When Operator Mary Barnd picked up her first customers, she panicked.
As a 17-year semi-truck driver, Barnd had developed an innate sensitivity to others entering her private driving space and was taken aback when she started training and picking people up.
“The first time customers stepped on that bus, I thought I was going to have a heart attack,” Barnd said in a recent interview. “Opening that door and having them come into that space felt really threatening.”
Barnd recognized where the feeling came from, though, and the unease quickly subsided. In fact, anyone who boards one of her buses today would find it hard to believe she ever had any difficulty with customers coming on board.
Now in her tenth year as a Metro Transit bus operator, Barnd is a welcoming, cheerful presence behind the wheel and is well known among regular customers for her boisterous personality. She deliberately works busy urban routes that have a large number of customer boardings and offers entertaining commentary as she drives.
Jenna Bennett encountered Barnd for the first time during a recent Route 6 trip from downtown Minneapolis to Uptown. As Barnd narrated the trip down Hennepin Avenue, Bennett quickly saw that this was going to be unlike many of her daily trips.
“I’d never had a bus driver that had so much energy and was so clearly having fun at her job,” said Bennett, who brought the experience to light on Twitter. “She really seemed to brighten everyone’s day and definitely stood out in a good way.”
Though she has driven more than a dozen routes her current and favorite route is Route 6, which runs between downtown Minneapolis and Edina. The route carries a wide range of customers traveling to work downtown, Uptown or the Southdale Shopping Center.
Spending the day with people all around her is a far different experience, Barnd said, than the time she spent hauling cargo across the country. Barnd said being out on the road alone for weeks was “excruciatingly lonely.”
“As chatty as I am, I never liked talking on the radio,” she said. “I like talking in person.”
Barnd came to love driving, though, and began working at Metro Transit in 2004 when she moved back to her native Bloomington to be closer to family. After getting more comfortable on the job, she began interacting with customers and using her trademark humor to diffuse whatever issues arose on the road.
While her main occupation was as a semi-truck driver and driving instructor, Barnd initially studied to become a dental assistant at the University of Minnesota. Missing the collegiate atmosphere, she wound up working as a secretary at Princeton University and later became the school’s first female carpenter, a job she kept for 11 years.
All of the different experiences she’s had serve her well at Metro Transit, the 65-year-old Barnd said.
“If you’re a little older, hopefully you have a little more life experience, which I think is very helpful,” she said.
All the miles she’s driven over the years have also helped Barnd become a skilled operator. Barnd has gone almost her entire career at Metro Transit without a responsible accident.
As long as she continues to enjoy the work, Barnd said she has no intention of getting out of the driver’s seat, either. Her goal, she said, is to continue driving until she’s 80-years-old.
Revealing some of her quirky sense of humor, Barnd said: “I’m just going to get a face lift so no one thinks they’re getting driven around by some old broad.”
Operator at a Glance
Name: Mary Barnd
Hired: June 21, 2004
Employee Number: 64221
Routes: Barnd has driven several routes during her career, including the 2, 4, 11, 12, 18, 21, 23, 113 and 156. Her current – and favorite – route is Route 6.
Garage: South Garage
Hobbies: Barnd likes to write poetry and sing, especially old country dance music. She also enjoys spending time visiting her friends and family.
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