Raymond “Elmo” Aylmer seems to have this Florida Paratransit Roadeo down to an art form.
Aylmer, representing Gulf Public Transportation, won two more first-place plaques in Fort Myers during the recent statewide competition for drivers from organizations that provide public transportation to the disabled, seniors and needy.
“The competition is intense, it is nothing you just show up for and do,” Aylmer said. “It makes you feel good about yourself.
“You competed against everybody in the state and being from this small community, it’s nice knowing the services we provide people is recognized because the people down south, they know who we are.”
That is in large measure due to Aylmer, who has made success at the Roadeo an annual rite of spring.
Aylmer has been with Gulf Transportation for 16 years. He has competed in 11 Roadeos. He has taken home a plaque for one of the top three spots in all but three of those competitions and has finished second once at the national Roadeo.
He has won four first-place awards for Highest Bus Inspection Score in the past five years.
This year Aylmer won for Highest Bus Inspection Score and also took first in the Van category.
Those honors guaranteed a spot for Aylmer in the National Paratransit Roadeo to be held the first of June in Albuquerque, NM.
“That competition is really intense,” Aylmer said. “You are competing against people from 47 other states and sometimes drivers come down from Canada.
“You’ve got a lot more people driving under much different circumstances that you may have encountered. That can get pretty intense.”
Not that the state competition is any cruise with top down.
For example, in the Bus Inspection Category, the buses are sabotaged with four defects. One year, Aylmer recalled, the hose on the fire extinguisher in the bus had been loosened.
The driver has seven minutes to find and address each defect.
“It could be anything, like a missing lug nut,” Aylmer said. “But you have to find them in just seven minutes.
“But is also part of your daily habits, what you should be doing for a public transportation organization like ours.”
In each category there is also a 25-question written exam and drivers must also be able to properly secure a wheelchair to van for transport in seven minutes – from greeting the rider, asking questions about their destination to securing the wheelchair.
The driving test in the Van Category is no less intense.
“The most pressure is once you get out on the course and it is going through your mind everything you need to remember,” Aylmer said.
There is a course of tennis balls and cones on which the driver must navigate the wheels of the van between the tennis balls – no farther apart than six inches – while ensuring no cones are touched.
“Everything has to be precise,” Aylmer said.
The driver must also perform a passenger stop, ensuring proper distance from the curb and practicing the best hospitality in greeting and boarding the passenger.
There are also cones shaped in a ‘V’ which drivers must enter driving 20 mph while ensuring they have remained clear of every cone.
“This is basically what you do every day,” Aylmer said. “It is what you should strive to do every day.”
And as Aylmer provides an example for his fellow drivers at Gulf Transportation, he has also built a reputation among the many contestants at the Florida Paratransit Roadeo.
“One lady had a question and she said she’d go ask the expert, which she said was me,” Alymer said. “I am no expert, but they have come to know about me down south.”
A wall of plaques at Gulf Transportation serves as a reminder of why.