A long and exemplary career behind the wheel of a transit bus has earned Salmon Arm’s Harry Ahola special recognition.
The veteran bus driver was awarded 2020 transit superstar honours and the Mike Docherty Lifetime Achievement Award by BC Transit.
“It was a real shock; it’s like winning the lottery,” Ahola said of the award from the provincial transit service.
According to Ahola’s award citation from BC Transit, he is known for cheering up the streets of Salmon Arm with his ready grin seen through the bus’s windows. He was also awarded for his exemplary driving record and his skills as a HandyDART driver which, according to BC Transit, are the benchmark for new drivers to aspire to.
Ahola was the first Shuswap transit operator to get behind the wheel. His career began in 1991 driving on the initial Shuswap transit routes which he said would sometimes only see seven passengers board his bus in a day. Ahola said those buses now pick up as many as 200 people per day, but he is behind the wheel of a HandyDART instead of the regularly scheduled buses.
HandyDART buses offer door-to-door service for passengers with special needs, a task Ahola said he has really enjoyed over the past 16 years behind the wheel of one.
“When they’re sad they cry, when they’re happy they laugh, we could all learn something from that,” Ahola said of passengers who he drives to support programs daily.
The driver also had kind words about his senior passengers who often share interesting information about Salmon Arm’s past.
In his time behind the wheel of a HandyDART in the Shuswap, Ahola said he has seen increasing demand for the service. He said they are now running two 20-seat buses, compared to the single seven-seater he drove at first.
HandyDART drivers do more than just drive. Ahola said he assists passengers who use wheelchairs and most of his day is spent taking people directly to medical and other appointments rather than driving a set route.
Following years of daily interactions with the public, Ahola said it becomes obvious that not every passenger is friendly, and an important skill for bus drivers is keeping their own emotions in check when things get heated. He said in most cases the unfriendly passengers are just having a bad day, and it is important to keep that in mind.
Overall, Ahola said it is the people on the bus that make his job rewarding enough to stay at it for 29 years.