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Big-hearted bus drivers

It’s been almost four months that I’ve lived here in Vancouver. Long enough to get mistaken sometimes for a local…

By Jodie Martinson , in Vary Vancouver , on January 31, 2009 Tags: , ,

It’s been almost four months that I’ve lived here in Vancouver. Long enough to get mistaken sometimes for a local and asked directions. Not long enough to be able to give the directions.

I’m still new enough to notice the little differences—things that make Vancouver different. I’m no public transit connoisseur, but I have ridden buses in Buenos Aires, subway-ed to Central Park, and metro-ed between museums in Paris. In all of those places, I’ve asked the drivers and conductors for directions and they’ve been grumpy.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame them. How many times a day would you want to direct someone to the Eiffel Tower who is trying to learn French and fumbling to find the correct amount of local currency? I understand the crankiness. But, bus drivers, sometimes when you’re new to a place, you have no choice. You are our last resorts.

Since I got here, I’ve been asking my fair share of directions from Vancouver bus drivers. Initially, I would meagerly say, sometimes even with a fake accent: “how do I get to Granville?” I was prepared for the wrath of the overtaxed men and women of the transit. Gradually, I ‘ve let my guard down. This city does not have just a few nice bus drivers—it’s full of them, like rush hour in Japan full!

Last night I rode the UBC B-line to Granville. I chatted with Bob the bus driver on the way. I asked him why he and his coworkers are so friendly. He said it’s because they like their jobs. They have a good union that’s fought for flexibility in their hours, and a decent wage (although, Bob says they don’t get paid as much as the public thinks).

Bob says the bus drivers are trained in safety and customer service. During training, they are blindfolded and made to ride the bus to become more sensitive to visually impaired transit-ers.

“Each and every passenger that gets on the bus is as unique as their DNA,” he told me. “I have 115 people behind me that I’m responsible for their lives.”

There are passengers he remembers. A Chinese lady gave him candy as she got on the bus. “Candy! Candy! You take!” she said. There were the lost Spanish tourists that he took to their hotel at Hastings and Renfrew—Vancouver’s “skid row,” Bob called it.

Before applying to drive the bus, Bob says he asked a room full of drivers, “Do you like your job?” Every single one of them said yes.

Bob’s been driving a bus for two years. He was an accountant with a higher paying job for twenty years before he started. I asked him why he changed.

“I wanted people to run to me, not away from me,” he said.

To be fair, it’s not only bus drivers that are overly friendly. Bus riders are quite pleasant in Vancouver too. I have never been in a city where people so frequently thank bus drivers as they get on and off—even from the very back of the bus.

So, last night, as I got off the bus, I somewhat awkwardly shouted out, “Thank you, Bob. You have a good night.”

I’ll get this Vancouver local thing down yet.