[nfbwatlk] 82 year old bus driver

Becky Frankeberger via nfbwatlk nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org
Tue May 27 16:39:08 UTC 2014


Below is from today's online edition of the, "Seattle Times."  Best, Kevin

 

Every so often, Al Ramey thinks about switching lanes. He glances at the
mirrors of his King County Metro bus and sees nothing but open pavement. 

Then a sixth sense kicks in. 

"I don't make that move, and sure enough, there will be a Miniature
Something going by, and it's out of all my mirrors," he says. "I can't pick
it up in any mirror. And you'll see me moving my body around, to make sure
I've covered everything."

Because as he's fond of saying, anything on the street can bite you.

Ramey has been honing these instincts for 61 years. He is probably the
longest-tenured transit driver in the nation,
<http://issuu.com/atucomm/docs/ja_it13usweb> says the American Public
Transportation Association, which
<http://metrofutureblog.wordpress.com/2014/05/07/national-honor-metro-bus-dr
iver-recognized-for-51-years-of-safe-driving/> honored him for a 51-year
safe driving record this month in Kansas City, Mo.

He didn't expect to spend decades behind the wheel, but found out, "I'm
totally relaxed, but I'm on guard." Ramey tells trainees: "I didn't expect
anything out of the job. Don't try to imagine what it's going to be, just
see what comes with the job." People who get on the bus are fascinating, he
says. 

At age 82, he continues to drive one daily round-trip on the popular Route
150, connecting Kent, Southcenter, Sodo and downtown Seattle.

The longtime Burien resident officially retired in 2000, and currently
receives a $2,795 monthly pension, records say. Ramey says his extra income
from part-time driving pays for vacation cruises with his wife.

"And I'm not a sit-at-home guy," he says.

There is no mandatory retirement age at Metro. All bus and rail operators
must pass a physical every two years, and driving is evaluated yearly. 

Two Metro drivers last year were older than Ramey, but had fewer years on
the job. As of 2010, the agency employed 62 transit operators age 70 or
older, out of a work force of 2,780, according to a county database. 

"We value our older drivers," said Darryl Russell, safety director. "Because
they have done quite a few things right." 

Left home at 16

Ramey says he grew up poor in Seattle, raised by a grandmother in a rental
house where the Pacific Science Center arches now stand. He left home at 16
and worked as a ship deckhand, truck driver and carnival barker, a
self-described vagabond. 

He ran low on money, so his older sister urged him to apply for steady work
at Seattle Transit, where he was hired Nov. 5, 1952. He worked briefly for
Boeing, then returned to buses, at the Suburban Transportation System.

Back then, the same people rode every day, in the same seats, and knew each
other, Ramey remembers. 

An old Ford bus would be so packed that people sat on a rod that manually
swung open the door, as on an old school bus. Then on cue, they would raise
their rumps a half-inch so Ramey could let in new passengers.

"The buses didn't have power steering. Most had straight up-and-down
windshields, which in the dark was like a television screen reflecting the
inside of the bus," he said. 

Buses carried only a small heater, so in wintertime drivers wore thick socks
and boots. Transmissions were controlled by stick shift. Bus drivers made
change for cash fares, carried mail and hauled freight. 

Metro Transit itself
<http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/history/history-1970.html> wasn't formed
until 1973. It's now the nation's seventh-busiest public bus agency,
carrying 400,000 weekday passengers around the nation's fastest-growing big
city. Taxpayers spend millions to employ part-time drivers like Ramey, who
can serve commuter peaks. 

Thursday morning, Ramey brought his bus from the base, and parked at 5:01
a.m. at Convention Place Station, and wedged a pink wheel chock under a tire
until his 5:15 a.m. departure time.

He greeted tunnel security guards by name, and congratulated a regular
passenger, Devayon Lett, on the new septum ring inside his nose. Cruising
south, Ramey saluted every oncoming operator in the Sodo busway. 

Boarding passengers all received the same "Good morning," except a homeless
man's black terrier pup, who earned a "Good morning, big guy." Ramey tells
jokes, though not many. 

He tells customers to pay the fare, but won't provoke a fight.

"He does everything in moderation," said George Died, riding in back. "This
guy, he's totally 100 percent professional."

Ramey keeps his left hand on the steering wheel, while his right hand rests
on his knee, a habit from when a right hand controlled the clutch. The
standard 10-and-2 hand position causes back tension, he says. 

Another long-honed skill is to sidle toward a curbside bus stop at almost
full speed, accurately arriving within a couple inches. 

Passengers said they appreciate how Ramey hustles to reach Kent Station,
just in time for transferring onto the Route 180 bus to Auburn. 

"If he didn't do it, I'd be out of a job," says Lett, headed to work at UPS.


Ramey's patience is tested whenever a bicyclist takes a rear seat, wasting
seconds to retrieve a bike off the front rack. Or when a train blocks a
street. Or when pedestrians running from the Kent Station park-and-ride
garage to catch the Sounder trains dart in front of his bus and flip him the
middle finger. 

All these annoyances put the 150 at risk of running late. "Get off, get
off," he whispered as a woman hesitated at the rear door. 

Heading back north into Seattle, he drew on his experience, and avoided
moving into the left bus-carpool lane - which would only force him to weave
right again, to reach the Sodo exit. Ramey and another driver timed those
options for a month and found a mere minute's difference. But staying in the
right lane reduces turbulence from traffic.

"The more I'd have to step over all these lanes, the more jeopardy you're
in," he said. 

The ride did cause one passenger to grumble, "He's trying to suffocate us,"
because Ramey didn't notice the stagnant, warming air within the
climate-controlled bus and open a vent.

"And they want more money," the rider said. Metro is girding for a possible
16 percent cut in service hours, due to budget shortfalls. 

Changes on the road

Ramey's favorite run was Route 194, airport-to-downtown, discontinued in
early 2010 when Sound Transit light rail reached the airport. Buses
attracted people from around the world - his biggest-ever load reached 135
people.

"I don't like an empty bus," he said.

He says the biggest change in traffic is that drivers feel no compunction
about cutting in front of a bus. Passengers think of Metro as a government
bureaucracy, so they're quick to complain. "People walk around in life
frustrated, anymore," he said.

Ramey was Operator of the Year in 1992. Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer said
his file notes four preventable accidents that caused minor property damage,
the most recent a sideswipe 24 years ago.

"He loves transit. You can see the love in the way he treats his customers,
his work ethic, the way he talks about how important it is to provide the
service," says his boss, South Base superintendent Suzanne Keyport. 

Ramey, his wife, Ruth, and their friend and housemate Linda Smith, also
operate the
<https://www.facebook.com/pages/Northwest-Public-Transportation-Historical-G
roup/132220906814945> Northwest Public Transportation Historical Group,
which preserves models, schedules and artifacts from the 20th century. 

By now he's seen just about everything, except for layoffs, which he worries
are coming to Metro soon.

 

 

Becky Frankeberger

Butterfly Knitting

-           Ponchos

-           Afghans

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360-426-8389

becky at butterflyknitting.com

 



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