The Kindness of Strangers: When Public Transit Drivers Go the Extra Mile
Driving a bus or a streetcar is a job that demands much more than meets the eye. A driver is not only focused on the road and on handling the massive transit vehicle, but also on watching for people at stops, and keeping an eye on the transit vehicle riders, among many other seen or hidden responsibilities at the transit stations. However, the most variable part of the job is dealing with passengers boarding the transit vehicle, and responding to unexpected situations affecting passengers. So how have public transit drivers bettered the experience of riders across Canada?
Raminder Chahal via CBC News
Raminder Chahal was driving a Winnipeg Transit bus when he spotted an older woman struggling with three grocery bags and a printer at a bus stop.
Chahal told CBC, “In every older [person] I see my parents, my grandmother … and I try to help, do the best I can under my Transit policies and procedures. I try to help anybody I come across."
He picked up the rider’s groceries and brought them onto the bus for her. Chahal then drove carefully to make sure the woman had a safe ride, and wrote down on his hand the address that she requested to be dropped off at.
Another Winnipeg Transit driver was praised on social media for helping an elderly passenger carry her groceries up to her apartment and running back to the bus.
Amber Therrien via CBC News
And how about that Guelph Transit bus driver who stopped the bus when he saw an elderly woman only to help her walk to the bus stop and board the transit vehicle.
“She was still about 100 feet away from the bus she was obviously trying to catch, but could barely manage to put one foot in front of the other. The driver saw her, stopped the bus, put the vehicle in park, and walked out of the bus to give her a hand she obviously needed very much. He patiently walked with her, having her body lean against his left arm, and helping her climb into the bus.” – Vision37, Oct 20, 2016
In Montreal, a Facebook post which has garnered over a thousand likes and 200 shares highlights STM bus driver Guy Blais, who the author of the post thanks for continuously encouraging him to graduate high school.
“[…] From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank the bus driver on route 85 Hochelaga, who has told me every morning at my school’s bus stop that I can do it, that I can finish this long scholastic year. […] Thanks to him, I have graduated high school today!” – via Facebook
In Halifax, Linda Cruikshank became one of the city’s first female bus drivers 28 years ago.
Samantha Schwientek via CBC
'This is my social life,' Cruickshank tells CBC News, who filmed the video report on the well-known bus driver below.
On her 15-minute break, Linda knits and often hands out her creations to her regular passengers, many of whom she has formed a bond with.
Cruikshank tells CBC News about her many regulars on her different bus routes, and how she has seen them grow over the years, many of whom have married and ride the same routes today, but with their children. “I'm getting old,” she says. It is these stories, however, that stand as a testament to the importance of public transit not just as a day-to-day service, but as an integral part of community-building well into the future.
"The students, sometimes they lose their passes or they forget them. … First thing I'll do is tell them, 'You're still going to school,'" Cruickshank says, drawing on her own experience as a mother. She knows her regular primary, high school and university students and does what she can to help them. "If they're running for the bus, I'll wait for them. Because they're going to school!" – CBC News
CUTA Director of Learning and Events, Jason Allen speaks to the importance of interpersonal skills when it comes to transit driver positions. “To the public, bus drivers are not simply employees of an organization, they are the organization. All it takes is one interaction to make or break that customer’s day. That’s why it is so important to have operators who enjoy working with people, and get satisfaction from helping others.”
“Even for someone who loves working with the public, it can be good to learn new skills about handling tough or unexpected situations as a public transit driver,” says Jason Allen, CUTA Director of Learning and Events. “Transit systems across North America have benefitted from CUTA’s Transit Ambassador course for almost 30 years now to ensure those valuable skills are learned right from the start, and reinforced along the way.”
And although going the extra mile is not part of their job description, transit drivers who engage in acts of kindness better the day of their riders on one hand, but also shine a warmer light on their transit systems. At CUTA, we believe in recognizing these actions, especially highlighting notable situations.
Katherine Watson and Dawn Sutton, CUTA Individual Leadership Awards 2017
At the CUTA Forum 2017, Katherine Watson and Dawn Sutton were awarded the CUTA Heroism award for their truly altruistic acts in aiding and assisting a person in medical distress. Faced with a scenario in which a garbage truck struck a pedestrian, leaving her severely injured, Katherine and Dawn were able to quickly intervene, calm the pedestrian, and stop the bleeding to her leg until medical assistance arrived.
Transit drivers are often faced with non-driving related situations that affect passengers and ultimately become part of their responsibilities. In October of 2012, a TTC bus began smoking. The driver was alerted to the smoke by another driver on the road. Immediately, he pulled the bus to the side of the road and opened the front doors only, as he noticed that the smoke was coming from the location of the engine in the back. Moments later, after everyone had been promptly evacuated by the bus driver, the vehicle erupted in flames. There were no injuries.
“Everyone made it out safe,” says a passenger to Metro News. “The driver got everyone off fast.”
Public transit has the privilege of facilitating the daily commutes of residents across the country, but is also responsible for ensuring the safety of its passengers even in the most unpredictable situations. Occasionally, transit drivers are expected to fill the gaps left behind by older automotive technology. It is not uncommon to ride the 512 streetcar in Toronto’s mid-town and see the streetcar driver stop and exit the vehicle only to switch the streetcar tracks on the road from one direction to another.
via Urban Toronto
At busier Toronto intersections, extra TTC drivers are occasionally needed to step in as track switchers, to aid the drivers during peak times. This is largely because of difficulty in manufacturing new parts for the automatic switching system in this case. Luckily, this inconvenience is expected to be resolved quickly, but for now, transit drivers step in to provide solutions beyond sitting at the wheel.
A poll conducted by TransLink shows that 46% of responders who ride on public transit make sure to thank the driver when they disembark. For people like transit drivers whose jobs are dependent on constantly interacting with and keeping an eye on passengers, a simple ‘Thank You’ can go a long way.
But driving a transit vehicle isn’t without onboard trouble. Drivers can experience daily acts of unprovoked, unacceptable assault daily. There are multiple counts of unruly passengers threatening other passengers, or threatening drivers over fare payment or schedule information. In Vancouver, both TransLink and Metro Vancouver have launched full-barrier screens for the protection of their bus drivers.
TransLink via VancityBuzz
'Transit police spokeswoman Anne Drennan told CBC News that in many instances, barriers can prevent assaults, both serious as well as lesser assaults such as spitting. She said that just last weekend, a driver on a Vancouver route was attacked while the bus was moving. Without warning, a man stood up, punched the driver on the shoulder and grazed his face. "This is one of those situations that it's quite likely that some sort of barrier would have helped," Drennan said.' – CBC News
Although we might not realize it, public transit drivers might be some of the people we interact with often on the daily. Their jobs stretch beyond what we might assume as passengers on the vehicles they drive. These are people who work long shifts, and are constantly on the lookout – for people at bus stops, for the safety of passengers in the back, for traffic interrupting the safe passage of riders, for technical mishaps on the vehicle, for unexpected changes from transit control, for fare payment and stop requests, and most importantly for driving these large vehicles and taking us safely from point A to point B.
When transit drivers go the extra mile to help those of us who might need it, like the elderly crossing the street, or those with disabilities in accessing a vehicle or station, or even people suffering from sudden injury in the vicinity, it is important to recognize these efforts. Beyond these acts of kindness lies the skill of navigating the complex world hidden in the “everydayness” of life. To all the transit drivers out there, thank you for your service – and happy holidays from CUTA!