Mark’s token of devotion – The touching story of a Toronto man’s love of GO buses and their history of change

Carmen Kiefer reached out to GO Transit to help make her brother’s dream come true. Growing up with a developmental disability, her sibling, Mark, always had a love of buses, but it was one very specific item that meant the most to him.

Mark Kiefer is a big fan of buses – including the big green machines of GO Transit.

They are his passion and his pursuit.

The Toronto man has been hopping on board and zooming around the city streets since he was a young boy. From the large wheels right up to the sound of the engine, Mark loves it all.

But there’s one particular part of the bus that’s always caught his eye – and ear.

It’s a token of his appreciation for transit.

The iconic coin dispenser.

Long before the days of PRESTO cards, GO bus customers would commonly pay the driver in cash. If you gave the driver a $20 bill, they would use a handy coin dispenser fixed to the dashboard to pump out the correct change.

Maybe it was the sweet jingling sounds of the change falling out of the dispenser or the way the coins stack so perfectly in the little designated slots – whatever it was – Mark fell in love with the mechanics and dynamics of the handy metal tool.

Mark is 59-years-old and is developmentally disabled. He grew up in Midland, Ontario, with his parents and his sister Carmen.

Photo of Mark Kiefer with his coin dispenser
Mark Kiefer finally got a hold of his first GO bus coin dispenser (Carmen Kiefer photo)

According to Carmen, it was in Midland where her brother caught sight of his first coin dispenser.

Carmen remembers riding the local bus with his sibling as kids, and Mark’s favourite bus driver had a coin dispenser. She also remembers Mark always wanting one of his own.

Mark even spent some time on Vancouver Island, where he lived with his parents for several years.

His love of buses followed him across the country. Carmen recounts stories of Mark riding the buses around Vancouver Island where he was known by all of the local drivers.

Fast forward a few years, living back in Toronto with his sister, Mark had his eye on a long coveted holy grail – a GO Bus coin dispenser.

“He’s had a few coin dispensers over the years,” says Carmen.

But it was a recent trip on a GO Bus to Square One from their home in North York that the penny dropped.

Carmen says Mark caught sight of the coin dispenser on the GO Bus and has wanted one ever since.

Carmen didn’t think they would be around much longer, especially with COVID-19 leading to many transit agencies, including GO Transit, to temporarily stop accepting cash. So she reached out to GO Transit’s customer service department hoping there might be an old one lying around.

Photo of a new model coin dispenser with slots for all of the Canadian currency
Photo of a new model coin dispenser with slots for all of the Canadian currency (Metrolinx photo).

Andrea Corken, a long-time customer relations representative at Metrolinx, saw Carmen’s email and was inspired.

Corken spoke with her colleagues in the Bus Operations department, told them Mark’s story, and they were quickly able to track one down.

GO Transit switched to a newer model coin dispenser a few years ago, so many of the old dispensers are being disposed of. Some GO buses still feature the newer model coin dispenser.

“A few days later, GO Transit called me back with the great news,” says Carmen.

The next step was getting the coveted coin dispenser into Mark’s hands. Corken and her team considered mailing it to him, but ended up making arrangements to drive it right to his front door – an appropriate voyage for a bus coin machine.

Tam Vu, Metrolinx’s Acting Assistant Manager in Bus Operations volunteered to drop it off in person. Just to make sure the dispenser made it into the right hands.

“You don’t see that very often,” says Carmen about Corken and her team going the extra mile.

Mark was over the moon when it showed up.

“He’s very excited to have it and loves that it holds Loonies,” says Carmen, adding that being from a GO Bus makes it even more special. 

“I’ve got nothing but good things to say about GO Transit and the customer service people,” she says.

With the days of coin dispensers largely in the rear-view mirror, Carmen says Mark is also adapting with the times. She says he’s diligent about having his PRESTO card topped up and ready to go.

So the next time Mark gets on the GO bus with his sister, he may not see a coin dispenser when he greets the driver, but he can still enjoy the ride knowing he owns a prized keepsake of how transit has changed.  

Story by Scott Money, Metrolinx media relations senior advisor