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Transit was there for Parm, now she’s here for transit

Transit was there for Parm, now she’s here for transit

A portrait of bus operator Paramjit Grewal

Parm Grewal fondly remembers taking transit as a student and newcomer to Metro Vancouver.

The 8 Fraser / Downtown bus was her ride to groceries. Then, when she went to college, the SkyTrain was her ride. Now, she’s celebrating her second anniversary as a bus operator with Coast Mountain Bus Company (CMBC).

For all her life, transit has just worked for her — first as a newcomer, then as a career.

Parm moved to Canada when she was 14 years old. Once here, she had to step up to help her mother provide for her four siblings. As a result, she was unable to graduate high school with her peers, instead going back to finish as an adult in 2010. Parm would also later attend college to earn a health care assistant diploma.

“I always want to set an example for my kids to never give up and teach them that it’s never too late,” she says.

As a newcomer, she admits it was daunting riding Metro Vancouver’s expansive public transit network for the first time. The TransLink system spans ground, water, and air across 1,800 square kilometres — making it the largest in Canada.

With some help, she was able to conquer this challenge and become an expert transit user. One thing that was particularly memorable while learning to navigate her way around was just how helpful the bus operators were.

Like baristas, our bus operators have regulars too. While baristas know the drink of their regulars, our bus operators often know their regulars’ stops.

“The bus drivers were so good,” says Parm. “I had many grocery bags onto the bus with me and they knew exactly where to stop right by my house. It was right by Fraser. It was a very nice experience.”

Those who have taken the bus with bags and bags of groceries will know full well how hard it is to keep the oranges from falling out and rolling away. Now try standing up to pull the chord or push the “stop” button to let the operator know you’d like to disembark at the next stop.

It really is the little things in life, eh?

Paramjit Grewal seated at the bus's front door

Buoyed by countless positive experiences like this as a transit rider, it’s no surprise that when she had the opportunity to become a bus operator, she stepped aboard.

Parm credits the CMBC training department and her family for not only encouraging her to pursue this, but also excelling at it.

“I don’t think I would be where I am today without the training department,” says Parm, while encouraging more women become bus operators. “They hold your hand and walk you through it because I couldn’t imagine driving a bus.

“My family also showed so much belief in me telling me, ‘No, no, you can do it,’ when I had any doubt.”

Parm’s now celebrating her second anniversary with CMBC, bringing the same level of care and detail to the job as she received during her early transit riding days. She commutes every day from Surrey to work out of the Vancouver Transit Centre bus depot as a “spareboard” operator.

Spareboard operators cover the shifts for colleagues who are off sick or taking their annual vacation. They also handle “trippers,” which are special, extra bus trips that supplement regularly scheduled service.

While others might prefer a set schedule, Parm wouldn’t have it any other way.

She’s home by late afternoon, allowing her to spend quality time with her boys, aged 15 and 17, whom she calls her inspiration. Parm can also pick up on-call shifts for a second job as a health care assistant where she cares for older adults.

“In the spare time that I do have, I take time to go to the gym,” says Parm. “I love to dine out with my kids, siblings, and friends. I read books and spend quality time with my boys.”

As a spareboard operator and someone that likes a challenge and has an insatiable thirst to learn, Parm likes the variety in her work. She’s operating different bus routes and types of buses throughout Vancouver.

But no matter the route Parm’s driving, her sense of community and pride is strong while she circumnavigates a bus through a bustling urban environment. She knows her riders can be essential workers or newcomers that have no other way to get around and depend on her to access their communities and the people and places that matter most.

“I’m so proud of myself and I’m so blessed.”

Us too.

Paramjit Grewal operating a bus