June 27th marked 125 years of transit in the region. To honour this special occasion we have been mining old photos, stories and even brought a 1954 trolley bus out of retirement to celebrate!
If buses could talk, we’d probably ask the old Brill trolley how things have changed since it first hit the streets in 1954.
Seeing as talking is not yet a feature of buses, I thought it best to catch up with someone who has not only seen our system evolve over the decades, but is also able to share their experiences!
So, last week I visited TRAMS BC and chatted with retired bus operator, Angus McIntyre. Having spent 41 years driving buses in Vancouver, Angus knows the transit system well and was nice enough to gives us an overview of transit history and his time behind the wheel.
According to Angus, he started as an operator when he was 21, back when BC Hydro was the transit authority.
Initially covering the evening shift route along Nanaimo, Powell St. to Stanley Park, he says, that back then, being an operator was both physically and mentally challenging.
He explained “there wasn’t any power steering or right hand mirrors and drivers also had to handle money.” “You’d be steering with your left hand and filling the [money] changer with the other!”
Staying on similar routes for years at a time, Angus says he loved getting to know his passengers. He even tallied the number of people that boarded his bus and bought his one millionth passenger a book of faresaver tickets!
During our chat, Angus also gave me a quick rundown of the history of transit in the region.
As Angus tells it, Metro Vancouver’s transportation network has changed hands more than a couple of times since the first streetcars rumbled through Vancouver in 1890.
Citing transit history like a pro, Angus led me down the path of changing transit authorities over time from its start with independent companies in 1890 to BC Electric company in 1897, BC Hydro in 1962, Metro Transit Operating Company in 1973, BC Transit in 1983 and then TransLink in 1999.
Looking at this timeline, Angus said during his career he had “four employers, three different unions and four major labour disputes”!
Despite these many changes he insists that although “bus schemes [liveries] changed and uniforms changed, the transit service still remained the same”.
When I asked Angus what crosses his mind when he thinks about 125 years of transit in the region, he said he thinks of “The early pictures showing the first streetcar running within the tiny city limits, and how the transit system is now so huge.”
According to Angus, the system was once so small that when he started as an operator, private commuter clubs were chartering buses to Tsawwassen and White Rock to supplement the non existent transit service in these areas.
He explains “the transit system had no money and couldn’t expand [so] people were doing a do-it-yourself transit system without the internet or anything. I don’t know how these people found each other, but you’d go down to Howe and Robson in the afternoon and there would be all these people waiting, but not at a bus stop. Then a school bus would pull up and all these people would get on and head somewhere out of the city”.
To say the least, talking to Angus about Metro Vancouver’s early transportation network was an eye-opener.
It’s hard to fathom getting around today without our current infrastructure — I’m pretty thankful I’m not chartering a bus everyday to get to work!
Author: Laura Tennant