Driven by faith: Baylor shuttle drivers share job experiences

Students who use the shuttle system have the opportunity to interact with Baylor shuttle drivers such as Freddie Buhl and Robert Fraga. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer.

By Luke Lattanzi | Staff Writer

From 7:25 a.m. to 5:25 p.m. Monday through Friday, Waco Transit shuttle drivers transport thousands of Baylor students across campus on various routes. While many students regard the service as a convenient way of getting to class, few stop to consider the experiences of the drivers.

Freddie Buhl is a driver on the red route, which goes from the University Parks Apartments to the East Village Residential Community to Speight Avenue in 12-minute intervals. He said he feels blessed to do his job every day, citing the sheer number of people he gets to talk to every day in between bus stops.

“These are my kids,” Buhl said. “I just tell them, ‘[If you all wave at] me, I got you.’ … You get a good rapport with people, and you don’t have to do a whole lot of talking. Your demeanor will take care of that.”

Buhl began driving buses for the Waco Independent School District in 1979 and then for Waco Transit in 1991. Before working as a bus driver, he followed his brother to San Antonio, where he worked as a welder, helping build airplanes. Buhl originally came to Waco to work for Texas State Technical College helping build jets, but he wound up taking his first driving job for the school district instead. In addition to working as a bus driver and welder, he was also a shoe shiner and worked with his sister to make hamburgers.

Despite enjoying his job, Buhl said there are a myriad of challenges that come with being a shuttle driver, especially on a campus filled with mostly pedestrian college students. He said defensive driving is always his highest priority, as he understands he is entrusted with the safety of college kids.

“It’s somebody’s daughter. It’s somebody’s cousin, somebody’s auntie,” Buhl said. “So the thing is, you have to be mindful of what you’re doing. And yes, when I get home, I’m tired. But what makes me feel better about my time is that I got those kids home. … That’s my job: [to] get them home safely during the day.”

Buhl said he often turns to his faith as a form of support when working his shift. Every morning, he says a prayer — “Lord, you drive the bus” — believing God will help him practice the best safety precautions.

Despite the risks, Buhl said he has had the time of his life being a bus driver. He has had the opportunity to transport a handful of notable people, from star women’s basketball player Brittney Griner and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson. In his lifetime, Buhl has driven over four million miles across five states.

“Lord bless me, I can do a lot of stuff,” Buhl said. “But my main thing now is driving a bus. And the Lord let me see so many great things and meet some of the great people. And I can hang around these kids, and believe it or not, I [have] grandchildren older than [the] kids I carry.”

Robert W. Fraga, a driver on the blue route, has a similar connection with his faith. In addition to working as a shuttle driver for Waco Transit on campus, Fraga is a pastor for Kingdom of God Ministries in Waco. Fraga said one of the best things about his job as a driver is his interactions with students, especially when they ask him questions about scripture.

“When I’m over here, the students oftentimes knowing I’m a pastor or a man of the cloth, they’ll ask me questions about scripture [or] art,” Fraga said. “They come to me and ask me other questions [about] what I believe and think of. And I’m honored to say one [student] even said I was his mentor, and I’m like, ‘I’m just a bus driver, dude.’ But the Lord has really blessed me though. He’s blessed me with a lot of wisdom, knowledge and understanding.”

Fraga, a native Wacoan, first started driving as a school bus driver in New York. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, he felt it was best to return to his hometown. While Fraga has only been with Waco Transit for roughly four years, he has over two decades of bus driving experience overall. He said a major difference between driving school buses and Waco Transit shuttles is the size of the vehicles.

“From school buses to these city buses, they are unique creatures, both of them,” Fraga said. “The school bus drives like a car. Wherever you steer it, it’s going to go. The rear end is going to follow. Not on these 40-foots [Waco Transit shuttles]. On the 40-foots, if you don’t steer wide, you’ll clip the corner of the curb every time.”

Fraga said his favorite thing about his job as a shuttle driver is the people he gets to interact with, especially since he gets to talk with college students on a predominantly Christian campus.

“I’m a people person,” Fraga said. “Being in ministry, I believe [I am] called to the Lord. I just love helping people, and not only that, it fits so many areas of my life as an asset and not a liability. It’s got a good timing schedule for me. It’s definitely a good-value job. But primarily the people — helping people, providing a high-quality commodity at the best price in a clean and friendly environment, safely and consistently.”

Fraga also said when balancing his positions as a bus driver and as a pastor, he remembers there is a difference between one’s job and one’s work. A job is what one is skilled or trained to do, but one’s work is the natural gifts or talents one has.

“I understand I’m here to work. I’m not here to convert,” Fragas said. “But if [students decide to] open the door, … I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ at all, ever. And so I just try to balance it out with wisdom, because I know my boss didn’t hire me for my knowledge of spirituality. He hired me for my skill.”

Luke Lattanzi is a senior political science major with a minor in news-editorial originally from Monroe Township, New Jersey, now based in Houston. In his last semester at the Lariat, he is excited to learn more about what it takes to report for a daily news publication. Luke also serves as assistant editor for conservative digital magazine American Pigeon. He hopes to work for a publication as a reporter after graduation.