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Port Bus Driver Makes Connections

March 20, 2023

Each time Erin Hartfelder drives the 3.4-mile loop from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to the Rental Car Facility during his shift, it feels like a completely different route.

“When I worked as a bus driver at Pierce Transit, I’d see the same people over and over, but at the airport, I’m usually driving people I’ve never seen before so it’s almost a different trip every single time.”

Hartfelder has been a bus driver at the Port of Seattle for the past 11 years, and he takes his role as travelers’ first touchpoint to the city of Seattle and Pacific Northwest very seriously. He sees each trip he makes as a chance to meet someone new and make a new connection. Interacting with the traveling public (rather than commuters that he would see working in traditional transit ) makes the job unique.

“I like interacting and making riders happy, and giving them travel recommendations,” he said. “If you're about to travel I have a lot of tips on what to do.”

It also works the other way around — he gets great tips from riders as he plans future vacations to locations outside of Seattle.

Follow Darryl Briggs, a Rental Car Facility Bus Driver at SEA, on a day in his work day serving customers at SEA, and learn why the Port of Seattle is such a great place to build a career.

All in a day’s work

Rental car buses run 24 hours a day and Hartfelder works eight-hour shifts, from 4:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. He starts his shift by warming up the bus; inspecting the exterior of the bus for damage; and checking the kneelers, doors, turn signals, and lights. Then he’s ready to start driving the loop between the airport and rental facility.

“I always stand out front to greet passengers,” Hartfelder said. “I say ‘good morning’ to everyone before we come on the bus and help with bags when I can.”

When passengers get off the bus he checks for backpacks, cell phones, laptops, or even rental car keys left behind. He provides information on how to get on the freeways, where to get gas, how often rental car buses run, how to use the escalators, and how to return to the Rental Car Facility. He finishes his shift with a post-trip check for damage and maintenance issues before returning the bus.


Unofficial tour guide

Hartfelder wears a variety of hats as a bus driver — unofficial tour guide, Seattle ambassador, direction-giver, and even confidante for some of his riders.

“I consider myself an ambassador for Seattle,” he said. ”I tell jokes. I like to rib ‘em. On Seahawks game day I like to mess with the other team when they come in. Riders get a kick out of that. I like to keep it light on the bus. If people are having a better time, if they are laughing, they are less likely to get upset and there is less likely to be trouble on the bus.”

Hartfelder keeps a mental list of his favorite restaurants, activities, hikes, and sites like Space Needle and Pike Place Market ready to go. He's even thought about putting together a restaurant guide for riders. He loves to put his own spin on recommendations.

“My family and I are pretty avid hikers,” he said. “We go to Mt. Rainier and the Olympics a lot. I like to tell people that if they have time, take a little trip to do a couple hikes. There are beautiful hikes in this area.”

He is also ready with answers to common traveler questions. Some travelers don’t realize they need a credit card to rent a car and Hartfelder gives instructions on how to get a taxi or take public transit (he recommends Link Light Rail as an economic and efficient option).

Hartfelder’s love of crazy socks are another conversation-starter on his routes. It started years ago when his daughter bought him Big Foot socks. Since then his collection has grown steadily as family, friends, and coworkers give him socks. 


Passion for people

Hartfelder doesn’t underestimate the importance of making connections with riders.

“We are the first and last thing people see at the airport. We are the first taste of the city and region, the first interaction with somebody local. I was raised to be polite and help people — it’s my thing. I want people to feel comfortable; it makes my day go a lot better. Even just saying hello to people helps.  There are so many people who come up and tell me they were having a bad day, but my energy was so good, now their day is looking up.”

Customer compliments motivate him to be his best. He has received letters and emails telling him what a great job he did and what their interaction meant to them.

“That kindness meant the world to them; it made their day,” he said. “Sometimes you get one-on-ones with people and they tell you they are going through a hard time, like losing their parent or have a loved one in the hospital. You talk to them and make them feel better. It makes you feel good to hear you made a difference.”


Throwing out a little positivity can turn a bad day around.

“My worst day here is 10 times better than at other places,” he said. “The challenges are not quite as dramatic. In a way you're kind of on your own and you do your own thing. You don't literally have someone standing on your back micromanaging you.”

Work with Erin! The Port of Seattle Employee Parking and Rental Car Facility (RCF) operations are hiring safety-minded drivers who enjoy driving and providing great customer service to employees and passengers.

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