High school ‘bus guy’ finds career behind the wheel

BC Transit driver David Lam

BC Transit driver David Lam

When David Lam was in high school some knew him as the “bus guy.” If you wanted to know how to get somewhere by bus, Lam knew how, drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of our transit network. He always knew which bus stop was best and what time the bus would arrive.

It’s little surprise that he now drives buses for Translink. He doesn’t do it because he has to, or as a job of last resort. He enjoys it.

“I just saw a job posting one day, they were looking for new drivers. I went for it,” he said.

Despite having a degree in history from UBC, and pressure from his parents, Lam feels happiest driving buses, though he believes he’s in a position to move up if he feels like it.

Lam said the number of drivers hold degrees might surprise some people.

“A lot of teachers!” he said. “Many come out of university, and they have to play the substitute game for a while. Driving a bus provides more stability.”

Being a bus driver is not something as simple as having a driver’s licence.

“I applied in September and I started driving routes in December, and that’s considered fast,” he said, referring to the process of getting hired. “It wasn’t an easy process.”

Potential drivers for Translink have to go through several tests, written and practical, plus an interview, as well as regular background checks. As stated on the Translink website, applicants must take a “People sense” video test, in which they’re asked how they would diffuse potential problems that are typical for bus drivers. A van driving test is part of the process as well, though mainly to make sure that you’re trainable. According to Lam, the testing stages and interview have a high failure rate.

Does it pay well?

“Depends on the route,” he said. “The community routes with small buses pay $17-18 per hour, and increases up to $31 per hour.” He also mentioned job security. “You know when you’re going to work, you’re guaranteed your hours. There’s a union agreement.”

Drivers are also trained to deal with uncooperative riders, although it’s up to the individual driver how they deal with such people.

“When people try to get on the bus without paying, I don’t enforce it,” Lam said. “I just warn them that they’re subject to a fine if the bus gets fare checked.”

Lam says he gets at least one uncooperative rider a day. “It’s just part of the job,” he added.

Lam explained route selection: “You have 3000 drivers given a buffet of routes they can drive, given by seniority. After a while, you’ll figure out what routes you like the best.”

Is there a route he would like to drive?

“I would say the Tsawwassen ferry bus, Bridgeport to the ferry terminal. There’s only five routes along the route, mostly highway. You have to wait at the ferry terminal to pick people up on a fixed schedule. It’s a very senior route. There’s not a whole lot of stops along the route, very little traffic. Also, the recovery time is good. You have to make sure it synchronizes with the ferry.”

(Translink sets departure and arrival times with the assumption that there’s likely to be traffic, and ideally to give bus drivers a break if they’re early.)

The biggest appeal to driving is the people, he said.

“For us, it’s more like a game of people watching. You sit there and meet all kinds of characters, crazy ones, mean ones, knowledgeable ones, that’s sometimes what makes the job fun. In that, yeah you have some people who show their tickets, don’t say anything, go sit down, don’t say ‘thank you’, nothing. They’re just there because they need to get somewhere. That’s totally fine, I don’t take it personally. But, it’s nice once in a while when you get a, ‘Hey, how’s your day doing?'”

david lam drives bus 2

Tristan Johnston

Tristan Johnston is interested in language, geopolitics and getting the city to work properly.

1 Comment

  • Avatar
    Reply October 9, 2014

    Mercedes Dean

    I always take the bus and that is my one issue: timeliness. I’m always waiting for buses usually because they are late or too early. I’m from Langley though, so the busing there is really bad. I find it interesting though that a lot of the bus drivers have degrees and I think its so awesome that David was so interested in driving a bus even though he was a history major. It take a lot to go after your own dreams rather than just doing what you should do. I like that this story was incorporated into an article about Translink because it reminds us that the buz drivers are people too, just doing their job. Not that we don’t see them as people though… its just we take advantage of them. So its so cool to see that somebody really wanted to do this job so cool

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