Godwin McNeal, Ohio transit bus driver accident-free over 1 million miles.
Most people would be proud to drive for 40 years without an accident blamed on them.
But Godwin McNeal’s done it over an estimated 1.2 million miles behind the wheels of Regional Transit Authority buses, passing potholes, ice, bicyclists and pedestrians deep in thought and drivers who think their cars qualify for bus lanes.
McNeal has had plenty of different routes and shifts over the years. For the past five years, he’s maneuvered a 63-foot HealthLine bus along bustling Euclid Avenue on weekdays from 2:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with breaks. He starts and ends these long days at the Windermere/Stokes station in East Cleveland, near his home in Glenville.
RTA hasn’t kept track of all of McNeal’s miles. But he currently logs 112 miles per workday, or about 29,120 miles per year. Assuming similar mileage over the decades, he’s driven nearly 1.2 million for RTA without what the authority calls a preventable accident, as judged by statements, damages and video from a camera on board.
That’s the longest such streak in RTA history by far. The authority’s official goal is fewer than 14 preventable accidents per 1 million miles. McNeal’s had 14 fewer than that.
The secret to his streak? “You don’t think about it,” says the soft-spoken man. “You just go do it and pray for patience. You got to have patience.”
He’s been honored over the decades by RTA with bronze, silver and gold plaques and a safety award in the form of a baseball bat. He’s also thrown out the first pitch at an Indians’ game.
McNeal was born in Montgomery, Ala., and came to Cleveland in 1973. Back then, he disliked buses. “Buses always got in my way,” he says. “When I’d try to be talking to a cute girl, the buses pulled up.”
He was working the graveyard shift at a factory when a colleague without a car asked for a ride in the morning to apply for work with RTA. “You can stay in the car and sleep,” the colleague assured him.
So McNeal waited for him outside an RTA garage on Woodhill Road. After a couple hours, McNeal woke up and found himself still alone. So he went to the garage to find his friend.
“C’mon, c’mon,” said a woman at the door, waggling an application form. “You’re the last one.” He reluctantly filled out the form. Soon he found himself driving a bus and liking it.
“I get to soak up the sunshine,” he explains. “I get a chance to see the seasons. I get a chance to see the flowers.”
He also likes seeing the passengers, especially the tourists. “You can travel into their country just by listening.”
The job was hard work at first. “It was like Flintstone days back then,” he recalls. “No seat belt. No right-hand mirror. No power steering. You had to stand up to turn. Everyone needed muscles.”
Over the years, he’s had a few unavoidable accidents, such as rear-enders. He’s also had plenty of close calls.
The HealthLine is 10 years old, but McNeal says its unusual stoplights and lanes still puzzle the public. Drivers confuse their lights with the buses’. Pedestrians crossing the street forget to look both ways in those stretches with two-way traffic on the same side of the median.
Trouble sometimes climbs on board. Some riders have flashed weapons, and he’s had to call transit police for help.
But he likes most passengers, and they seem to like him.
“I know him a long time,” passenger Al Miller said recently. “A nice guy. A good driver.”
Three visitors from Connecticut praised McNeal. “He’s not only a good driver,” said one of them, Carol Covello, “but a tour guide and a very nice man.”
Like all his colleagues, McNeal has to take refresher training every two years at the West Park station. Drivers navigate a private course and use a bus simulator with animated dangers.
McNeal hopes to retire in 2020 and resume an old hobby of coaching youths in sports. He also hopes to move South with his wife, who married him the same year RTA hired him. They’d be leaving behind a grown daughter here but living closer to their three grown sons, all in Atlanta.