The iconic green and white GO bus system recently celebrated half a century of service. Over the past few weeks, we’ve looked at some of the vehicles that got us this far. Now, we want to introduce you to just one of the drivers who’s seen the miles, and history, unfold right in front of his windshield.
Mike Pritchard doesn’t just commute to work – the commute is his life’s work.
Over the years, the veteran GO Transit driver has carried generations of travellers aboard the buses he’s driven – taking them to jobs, interviews, theatre outings, first dates, an ordinary day shopping as well as some of the most important moments of many lives.
Pritchard’s 42 years behind the wheel is filled with road stories. And as we continue to explore the evolution and lifespan of the GO bus service, as it celebrates a half century of service, Pritchard is a good choice to help us roll back the years.
The veteran driver started his career in 1978 as a driver for TTC’s Gray Coach which was partly operated by GO Transit. In 1985, GO Transit took over the operations and Pritchard got a chance to make the switch.
“It was the best move I made, and I’ve never looked back,” says Pritchard.
It was a big change for Pritchard who had to get used to no longer making stops at every street corner. The routes were different, and so were those who filled his buses.
“The passengers really cared about the driver and about each other,” recalls Pritchard. “I would see the same faces every day; we shared a special bond.”
Pritchard remembers one night on Hwy 400 during the week of Christmas when customers organized a little holiday party on the bus where they distributed coffee, donut and gifts.
“They even bought some for me,” says the driver. “We were like a family back then.”
The experience inside the bus was also unique at the time. There was a time when passengers could smoke at the back of the bus. But the biggest difference, according to Pritchard, was the sale of tickets on board.
“We had a big cash register that weighed about 75 lbs,” he says. “It took two people to carry them. We had to remember all the fares and the zones in the tariff book.”
He admits the system is a lot lighter and easier to use now – everything is done instantly at the touch of a digital screen.
Along with the payment method, the driving experience also improved over time. Some of the first vehicles Pritchard drove didn’t have air conditioning or power steering.
“Believe me, in the winter you got a good workout trying to turn a corner,” says Pritchard.
Now, most of the garages have buildings to park the vehicles inside. That wasn’t always the case as buses would sometimes have to be parked outside.
“In the winter it was colder in the bus than it was outside, and in the summer after a few hours in the heat, it was like getting into an oven,” he recalls.
Over the 42 years behind the wheel, there have also been hard times played out on the streets around him. Pritchard has seen some horrific accidents. He remembers one day on Sheppard Avenue when a car in front of him was hit by another vehicle.
He remembers: “I went out to help and (the victim) died right in front of me, it was one of the hardest days of my career.”
He prides himself on always keeping customers safe. He treats his passengers the way he would like to be treated and considers them as his friends.
“Even after all these years, I still enjoy getting up and going to work,” Pritchard explains.
“The passengers I pick up every day are not just any passengers, they’re my passengers.”
Pritchard is one of the longest serving GO bus drivers in the transit agency’s roster but he says it doesn’t feel like it’s been that long.
“If you’re going to do a job, love what you do because if you don’t it’s going to be a hell of a long time.”
Over the years, what he appreciates the most from his customers is honesty and being respectful on his bus. From stomping snow off boots before they climb aboard to already having their PRESTO card ready, it’s the little things that make a big difference to Pritchard. These days, he’s especially grateful to those who say ‘hello’ while wearing a face covering.
A lot has changed over the years, but what hasn’t is his passion for his job and his dedication towards his customers.
If you get on his GO bus today, let him know you appreciate the many kilometres he’s clocked, getting you where you need to be.
Story written by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, media relations and issues specialist