When Jerry Olson was sent out to drive a bus alone for the first time, the then 21-year-old operator couldn’t help but feel a little anxious. After all, he’d had just four weeks of training and had gotten into enough trouble with his own vehicles that he’d earned the nickname “Crash.”
“The passengers must have been really nervous, because my leg was shaking the whole time,” Olson said of his maiden voyage on Route 19, taken back in 1972.
Olson quickly settled in, though, and spent the next four decades building a legacy as a model Metro Transit bus operator. Olson, #1504, is retiring this week after nearly 43 years of service.
The length of service is itself unique – at retirement, Olson had become the longest-tenured current operator at Metro Transit – but his record is made all the more impressive by the fact that his career also includes more than 41 consecutive years of safe driving.
“What he has achieved, less than 1 percent of operators are probably going to be able to do that,” said Doug Looyen, a Safety Specialist at South Garage, where Olson has worked since 1981.
Olson said it took a few years to get fully comfortable behind the wheel, but that a commitment to the Safety Keys helped him anticipate and react to whatever came his way. He spent 18 years as a trainer and mentored operators throughout his career, helping others successfully adopt the same approach.
In 2014, Olson was recognized for his contributions and named the Minnesota Bus Operator of the Year by the Minnesota Public Transit Association. Olson also received multiple Metro Transit awards during his career.
Taking his final trip Wednesday morning, Olson navigated through residential areas of Richfield and south Minneapolis, up Interstate 35W and through downtown Minneapolis with the same cool confidence that carried him throughout the years.
Along for the ride were several colleagues and family members, including fellow operator and wife Lynnette. General Manager Brian Lamb also rode along, sharing a few words and doughnuts to mark the occasion.
As an on-call operator, Olson carried millions of customers on multiple express and local routes throughout the metro. Passengers riding with him on Route 558 on Wednesday morning were impressed to learn about his safe driving record and humbled by his decades of service.
“This is one of those underappreciated jobs but, 42 years of service and doing what you love, that’s just beautiful,” said Tamara Rogers “He’s responsible for a lot of lives and to know he’s been accident-free for so long, that’s great.”
Pulling the empty bus into the garage for the final time, Olson said his final trip was bittersweet and a bit overwhelming. Now 63, he looks forward to spending more time with family and friends. But he will also miss his co-workers and time behind the wheel.
“I’ve spent more than two-thirds of my life here, so it wasn’t an easy decision to retire,” Olson said. “But there comes a time when you just have to say goodbye.”
> MPR: Bus driver retires after 41 accident-free years
> WCCO: Driver retires after years of safe driving
> Star Tribune: Long-tenured Metro Transit operator retires
> Saluting Jerry Olson, Minnesota’s Operator of the Year
> Fond memories on a final ride
> Using ‘Keys’ to put safety first
Learn more about Metro Transit staff who have retired with more than 30 years of service here.