Transit authority 

Bus drivers are the face of Whistler for many people

Catch a bus in Whistler and the most striking thing for most newcomers is that, at least one, maybe two, people thank the driver when they get off.

In an age where buses are often terrorist targets or a place for the weary worker to grab a moments shut-eye on the way to or from work, it can be both refreshing and startling when someone remembers to say "thank you".

And this thank-you phenomenon happens not just when the driver happens to navigate his or her way through three feet of snow to arrive on time – it happens on every run.

Now that the winter schedule has come out and there’s between 32 and 48 buses running, instead of 28, people are saying thank you a lot more.

Some skeptics might disregard this process of politeness as a side affect of small-town living but Jay Gray, who is a relatively new bus driver, said it’s because most of the drivers try to be helpful and drive smoothly.

"We all try to drive the bus smooth because you notice a difference when you’re bobbing up and down on ice," Gray said. "If you take it easy and get there on time people are going to notice.

"And as soon as gets slippery you need to change the way you drive because it can take 10 minutes to slow down, particularly when you’re heading north on Nordic near Creekside."

Despite the skills of the drivers in Whistler, Gray explained that occasionally the conditions might get the better of the bus.

"Once there were a bunch of people waiting but there was ice around them so I picked a different place to stop," Gray said.

"I was only going about two miles an hour but for some reason I just couldn’t seem to stop anywhere.

"I laughed about it afterwards but at the time it was pretty bad because I was in first gear and I had the brakes on, the doors were open, but I just couldn’t physically stop the bus on the ice. I felt so sorry for all these people just walking down the road after me."

Gray said the holiday atmosphere makes it easier to negotiate the bus routes around Whistler.

"This has to be one of the nicest areas in the world to drive, mostly because of the immaculate view, but also because a lot of people are on holidays," he said.

"The traffic is so one-way as well.

"People are either going to the snow, or they’re going home, or they’re heading to the bar – it gets easy to read."

Garry Martin, who is Whistler’s most experienced bus driver, said a lot of visitors are often startled by how well the buses run.

"I meet around 10,000 people a year and I like to say ‘hello’ and this catches a lot of people off-guard," he said.

Martin has been driving buses around Whistler for 15 years. He has seen some weird and wonderful things and now he trains other drivers about what to expect.

"It’s really gratifying to see the new guys grasp the concept of something because a lot can happen," Martin said.

"I had one guy jump of the bus drunk once – I’m pretty sure Bylaw or the police were looking for him – he didn’t pay and then just went and sat right on top of two ladies, who he was too drunk to see sitting there.

"I happened to have about four friends in the back of the bus and they offered to take him off, but I said no and by the time we got to Nesters he was saying sorry and offering me $100.

"I told him to keep the money for the cab ride home."

The 2010 Olympics will present a whole new set of challenges for drivers such as Martin in the Whistler area.

Manager of Whistler Transit Scott Pass said that during the Olympic period Whistler Transit intends to operate more than 115 buses.

"We’ll be bringing in buses from a lot of other areas for the Olympics, but we’ve got a lot of growth in this area even before then," Pass said.

"We see the Whistler (free) village shuttle service being the biggest growth area, particularly when the Four Seasons Hotel is finished; that’s another 400 rooms.

"Whistler Creek is another area that’s getting full of people."

Whistler Transit already moves approximately 2.85 million people annually.

Pass said they expect to move 24,000 on New Year’s Eve alone, but these figures should seem insignificant come 2010.

So what are the drivers expecting during the Olympic period? Martin was undecided.

"I’m really excited about it, but I’m wondering whether I should just go on a holiday to some tropical island and watch it on TV for two weeks."

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