Bus and Tram Express
Bus and Tram Express

North Shore Times: Sydney’s friendliest bus driver

Nov 19, 2014News
David Thomas shows off his trademark grin.

David Thomas shows off his trademark grin.

  • Bus driver David Thomas will retire after 54 years and1.65 million km
  • His attitude marks him out as one of Sydney’s friendliest bus drivers
  • He’s so popular with passengers they buy gifts when he changes route
  • To farewell Mr Thomas call 9941 9214

After 54 years driving and conducting buses David Thomas knows Sydney roads like the back of his hand.

But it’s not his local knowledge that makes him a firm favourite with passengers.

In a profession not always known for its warmth, Mr Thomas,73, of Artarmon has forged a reputation as one of Sydney’s friendliest bus drivers, brightening up the day of each passenger who climbs on board with his beaming smile.

He begins with a friendly approach to each new customer.

“Everyday after that they smile back,” he said. “You don’t get too many smiles today but we try,” he said.

“It’s a nice attitude to have.”

The affection for the veteran bus driver among passengers is so great that he receives gifts and cards when he changes bus route, according to Willoughby Bus Depot manager Jay Zmijewski.

“It’s not only about driving buses, he genuinely cares about the community,” Mr Zmijewski said.

“It’s rare to have an employee who is happy to be here every day but he always has a smile on his face and is always happy to be here.

“His positivity rubs off on all those around him.”

By the time Mr Thomas clocks off for the last time on December 5, he will have driven about 1.65 million km, working full-time from 1960 until 2004 before going part-time a decade ago.

This will be his second attempt at retirement, 13 years after he first tried to call it a day.

“He missed his job,” Mr Zmijewski said.

It all began on April 1, 1960, Mr Thomas’ first day at work.

The then 19-year-old Willoughby-raised teen was working in a grocery store along Frenchs Rd, Willoughby when he met a bus conductor who recommended her job.

He successfully applied for the job and worked as a bus conductor for the next two years after which he switched to the driver’s role.

In the late 1980s he became a bus assessor, training new drivers over the next 15 years.

“I’ve loved the job right from the beginning,” he said.

“I felt very well-rewarded knowing I taught the new drivers everything.

“That made me feel really good.”

David Thomas at Willoughby Bus Depot.

David Thomas at Willoughby Bus Depot.

After a career spanning more than half a century,changes to the bus transport industry and wider society have made today a “different world” according to Mr Thomas.

“Everybody coming into work had a smile on their face,” Mr Thomas said.

“It was more relaxing in those days because there were conductors so the pressure was off the driver and all he had to do was worry about the road rules.”

“Public relations were great and there were very few arguments with passengers.”

In the 1970s, Mr Thomas was involved in strike action against Transport Department’s move to abolish conductors.

The lengthy strike left him without wages for six weeks, which he said were around $15 a day around that time. The strike ended with a $50 weekly pay rise offer.

While the abolition of bus conductors has been a major change over his time as a driver, he said the buses themselves have gone from being completely manual, double decker buses with two conductors on each, to today’s fully automated, cashless ticketing systems.

“Things started to change in the early 90s when people had more responsibilities at work,” he said.

“The humanistic side of things began to drift away.

“In the early days, you would actually talk to the passengers and there was a definite friendship among passengers and people weren’t on their phones.”

Mr Zmijewski said Mr Thomas has handled change well, all the while holding one of the depot’s best work attendance records.

“People usually find it difficult to change but he’s adapted so well,” he said.

“He’s remained so young in his mind.”

His good work attendance record was helped by advice from a former boss, Charlie Carts, the depot’s first manager.

“I used to sleep very heavily before I got married and didn’t hear the alarm clock going off in the morning,” he said.

“The manager said I should put my alarm clock in a 22 gallon drum, then I wouldn’t have any trouble sleeping in.”

“I never slept in after that.”

There will be little sleeping in following his last day at work next month, with Mr Thomas believing in keeping active in retirement.

“So many of my mates didn’t last long after retirement so you have to do something when you leave,” he said.

With his five children in four different towns in NSW and another in Perth, Mr Thomas plans to take turns visiting them and the seven grandchildren they have between them.

“(Retirement) has been on my mind and to lengthen the thought I said ‘I’m in good health and I can enjoy myself and my family’,” he said.

David Thomas is looking forward to more time with his family in retirement.

David Thomas is looking forward to more time with his family in retirement.

“That’s the big thing.”

The move will also mark leaving the north shore to relocate to Perth, with one of his sons, where he said he will pursue his passion for model trains.

“Anybody who knows Willoughby knows it’s a family place,” he said.

“There’s always been that closeness and friendship.

“Definitely over the years it’s become one big, happy family.”

A morning tea has been planned for his final day on December.

To farewell Mr Thomas, call the depot on 9941 9214.