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TriMet lauds veteran operator for 58,000 miles of safe driving

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - TriMet bus operator Rolynd Puckett is ready to leave the bus stop at Southwest Merlo Road/158th on Monday morning.A day at the office for TriMet bus operator Rolynd Puckett is influenced by many factors, from the flow of traffic to the demeanor of passengers who shuffle in and out of his Line 67 bus.

More often than not, however, the even-keeled veteran driver manages to keep things in perspective and project a soothing influence over his domain, regardless of how much chaos swirls around him.

“I might have a situation with a passenger who has an issue with a fare, a screaming kid or an argument on the bus,” he says. “But I’ve been pretty fortunate in that I haven’t had too many issues. I think a lot of it is how you come across to people on the bus. If you show interest in people, they’ll calm down and feel they’ll be OK.

“And if they’re OK,” he adds, “the ride’s gonna be OK.”

Puckett’s positive, pragmatic attitude has served him well throughout 38 years and 58,000 safe miles logged with TriMet on the Westside. In February, the public transit agency recognized the longtime Beaverton resident as a “Gold Master Operator,” part of its Master Operator Program. The designation recognizes bus and rail operators who achieve “overall excellence in their duties as professional drivers,” according to TriMet criteria.

Operators earn Superior Performance Awards each time they log 1,960 hours of work without any preventable accidents, warnings, reprimands or suspensions, while maintaining excellent attendance and customer service records. Master Operator status equals 10 performance awards, Grand Master level is achieved after 20 citations and Gold Master status is reserved for those who rack up 30 performance awards. Puckett joins only two other TriMet drivers, Willie Jack and Larry Williams, to achieve the level.

For perspective, Puckett’s 58,000 hours of stellar driving represents nearly seven years worth of safe motoring around the region.

“Rolynd is a true professional,” said Shelly Lomax, TriMet’s executive director of operations. “During his long career as a professional bus operator, he has been a consistently high performer and dedicated employee. He’s easy-going, dependable, and always willing to share a smile, kind word or his knowledge with those he works with or the customers he serves. We are lucky to have him as part of the TriMet team.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - TriMet bus operator Rolynd Puckett drives to the next bus stop at Southwest Merlo Road and 158th Avenue on Monday morning.

Life on the road

Puckett, who has driven countless routes, the most recent being the loop from the Merlo Road/Southwest 158th Avenue bus to the Portland Community College Rock Creek Campus. He prefers to drive out of TriMet’s Merlo Road Operations Center in Beaverton because it’s about five minutes from the home he and his wife, Penny, have shared for 37 years.

“It’s right off of Murray Boulevard, right next door,” he says while pulling away from the Merlo station on Monday morning. “My wife works at Reser’s (Fine Foods). She’s retiring in three months.”

Puckett, 63, isn’t quite there yet.

“I’m waiting until I’m 66, so I have two and a half years to go,” says the father of two grown children. “I hope to get my full Social Security — if there’s any left.”

Growing up on a farm in Central Oregon, Puckett moved to Portland with his mother after his dad died. After graduating from Centennial High School in 1967, Puckett met Penny while a student at Portland’s Northwest Nazarene College. During the height of the Vietnam War, Puckett — reading the writing on the wall with his low draft lottery number — took a proactive approach to military service.

“I quit school,” he recalls. “The Army would’ve drafted me, so I joined the Navy. It felt good to serve the country. I was fortunate not having to go over (to Southeast Asia). I would’ve gone if they’d sent me.”

Stationed at Stockton, Calif., for four years, Puckett and Penny gravitated back to the Portland area with their newborn daughter after he was honorably discharged. When a friend mentioned TriMet, the area’s regional transportation authority, was hiring bus operators, curiosity led him to find out what driving was all about.

“I really didn’t think about” where I’d be in 38 years, he admits. “It was so far in the future. But I never thought about leaving. It was too good a job for me.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - TriMet bus operator Rolynd Puckett picks up passengers at the bus stop on Portland Community College's Rock Creek Campus.

Man of the people

Puckett admits it’s the people he encounters every day that keeps him the most satisfied on his daily route.

“You get to know people and make some friends,” he says. “Even when you change your route, you may see them later, and they remember you and say, ‘Hi.’ It’s not like they’re your best friends. You don’t always recognize their names, but you recognize faces.”

Acknowledging the skill and strategy involved with negotiating traffic and being a safe, competent operator, Puckett says the ability to interact well with others goes a long way in his role.

“Your demeanor has a lot to do with the way you control things and stop things from escalating,” he says. “There are ways of dealing with almost every issue, unless a guy is intent on doing something no matter what.

“A lot of drivers tend to bring on a lot of issues themselves, and argue with people,” he adds. “I try to show compassion. People have bad days. We have bad days too.”

The number of disruptive passengers he’s dealt with has been relatively small, while medical issues have come up a little more often.

“Sometimes you can deal with” disruptive passengers, he says. “If it escalates, you have to call for help. There have been medical issues. Three or four times people have had seizures or heart attacks, or people get sick.”

It took some time behind the wheel, but over time, Puckett learned how to manage his stress levels.

“I used to let things bother me,” he says. “I have less stress now. I decided a long time ago that whatever’s going on, stress just makes it even worse.”

That doesn’t mean the combination of more bicyclists and what he sees as increasingly aggressive drivers on the road aren’t causes for concern.

“One of my greatest fears is hitting someone on a bicycle, because there’s so many around,” he says. “You never know what they’re going to do. I just try to be very aware of bicyclists when I’m around them.”

Although he prefers the high perch of his TriMet bus, Puckett admits he becomes like any other impatient driver when he’s behind the wheel of a passenger car on a busy thoroughfare.

“I’m juby: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - TriMet bus operator Rolynd Puckett of Beaverton has been awarded the distinction of Gold Master Operator as part of TriMet's Master Operator Program. Puckett, 62, has been a TriMet bus operator for 38 years. st like them,” he says. “I don’t like getting stuck behind a bus.”

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