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Transit drivers do much more than drive

Sometimes life throws a little curve ball and people wind up in situations they donÂ?t plan on being in. Over the past little while this reporter was without a vehicle and had an extended and unexpected introduction into the world of Sudbury Transit.
Sometimes life throws a little curve ball and people wind up in situations they donÂ?t plan on being in.
Over the past little while this reporter was without a vehicle and had an extended and unexpected introduction into the world of Sudbury Transit.

It turned out to be an educational and uplifting experience.

We discovered the new City of Greater Sudbury has a crew of very experienced and understanding bus drivers who not only expertly guide their large vehicles through local byways and highways, but are also extremely courteous.

They also double as part-time psychologists and do their best to help people get from point A to point B Â? even when the passenger isnÂ?t quite sure where point B is.

Journalists are always observing, taking mental notes and thinking of a story angle.
We canÂ?t help it. ItÂ?s an occupational hazard.

It was after a few weeks riding the busses I couldnÂ?t help but think what a great feature story an extended ride on Sudbury Transit would make.

Arrangements were made last week for a ride-a-long as well as interviews with a couple of veteran bus drivers.

Bob Noble has 27 years experience under his belt. His colleague Mike Jelly has been behind the wheel for 25 years.

Listening to these fellows made the story even more positive and reinforced the idea there are still many people in the service sector who Â? pardon the language Â? give a damn.

Bus drivers have to adhere to the whims and mood swings of every size, shape, cultural background and attitudinal bent of the customers they transport.

Obviously, they donÂ?t pick the people who come on board.

One group of clientele, the severely mentally challenged, may frighten some people, but not the guys and girls behind the wheel.

Â?TheyÂ?re like children,Â? said Jelly. Â?You talk with them, they love attentionÂ?some of them are a little huffy but they donÂ?t give me any problem. Personally I love driving them around. TheyÂ?re very nice people.Â?

The route selected by Sudbury Transit for the ride-a-long was the Copper Cliff run.

ItÂ?s a long one, 30 minutes out from the downtown bus terminal and a half an hour back, allowing plenty of time to get into a good conversation.

Noble talked about a tradition he started a while back helping Santa in the weeks before Christmas.
He puts on a certain red suit and hands out candy canes.

Initially the peppermint-flavoured treats were just handed out to the youngsters, but Noble figured seniors should get the same treatment.

Â?It was amazing the response,Â? said the jovial driver. Â?I said big kids like treats too. They were happy because someone was paying attention to them and helping them feel part of everything.Â?

Sudbury Transit also collects non-perishable goods in early December for the Wong-McKee Food bank.

Both Noble and Jelly have clocked up a fair bit of transit mileage during their many years behind the wheel.

Jelly does three trips a day to Copper Cliff, but he also enjoys the new Valley East run incorporated after municipal amalgamation as well as the 40-minute trip to Capreol and Chelmsford run.

Both men agree a big part of their job satisfaction comes from the fact each work day goes by quickly.

Â?I drove Kathleen (Street run) for eight years starting in 1989, the same run every day,Â? recalled Jelly.

Â?I really enjoyed it. I liked the people who were on it. Most of them were seniors.Â?

Older adults who hop on the bus seem to generally be a jovial lot, especially the ladies, both men agree.

Most who hop on board smile at the drivers and the happy demeanour continues as they find a seat and settle in for the drive.

The courtesy shown by the drivers Â? little extras like helping the elderly who use walkers off the vehicles or assisting young mothers and their babies onto the curb Â? is something everyone should see to get a true reflection of what the job entails.

Transit employees do it even when theyÂ?ve had a particularly long and rough day.

Sometimes theyÂ?re on the road for four hours straight before getting a brief break.

It takes a certain amount of stamina to keep up that pace without a cigarette or a trip to the washroom.
And then there are the days when things go very wrong.

Jelly had one occasion where he was punched while driving.

A big man in a bad mood hit the driver because he felt Jelly wasnÂ?t driving fast enough down The
Kingsway during bumper-to-bumper 5 pm traffic.

Â?He suckered me,Â? said Jelly. Â?The front doors opened and he went out pretty quick.Â?

The passenger was charged by police.

Â?A lot of people say you donÂ?t work for a living, you drive a bus,Â? said Jelly.

Â?Physically itÂ?s not hard but mentally itÂ?s another matter. You have to put up with traffic, bad roads and sometimes you get bad customers. You have to take all this in strideÂ?.youÂ?ve got to have a sense of humour.Â?

Passengers canÂ?t help but notice there are several types of buses in the local fleet.

Some are called low-riders and sport a seating configuration that looks like something from the bridge of the Starship Enterprise with chairs angled to the side, forward, and at various levels.

Other buses like the Orion model feature a more conventional, pointed-forward seating arrangement.

Jelly started his driving career as a transport driver. When he made the switch to transit all those years ago the adult fare was 40 cents, 15 cents for a child.

The adult fare is now $2.10 for a cash fare, a little less if you buy tickets in bulk.

Â?If you carried a child on (years ago) you didnÂ?t have to pay for them,Â? said Noble as he reminisced.

Â?One woman got on with a kid about nine or ten years old. I said Â?you have to pay for the childÂ?. She said Â?would it be for free if I carried him onÂ?. I said itÂ?s worth the 15 centsÂ?if she can hang on to that child from downtown to Copper Cliff. YouÂ?ve got people who will do anything to save bus fare.Â?

On the other side of the coin Â? literally Â? Jelly has had people come on board who donÂ?t have bus fare but promise to pay it next time around.

They almost always do, he said.

This reporter personally experienced the kindness of Sudbury Transit drivers during an extremely frigid winter. While waiting outside the YMCA for the Copper/Four Corners run in minus 40 C temperatures a driver on another bus stopped, offered me a ride to the warm confines of the downtown terminal and said Â?no chargeÂ?.

On another North Pole-type day I dropped my change while getting on board.

The driver said Â?no problemÂ?. HeÂ?d find the coins later.

Jelly has also been a Good Samaritan.

Â?When I was on Madison Avenue one day an elderly lady got on who lived off the route,Â? said the driver.

Â?I called my inspector. It was cold and the snow was blowing. It was a dirty, dirty night. She was in her 70s. I said Â?IÂ?m not seeing her walk in there, IÂ?m going to drive her in, take her homeÂ?.Â?

Jelly told the other passengers on the bus there would be a slight detour. There were no objections.

Sudbury Transit has experienced its share of changes over the past decades, going from trolley cars to manual stick shift transmission vehicles to automatic buses.

Even the location of the main terminal has changed from on-street parking along Cedar and Lisgar streets for so many years to the impressive new downtown terminal located behind the LCBO.

Jelly has noticed an increased use of mass transit and this is good news for drivers like him because more is merrier in his line of work.

A big reason for increased ridership is public awareness of the positive environment impact of getting on a bus and cutting back on individual automotive emissions combined with the high cost of gas, he said.

During a rough winter like weÂ?ve just experience, it also makes a lot of sense to pay $4 to get to and from work and know your vehicle is safe in the driveway, said Jelly.