Back in the Saddle: Operators compete in intense 2023 Bus Roadeo showdown

A small bus operator backs into an obstacle. The operator had to back in as close to a designated marker as possible, then drive away without hitting any cones.

It was not the typical Saturday morning at RTD’s District Shops facility. The traditionally full parking lot was completely vacated. Bleachers lined the sidewalk. Volunteers were seen setting out cones. Catering trucks arrived to bring breakfast. The paint bays were converted to a food hall. It was finally time for the much-anticipated return of the Bus Roadeo.

As the sun rose to reveal a snow-capped Mount Blue Sky, over 100 bus operators and mechanics from RTD’s various bus operating divisions and contracted partners descended upon District Shops, all seeking to earn the championship title and a trip to the 2024 American Public Transportation Association (APTA)’s International Bus Roadeo in Portland, Oregon.

After breakfast, it was time for the competitors to get their uniforms inspected and run through a pre-trip inspection before hopping in the buses and taking to the course. This year, there were two separate courses – one behind District Shops for the small buses that paratransit and FlexRide use, and the main course in the parking lot in front for the 40-foot buses. The competition began at 7 a.m. as the first operators took to the course.

The main course consisted of 11 obstacles, and the small bus course included 10 obstacles, all designed to emulate what operators would have to navigate on the roads during their shifts. Judges scored competitors based on precision at each obstacle and the overall time it took to complete the full course. Points were deducted for each cone knocked over. Many cones were sacrificed in the name of competition.

“This was one of the largest roadeos ever,” said Chris Deines, General Superintendent, Transportation, Bus Operations. “The addition of the first-time participant, or rookie, class was successful, and having the car show and basketball tournament helped. I think employees are excited to get back to these events.”

A team of mechanics works against the clock to correctly identify defects on mechanical components of a bus.

Just over the fence from the main course, RTD’s finest mechanics prepared for their own competition. Sitting across from the staging tent was an inspection bus, a 40-foot Gillig that contained several defects in the air conditioning system, powertrain and air brakes that each team of three had to diagnose and troubleshoot within the allotted time limit.

While the buses were the stars of the show, there were plenty of activities for families and employees to enjoy. Children enjoyed caricatures, balloon animals, face painting and free ice cream, snow cones and cotton candy. After attendees enjoyed lunch provided by Famous Dave’s barbecue, a live deejay performed for the crowd before the awards were handed out.

Across the street at the Platte division, employees brought their sleekest rides for the car show and four basketball teams took to the court to showcase their hoops skills in a 3-on-3 basketball tournament. Five teams entered the tournament, but it was RTD’s Transit Police “Team 369,” consisting of Chief Joel Fitzgerald, Deputy Chief Glyn Horn, Commanders Broderick Fowler and Nathaniel Mallory and Officer Larry Robinson, that came out on the top step of the podium. As for the auto and bike show, Charlie Chavez, Manager, Maintenance Operating Division, won the car portion of the show, and Bernard Shriner, Body Mechanic, Body Shop, took top honors in the bike show.

A bus operator has to carefully keep both tires on the right side of their bus within the tennis balls without touching any of them. A competitor finishes the course through the "Diminishing Clearance" and "Judgement Stop" obstacles, where operators had to drive through a set of barrels that get more and more narrow going at least 20 miles per hour before stopping as close as they can to a designated marker.

Final Results

Fixed Route Bus – Veteran (RTD)

  1. Craig Vasbinder (Platte)
  2. Jimmy Romero (Platte)
  3. Samantha Maertins (Boulder)

Fixed Route Bus – Rookie (RTD)

  1. Jorge Rosales (Platte)
  2. Lamont Dennis-Smith (Platte)
  3. Gilbert Trujillo (Platte)

Contracted Services – Veteran

  1. Abniger Ek Chan (Transdev – Denver)
  2. Jose Ek Chan (Transdev – Denver)
  3. Ronnie Champeno (Transdev – Denver)

Contracted Services – Rookie

  1. Neb Berhe (Transdev – Denver)
  2. Ruben Mendoza (Transdev – Commerce City)
  3. Luis Martinez (Transdev – Denver)

Small Bus/ADA

  1. Eritrez Negash
  2. Bel Ghafur
  3. Joshua Benjamin


  1. Ben Carrol, Marcos Carrillo and Dan Jurik (District Shops)
  2. Justin Rekemeyer, Yasha Demchenko and Ivan Ortiz (Platte)
  3. Cesar Aldava, Blake Peterson and Armando Meja-Alvarado (East Metro)

Service and Cleaning

  1. Mark Buyalski (Platte)
  2. Ryan Foltz (Platte)
  3. Benjamin Kellogg (Platte)
By RTD Staff