Community Transit bus driver Ray Harnisch, 63, was honored May 24 for 37 years of professional driving without a preventable accident. He is the second driver in the agency’s 41-year history to reach what’s called the 3 Million Mile milestone, which follows National Safety Council guidelines and more reflects years of service than actual miles — though he’s certainly driven a lot.
The honor includes Harnisch’s full career, which started with driving buses for the U.S. Army. Harnisch, who grew up in Wisconsin and the Lake Goodwin area, now lives in Everett.
Question: How long have you driven a bus?
Answer: I’ve driven for Community Transit for right at about 21 years now. I drove my first bus in the military back in 1974. I was in transportation in military. They asked, “Can anyone drive a bus?” I said yes. I also drove tractor trailers and things like that for my career.
Q: Which branch of the military, and how long?
A: Army, 21 years. I kind of like having a 21-year theme going. But I’m going to be here a bit longer. I’m not ready to retire.
Q: And you’ve had no accidents in all that time?
A: I have had a couple non-preventable, where someone ran into the back of the bus and once the side of the bus. But there was nothing that I could do. I did everything I was supposed to.
Q: What are your secrets to maintaining such a long safety record?
A: There’s quite a few secrets. Part of it is, for the 21 years I’ve been here at Community Transit, it’s really a big team thing. We have good equipment. We have great mechanics, which is important because these vehicles run 16, 18 hours a day. We get refresher training every year and a ride check every year. We have road supervisors and dispatchers, where if there’s a blockage in the road, they contact us and get us a route so we’re not going into a dangerous situation.
Q: And for yourself, is there a certain attitude you try to take into your drives?
A: I just have a good time. I stay relaxed. I don’t rush. I try to make sure I can always see what’s going on around me. I pay attention to my driving. When I pull into a zone to pick up customers, I like to say hello and thank you… and when they get off I like to say goodbye. Between that, I stick with driving and making sure I get them to where they need to go in a safe manner.
Q: You must have a lot of stories. What are some memories that stand out? Good, bad, funny…
A: I’ve seen where younger kids are on the bus — because we also take kids to school — and when you see kids going to middle school you get to know them. Then you see them going to high school and they’re still riding the buses. I’ve seen the same kids — and I say “kids” — but they’re going to college or work, and they’re still using the bus system. You get to know them and it becomes part of the community.
We have an educational program here, and we go to schools and talk about how to use the transit system. We have a 30-minute class and then take them and go and do a bus ride in an articulated bus. We go over safety features and say it’s OK if kids have questions, to ask the driver — just so they know some of the rules and it’s one of the safe places for them to be.
Q: What’s the toughest part about your job?
A: For me, I’ve been here so long I would say I don’t have a tough part. …
For the new people when they start out, the tough part is you have split work, and that makes for a long day … and they may be new to the area and have to learn the system.
Q: What’s your route now?
A: I do the routes 220 and 240. They go from Arlington to Smokey Point and Stanwood to Smokey Point.
I’ve done just about all of them. I used to do the 120 routes from Canyon Park Park and Ride all the way down to the Edmonds waterfront, and that was always a fun route. We’d go to Edmonds Community College, and that’s where I’d get to see many of the young people going to school all the way up to college, and that was always fun.
Q: So what kind of vehicle do you drive when you’re not working?
A: I drive a mid-size pickup truck.
Q: Do you have family?
A: I have a wife and two children, a son and a daughter.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: Golf. I enjoy playing golf, and we’re lucky in this area to have lots of golf courses. I also do a lot of hiking. In this area with the mountains it’s so much fun to go hiking.
Q: They are putting posters of you on the sides of 10 buses for the rest of the year. What’s it like to see your face everywhere?
A: Scary. I’m not used to seeing my ugly old mug on the thing. It’s nice being able to have this achievement. But it doesn’t tell the whole story about everything the company does to make it to how I was able to succeed.
Q: Anything else?
A: I’m just a bus driver, like to talk to people and enjoy what I do. This interview stuff is new for me.
And he did great. Have someone in a transportation field you’re curious to learn more about? Send your ideas to email@example.com or call 425-339-3432.
With special thanks to reader Kelvin Barton on this one for his help clarifying the meaning of a million miles.