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Beaverton man is best on the bus

TriMet honors 36-year veteran Rolynd Puckett along with Westside MAX operator Gail Hanks

TriMet bus driver and Beaverton resident Rolynd Puckett has 36 years of experience and more than one million miles of save driving under his belt.

He just earned one more accolade - TriMet Bus Operator of the Year.

Puckett joined MAX Operator of the Year Gail Hanks, a Southeast Portland resident who runs Blue and Red line trains out of the Elmonica rail yard in Beaverton. Hanks is just the second woman to win the award.

Operators qualify for the awards based on outstanding driving records, customer service and attendance, and are selected by their peers.

Puckett, 61, started driving buses for TriMet in 1974. His typical day starts at 3:56 a.m., when he drives the first Line 12-Barbur/Sandy Blvd. route of the day from Sherwood to Gresham. Customers say Puckett is 'friendly and warm,' 'professional' and 'the nicest bus operator I've ever had.'

Only three operators have been at TriMet longer than Puckett. During his 36 years of experience, Puckett has witnessed the establishment of frequent service bus lines and light rail in the region, and says he has most enjoyed the introduction of the low-floor buses to the fleet and the advent of TransitTracker. He drives out of the Merlo Garage because it's close to his Beaverton home, where he has lived for 35 years.

In 2005, Puckett earned the distinction of Grand Master Operator after getting TriMet's Superior Performance Award (SPA) 20 times. An operator earns an SPA by meeting safe driving, operating procedure adherence and attendance criteria.

Puckett and his wife of 40 years, Penny, enjoy camping, fishing and clamming together. He's also involved in activities at his church, including participation in a choir that visits retirement homes and care facilities to entertain residents. He joined TriMet right after his service in the Navy.

Hanks, 44, is the second woman in the 25-year history of the MAX to receive the Rail Operator of the Year award. She lives in the Brentwood-Darlington neighborhood and started driving a bus for TriMet in 2002, switching to MAX in 2006.

Hanks is a lead operator, meaning she has earned two or more Superior Performance Awards, and has earned seven National Safety Council Safe Driver Awards. She also has experience operating the Portland Streetcar. Before coming to TriMet, Hanks conducted criminal background checks for the Oregon State Board of Nursing.

Riders say Hanks goes the extra mile to keep riders informed. A Blue Line rider said, 'I love the fact that in the tunnel she says good morning and announces the time of day over the train's intercom. I love it! Keep it up!' Another rider said, 'It's so nice to hear such nice greetings first thing in the morning…from a stranger!'

'I enjoy having the opportunity to smile and wave to everyone from my 'mobile office' every day,' Hanks said. 'I love when my riders and smile or wave at me, too.'