A 'thank you' to transit drivers could go a long way

The disturbing incident of the passenger spitting on a Winnipeg Transit driver last week occurred at the same time I was doing research into how often riders said "thank you" when exiting a bus. My research was prompted by a visit to Vancouver last year, where I was struck by how often people said "thank you" when leaving the vehicle. At first, I thought it was just me—maybe I just happened to be on buses where people expressed gratitude. But then a friend experienced the same thing in June when he was in that city and used public transit. "Very impressed that the vast majority of people getting off the bus THANKED the driver!" he wrote on Facebook. Curious, I did a bit of searching. Sure enough, there are pages of discussions online about how and why Vancouverites thank bus drivers, with many bus riders saying they do. One discussion was started by a newcomer to Vancouver who asked: "What's the origin of saying ‘thanks’ to the bus driver when he drops you off at your spot? I've never had this experience before on public transit in Toronto, Mississauga, Halifax, Orlando or Memphis — only Vancouver. "Is it just a delightful social practice that spread virally? Was there some campaign to increase friendliness between drivers and passengers? Are there any other cities that share the habit?" What followed were comments speculating on the origin, along with suggestions of other cities in B.C. and England where the practice has been noted. What about Winnipeg? I have taken the bus to work for over 30 years. I have rarely, if ever, heard anyone say thanks when leaving — or done it myself. So this week I decided to ask Winnipeg bus drivers about their experience — do they get thanked very much? The answer seems to be "sometimes," but it is not a usual thing. Do they appreciate it? The answer was yes all around. Some might say: They’re getting paid to do a job — why should they be thanked? True enough, but as we saw last week again, they can also find themselves in dangerous and stressful situations. According to the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents Winnipeg Transit drivers, there were 60 reported assaults against drivers last year, up 54 percent from 2014. Of course, saying thanks won’t stop the abuse. But it might be a way to make their days a little less stressful and anxious, not to mention injecting a little humanity into what is an otherwise impersonal and rote encounter. As a commenter on a website about Vancouver buses said about expressing gratitude: "I just think it makes their day a bit better and less stressful. It's always nice to have someone be appreciative of what you do not because it is your job or part of your job duties." Plus, I really am grateful that someone else is doing the driving, especially on winter days when the roads are icy and driving conditions are poor. I truly appreciate that I can sit back, relax and read as I make my way to work. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. So, beginning last month, I decided to emulate people in Vancouver by showing my gratitude when I leave the bus. Maybe more of us could do the same. And, who knows? Perhaps one day a visitor to Winnipeg will wonder: Why is it that everyone thanks bus drivers? And we can say: "It’s a Winnipeg thing."