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Operators Keep "Route 17 Family" Rolling

Manuel McDonnell Smith
Public Information Manager

Kim Agliano and Frank Kneble are both regular operators on SEPTA's Route 17, one of the workhorse bus routes of the system serving more than 13,000 passengers each weekday. With peak hour buses arriving and departing every three minutes, you would assume that there's no time for the operators to meet, greet, and get to know their riders.

But both are well known to riders along this line. "Although we're driving at different times, we share some of the same regulars," says Agliano, who has been driving for the longest of the duo, 15 years. "Kim has many commendations, not only from passengers, but from managers and other SEPTA employees," said Southern District Assistant Director Tom Ropars. "Each one says they appreciate her positive attitude." Frank is also no stranger to the district's commendation board, explains Ropars. Riders appreciate his willingness to "help someone out."

In fact, both drivers (who prefer night work to day shift in order to accommodate their family routines) are so well-known and liked that they have come up with a special name for the regular riders they see on the line, the "Route 17 Family." And just like a regular family would, both drivers help pull together resources for those in need, such as longtime rider "Mr. Charlie" who likes to ride the bus just for fun and adventure. He prides himself on knowing the latest bus schedule as much as someone would know last night's basketball game score. Lately, more of those pleasure rides have turned into trips to the doctor for treatment of the diabetic nerve pain that makes it difficult for him to step up onto the bus. In keeping watch over a member of the "family," Kim posted alerts to her Facebook profile to let fellow drivers know of Mr. Charlie's troubles with boarding. With his seven foot tall frame, Mr. Charlie is easy to see waiting for a bus, but at a glance would not appear to need assistance in getting on. In short order, her message to "kneel," or lower the bus to curb height got around to all of the depot's drivers. "It helps him to avoid the pains that shoot through his foot like needles when he steps up aboard the bus." A small gesture like this helps Charlie to feel more like a cousin than just a customer.

Frank says the "Route 17 Family" has also pulled together to assist Mr. Charlie in other ways. For years, everyone on the line was aware that Charlie's traditional family, including his mother, sister, and aunt were a big part of his ongoing care, especially since that he suffers from some mental health issues. But as they died over the years, Frank began passing the word to "Route 17 family" members that any items they wanted to donate to Charlie could be dropped off to him on the bus. Now, Frank regularly collects shirts, sheets, and even crossword puzzle books from riders who care about Charlie's well-being. "One rider who works at a commissary regularly delivers surplus food items for us to give to him," says Frank. The spirit of generosity started by the drivers has blossomed into regular support from other riders on the route. "Even if they cannot give it to him directly, they know that Charlie rides with us, and that Kim or I will ensure that he gets it."

On many trips through the night, as rush hour passes into twilight, both drivers appreciate and look forward to greeting all members of their "Route 17 Family." "While everyone on our route knows Mr. Charlie, it's really nice to be to talk and check in with all of the riders we see each day," says Kim. "Even when they have a hard day at work, or the weather is bad outside, as they get off the bus, they turn, smile, and say "this is the best bus ride ever."

Route 17 is one of SEPTA's busiest bus lines, with rush hour departures scheduled every 3 minutes.

Kim Agliano and Frank Kneble are both regular operators on SEPTA's Route 17.

"Mr. Charlie" showing off his blanket, and keeping warm on a Route 17 bus.

Kim poses with another friendly passenger favorite, Ms. Lynn.

Frank offers a friendly greeting to passengers as they board his vehicle.