On a Wednesday afternoon just as rush hour starts, Darrell Spurr climbs into the driver’s seat of his bus at the corner Duke and Barrington streets. His job is to pick people up and then drop them off.
But Spurr sees it as much more than that.
The 63-year-old from North Dartmouth has been driving buses in Halifax for four and a half years, greeting every passenger as they get on with a cheery, “Hi, how are you today?”
He’ll compliment someone’s toque, give out the time when pulling into a terminal, and warn people before taking a sharp corner.
Before the 60-foot-long bus leaves the curb, he cautions those still making their way toward a seat that “we’re on the move.”
Some of his other well-used lines are: “We’re off like a dirty shirt,” and “Let’s make tracks like dirty little birdy feet.”
When passengers get off the bus, he wishes them a great day or cautions them to watch for passing vehicles if they’re crossing the road. He warns against slipping on icy patches.
“None of that Canadian breakdancing,” he calls it.
In an interview, Spurr said he isn’t simply doing it “to be a ham bone.”
“When you take a job description of what I do, wouldn’t something like a transporter of human cargo apply?” he asked.
Spurr works to ensure passengers get to their destinations safely, but also hopes by wishing someone a great day or taking the time to say hello, they might pass it on.
“It is generally a known thing that people will get on the bus and pay no attention to the driver at all,” said Spurr. “The general concept is there’s no interaction there at all.”
One thing he wants to change is how people see bus drivers, which he said is often just “part of the bus.”
By interacting with his passengers, Spurr hopes the next time someone is getting off a bus they’ll remember to thank their driver or wish them a good day.
“That driver is going to feel a little bit better and maybe he’ll relate that to his passengers,” Spurr added.
A challenging job
According to Ken Wilson, president and business agent for ATU Local 508, the union representing Halifax Transit drivers, morale can be low and recruitment and retention is sometimes a challenge. Of the 16 new hires who started training on Jan. 2, he said four have already left.
Between July 1 and Nov. 1, 2019, Wilson said 31 people were lost through resignation or termination.
One issue he highlighted is the fact there are no built-in breaks. On some routes, a driver might only have three spare minutes an hour, but that could change if they’re running behind.
“They just need five minutes to collect themselves and have a bite of a sandwich,” said Wilson. “Sometimes they don’t have the ability to do that.”
Passengers can also take their frustrations out on bus drivers for things they have no control over, like whether the schedule is on time or if the bus has air conditioning.
Part of the message Spurr is trying to spread is that everyone is a human being.
“The people getting on the bus are human beings and the people driving cars are human beings,” said Spurr.
At the end of the day, he said, we all have “the same weaknesses and the same vulnerabilities.”
Spurr remembered a hot summer day when he was driving past Duke and Barrington streets and he said he noticed someone pull a Tim Hortons cup out of the garbage and drink from it.
He contacted dispatch to have them ask police to bring some water down.
“We will as a society treat people badly because we don’t understand,” he said.
In an emailed statement, HRM spokesperson Maggie-Jane Spray said there are two main qualifications Halifax Transit looks for when hiring drivers: five years of recent driving experience and three years of customer service experience.
“All bus operators that are hired with Halifax Transit are required, throughout the hiring process, to demonstrate they meet a high level of customer service experience,” the email noted.
‘It’s always nice to have a friendly face’
Passengers on Spurr’s bus route seem to agree that he goes above his regular duty.
Ann Langois was on Route 1: Spring Garden Road while Spurr was at the wheel. She described him as “unique.”
“He’s very helpful, very pleasant,” she said. “It’s always nice to have a friendly face and a friendly voice.”
“It puts a smile on your face, definitely,” said another passenger, Ingrid Paliukaite.
Another patted Spurr’s shoulder and said, “Thank you, you’re awesome,” as she went out the front door.
It’s important to Spurr to stay upbeat even when the day isn’t going well.
“If you’re tense all your life, you’re not going to have a very long life,” he said. “There’s a good chance you’re going to take that tension and drop it off on somebody else.”
His belief is that one person can help make a difference and hopes his approach might spark something in others.
“Maybe it’s a good idea to step back, see what’s going on around you,” he said.
About the author
Alex has worked in the radio industry for over 10 years at stations throughout BC and central Alberta. She has a Bachelor's Degree in political...