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'Smile, keep going.' Metro’s Operator of the Year has advice for newbies

caption: Mary Hopson is King County Metro's bus driver of the year.
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Mary Hopson is King County Metro's bus driver of the year.
KUOW Photo/Bill Radke

After reducing service last year amid the pandemic, King County Metro says it’s hired back enough drivers to staff more than 90% of its routes. KUOW’s Bill Radke asked a decorated veteran driver what advice she has for all those newbies.


ary Hopson drives bus 106, downtown Seattle to the Renton Transit Center. She’s been with Metro 42 years and her fellow drivers named her Operator of the Year. (For 2019, that is. The ceremony was delayed due to Covid and they haven't named either a 2020 or 2021 Operator of the Year.) She likes most of her passengers, and they like her.

“Yes, they've written commendations,” says Hopson. “They’ve brought me Christmas gifts. They've been nice to me. I've been nice to them, too!”

Here’s another sign of Hopson’s popularity: In the last year-and-a-half of pandemic bitterness and resentment, Hopson says not one of her passengers has said no to wearing a mask.

She says when someone approaches the bus unmasked, she points to her face before opening the door. The passenger generally points to the bus, meaning they need one of the free masks Metro offers all riders. She credits all that masking for her not having gotten Covid. She says it’s also helpful that she’s always been careful not to bring germs from work to her home. Her mother taught her that.

“My mother lived to be 102 -- almost 103," Hopson says. "When we were little, we had church clothes, school clothes, play clothes, pajamas, lounging clothes. When we’d come home from school, she’d make us pull off them school clothes and fold ’em up and put ’em down.

"‘Go wash your hands and put on your lounging clothes.’ So it just stuck to me. I take these (Metro driver) clothes off at the door, put ’em in the little bag, spray ‘em. I've been doing that before COVID came.”

She says driving a Metro bus feels more tense than it did 42 years ago. She sees more crime, more despair, more drug use. Her advice to Metro’s newly hired drivers: Start each day with a prayer. That reminds you that YOU are NOT God. Everything is not your problem.

“Don't get mad at everything that happens. Learn how to treat the people — the public — the way you want to be treated. Some of them won't let you treat them like that, but you have to ignore it. They’ve called me names. I didn’t jump out the seat, I just kept rollin’. Smile, keep going.”

Metro is still hiring drivers as it comes back from the pandemic bust, although ridership is still half what it was pre-Covid.

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