BUS DRIVER OFFERS SMILE BEHIND HIS MASK
A recipient of several Safe Driving Awards and Superior Performance Awards over the years, Aaron Baune of Beaverton is TriMet’s Bus Operator of the Year — in a most unusual and challenging year.
If you’re a regular customer on the Line 62 bus, you may have chatted with Baune, who grew up in Northeast Portland.
The bus takes riders from Washington Square, wraps through the Beaverton area and ends up at the Sunset Transit Center.
Baune wanted to be a bus operator at a young age.
“I took the bus as a kid,” Baune recalled. “My mom (who was a special education teaching assistant for Portland Public Schools) didn’t drive. My dad worked two jobs, so he had the car. I grew up around TriMet.”
Recalling his mother’s experience on buses, Baune said, “I knew a bad attitude from a bus driver completely changed my mom’s day when we were out and about.”
These experiences have helped instill in Baune a need to serve TriMet’s customers with a pleasant attitude.
“I always kept that to heart when I came to TriMet,” he said.
Before arriving at TriMet, Baune served in a variety of positions.
“Most of my adult life, I was a recruiter or a staffing agent for temp agencies, placing people in jobs,” Baune said. “So, that’s why I have a good background of talking with people from all walks of life.”
Baune also worked as a route driver for the Jewish Family & Child Service.
“I came to TriMet in 2007 when I was between jobs, looking for a career,” Baune said. “I met my wife. We knew we were going to start a family, so I was looking for something very steady and stable with good health benefits, something my dad always tried to tell me to do because he worked for Multnomah County for his whole life.”
His father served as a caseworker for elderly and disabled individuals.
When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, TriMet, as well as many other employers, had to adjust to a new normal.
That new normal was challenging for Baune during the early pandemic days.
“In the beginning, it was unlike anything I had ever experienced,” Baune said, noting that during the lockdown, “the roads in Beaverton were completely empty at 8 in the morning.”
He added, “I lost 90 percent of my customers right out of the gate.”
Recalling the uncertainty and confusion surrounding the virus in the early days, Baune said, “It was a lot of anxiety, a lot of worry about contracting the virus.”
He noted that during the beginning of the pandemic, TriMet — as with many others — had trouble purchasing protective supplies due to the demand.
“We just were not prepared, and it showed,” Baune said.
But as people and organizations have adjusted, things have improved. TriMet instituted a series of strict protocols for cleaning vehicles and reducing the risk to bus drivers like Baune, such as limiting the number of riders allowed at a time, requiring passengers to wear face masks, and installing hand sanitizer dispensers in vehicles.
“TriMet has really stepped up to the plate with supplies,” Baune said.
For a period of time during the pandemic, TriMet allowed Baune to take a leave from his job to take care of himself and his family.
“I was able to come back when things were really taken care of,” he said. “The Bus 62 riders are awesome. Everybody wears a mask. They either bring one, or they know where to get them when they come on the bus. I don’t have to remind people.”
When it comes to COVID-19 and mask protection, Baune has a painful message for his fellow citizens.
“I lost a family member to COVID-19,” he said. “I’m really one of those people who are really concerned. My dad ended up getting it and passing away. … He was in a care facility that had a spread of it. I know a lot of people are ‘done’ with the pandemic, but I’m still wanting people to comply with masks, gloves and hand sanitizers. It’s real, and it’s a real threat.”
In the aftermath of his personal loss, Baune tries to keep upbeat, especially when he’s on the job.
“I have to offer respect, a smile and kind words to people because people are on edge,” he explained. “It’s a lot more important than ever to be respectful and try to make people’s day.”