Roadeo to test driving skills of Columbus, OH celebs

It takes a certain drive to be a successful politician. On Friday, Columbus, OH-area lawmakers and hand shakers will test their actual driving skills at the Central Ohio Transit Authority’s Celebrity Roadeo. The event allows community leaders to test their skills behind the wheel of a 14-ton vehicle as a bus operator on a challenging barrel- and cone-strewn obstacle course. The event precedes Saturday’s operator and maintenance employee roadeo.

Carlton Weddington (D) Ohio House of Representatives

One celebrity participant is Carlton Weddington (D) Ohio House of Representatives, who didn’t embarrass himself last year when competing in his first celeb roadeo.

“I wasn’t driving real fast, but I didn’t knock any cones over,” a confident Weddington told BUSRide. “As large as our current COTA buses are, it is a daunting task. When we see these bus drivers maneuver in the streets, we take what they do for granted. These buses are huge, and these drivers are making turns and dealing with the rest of us who are in a hurry to get somewhere fast.”

This begs the question: Are their similarities between bus driving and politics?

“I hope not, because we’d be in a lot of crashes!” Weddington said.

On Saturday, COTA drivers will replace politicians to show off their own driving skills. The vehicle maintenance competition will also be held, with winners from both divisions qualifying to represent COTA next May at the APTA International Roadeo in Long Beach, CA.

A barrel goes flying during last year's COTA Roadeo.

Operators will be judged on knowledge of safety, rules of the road, COTA policy, personal appearance, pre-trip vehicle inspection and ability to negotiate obstacles on the course. Vehicle maintenance teams are judged on finding 14 defects in less than 10 minutes in a running bus and finding seven defects in less than 10 minutes on a separate engine and transmission piece.

“COTA has been celebrating the COTA Celebrity Roadeo on and off for about 35 years, depending on availability of funds,” COTA President/CEO Bill Lhota told BUSRide on Tuesday. “COTA is in a great position right now, financially and operationally, and we want our leaders and stakeholders to know how much we appreciate their continued support.”

Lhota will maneuver the course along Judith Will Fleming, executive director of the Ohio Public Transit Association, and other dignitaries in Friday’s event.

“The Celebrity Roadeo provides the opportunity for local leaders drive a bus through a few of the obstacles that our bus operator contestants will encounter for their Roadeo competition the next day,” said COTA’s Vice President of Operations Pat Stephens. “It gives people a better understanding of the skills required and the many challenges that a professional operator faces on a daily basis.”

One thing is for certain. Friday’s event will not be the first time a politician has been over a barrel.

— Glenn Swain