Lynette Haugen has spent the last five years traveling to and from her job at the Midtown Exchange on Route 5.
On most mornings, that means getting greeted by Metro Transit bus driver Lillie Loving, who welcomed Haugen as if she were an old friend on a recent southbound trip to Mall of America.
“She just makes the morning right,” Haugen, an outreach coordinator at Allina Hospitals & Clinics, said after boarding the bus. “She has integrity, she’s personable – I really can say she’s one of the best [bus drivers] there are. She’s outstanding, she really is.”
The high praise comes in part because Loving is committed to Route 5, establishing strong and good-humored relationships with customers who rely on the bus to get to and from work, school and other destinations.
While many operators routinely change routes, Loving has spent the last decade driving customers from north Minneapolis to Bloomington on Route 5.
“I wouldn’t do anything but the 5,” Loving said in a recent interview at the Martin J. Ruter Garage where she works from. “I just love it.”
Loving said she’s drawn to the route because it’s a constant swirl of activity and leaves little room for boredom. Indeed, on a recent morning the bus was full of customers, including mothers with strollers, elderly women with shopping bags and a blind customer with a seeing-eye dog. (At a busy downtown stop, Loving jokingly ushered customers to board quickly saying, “C’mon now, Christmas has done passed – it’s already New Years now.”)
While the buses are full, Loving still finds time to greet each customer personally and exchange light-hearted barbs with regulars. Panama Hurt, who has taken Route 5 almost daily for the last three years, said Loving’s personality has become a bright spot in his day. “When the ‘Love Bus’ pulls up, it brings body and life—it just inspires me,” he said.
As a mother of four, with 16 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, Loving also knows how to mix humor and sternness. When a customer disputes a fare, causes commotion or uses foul language, she doesn’t hesitate to remind them of the Code of Conduct. The approach helps keep the bus moving on schedule and has reinforced her motherly persona (indeed, many customers refer to her as "mom" or "grandma.")
“They all know when they get on my bus that I’m firm," Loving said. "But I don’t let anything upset me – I do my job and I do it well.”
Loving’s time in the driver’s seat is coming to an end soon, however. After 13 years with Metro Transit, Loving plans to retire this spring. After moving to the Twin Cities to be with family, the Decatur, Ill. native said she plans to move back closer to her children.
There are no grand retirement plans except to spend plenty of time in the yard planting flowers. Loving said she’ll miss her co-workers and her customers but that she’s ready for the next phase of her life.
“I’ve been in this world a long time,” she said. “It’s time to do something else.”
Operator at a Glance
Name: Lillie Loving
Hired: Aug. 17, 1998
Routes: Loving drove Express Route 854, Route 22 and served as an on-call driver at the beginning of her career. She has been driving Route 5 for the last decade.
Hobbies: During breaks, Loving likes to wind down with a game of Candy Crush. She’s currently on Level 117.
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