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Three decades behind the wheel

Thank a bus driver—it’s Transit Driver Appreciation Day
Gary Martin 2
Whistler's longest-serving bus driver Gary Martin charges his own personal fare to ride the bus. “No smile, no ride—them are the rules,” he said.

Frequent riders of Whistler Transit likely know that when Gary Martin is at the wheel, their fare alone isn’t enough for entry.

“Before we had the masks and stuff, I always made sure that people would smile before getting on the bus. So I’d say it’s not BC Transit rules, it’s not Whistler municipality rules, it’s not even Whistler Transit rules. It’s my rules,” Martin said.

“No smile, no ride—them are the rules.”

Has Martin ever refused service to a rider because of this rule?

“Oh, no, but I’ve had people say … ‘oh yeah, you’re the funny bus driver from yesterday. I’ll wait for the unhappy bus,’” Martin said with a laugh.

“Which is so weird. Alright, you just wait for the unhappy bus, I’m sure he’ll be unhappy to take you.”

And there are, of course, exceptions to the rule.

“One guy said, ‘dude, I am so hungover right now,’ and then he tried to smile, and I said, ‘Oh my goodness, dude. What is that? You almost didn’t make the bus, man,’” Martin recalled.

“Alright, I’ll let you off the hook this one time.”

Over his 30-plus-year career driving transit in the Whistler Valley (making him the longest-serving driver in the resort), Martin has earned a reputation for his good-natured, friendly manner with passengers.

Dealing with riders is his favourite part of the job, he said.

“One girl says, ‘I’ve been riding your bus for 12 years, and I’ve never not seen you smile.’ Wow, [now] you’re putting pressure on my shoulders. Every day I have to smile?” Martin said with a laugh.

“It’s fun to interact. I’m not the type of person who could go and not say anything to anyone.”

BC Transit is honouring Martin and his colleagues across the province today through Transit Driver Appreciation Day.

“Transit drivers keep this province moving, getting people to school, work and other key places from the grocery store to a doctor’s appointment,” said Rob Fleming, provincial Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, in a release. “Let’s show our appreciation and thank all BC transit drivers for their hard work and dedication in serving the public, especially after showing incredible resilience throughout the pandemic this past year.” 

Riders are encouraged to show thanks on social media with the hashtags #TDAD and #ThanksTransit, or thank their driver directly.

With 30 years under his belt, Martin has his share of eccentric made-in-Whistler stories. At various times, his bus has served as both a police transport in hot pursuit (complete with a K-9 unit) and as response to a local fire.

“A firetruck broke down on the way to an actual fire, so all the firemen are going ‘What do we do?’ … I stopped the bus and I said, ‘Get on and I’ll take you to the other fire hall, which I knew was down at Creekside,” he recalled.

“They all piled on my bus, and I was in hot pursuit down to Creekside with all these firemen on a live 911 call.

“They got in trouble for it, because, ‘What are you guys doing on the bus? You guys shouldn’t have been on that bus.’”

While COVID has put a major dent in ridership, Whistler’s transit drivers are often contending with the busiest conditions in Canada—Martin said Whistler, with its 3 million annual visitors, was serving 89 people per bus hour prior to the pandemic, second to Toronto (44 people per bus hour).

“It’s full, and we really have to work as a team,” he said.

“It really pulls the team together.”