IT’S OFFICIAL: BOB RILEY is the best school bus driver in Ulster County. The lifelong Saugerties resident and former town police chief was recently named School Bus Driver of the Year by the Mid-Hudson Transportation Supervisors Association.
“I’m very honored,” said Riley. “But, if not for the other drivers, I wouldn’t be where I am. We work as a team.”
Judy Falcon, transportation director for the Kingston City School District, nominated Riley for the award. She says he is an excellent driver, very professional, and always on time.
“Most people set their clocks by a bus driver,” said Falcon. “It doesn’t matter if it’s once per year, if that driver is five minutes late, those parents are going to call and complain. Bob is always on time. We get constant compliments about Bob, I’ve never heard anything negative.”
In his 37 years as a school bus driver, Riley has never been involved in an accident — a stellar record that should inspire pride, said Falcon.
Riley attributes much of his success to the busses themselves. School busses are manufactured to be safer and easier to operate. One simple feature he says makes a bus driver’s job easier is safety windows that open only a few inches so that students cannot put their heads or large objects outside the bus.
Ultimately, he says it is the bus driver’s responsibility to teach students bus safety. The windows just make that job a little bit easier.
The mechanics at Lezette Express also play a large role, and Riley says they work hard to ensure that all students and drivers will be riding in safe vehicles every day. No corners are cut, and Riley says the company has one of the best safety records in the county.
Riley holds his student passengers to a high standard, expecting that they will behave appropriately on the bus. For the most part, it works. He has only had to write a handful of bus referrals in his years as a driver, and considers them a last resort. When presented with a behavior problem, Riley says he first tries to talk to the student. If that is unsuccessful, he then approaches the principal, the child’s parent, or guardian to try to resolve the problem without seeking official disciplinary action.
“I see other drivers pulling out with unruly kids running around and horse-playing,” said Riley. “That really annoys me. Sometimes, I get so mad I can feel the veins start to pop out in my neck. Why not just stop the bus and get control of the situation?”
Riley says his students are expected to remain in their seats and remain calm throughout the ride. When he needs their attention, he raps on the ceiling of the bus, meaning that all passengers are to be silent. He says he never yells and hates the phrase “shut up,” so he doesn’t use it.
Instead, he treats the students with respect. A few days into each school year, Riley gives an annual address to the passengers, laying out what he expects from them, and what they can expect from him.
“Every day I greet the kids with a ‘good morning,’ and a smile,” said Riley. “I try to start their day off in a positive way.”
Karl Lezette Jr., owner of Lezette Express, says there couldn’t be a more deserving person than Riley.
“He’s probably the most professional school bus driver I’ve ever met,” said Lezette. “I’m 52 years old. Bob is in his mid-to- late-sixties, and he still calls me Mr. Lezette.”
Riley has been driving school busses for 37 years, and has worked at Saugerties-based Lezette Express for 32 of those years. He started in 1963 at Mountain View Coach Lines, where he says he made $13.33 per day as a driver and mechanic. Three years later, Richard Lezette offered Riley $100 per week, a sizable raise in those days, to join his staff. Riley accepted, and worked for Lezette for two years. He returned to Mountain View Coach Lines when he was offered a position as head mechanic, and worked there until 1972, when he was offered a position as a town of Saugerties police officer.
Riley spend ten years in the police department, quickly working his way through the ranks to chief. After a decade in law enforcement, he returned to Lezette Express. Riley says there will be no further career changes.
“I won’t move from here now until he fires me,” said Riley.