ground transportation services on Hawaii, Kauai, Maui and Oahu.

• Lisa Ann Capozzi, a features and education reporter can be reached at lcapozzi@thegardenisland.com.

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