Veteran GO Transit mechanic hangs up his wrench after 40 years keeping wheels on the buses going round and round

If you’ve travelled on a GO bus in the last four decades, Chris Johnson has likely had a hand in helping you get around. The long serving mechanic has gone under 12,000 buses, making repairs that would help move countless people during his time at GO Transit. We recently caught up with him, one last time, at his small, intimate, and COVID-safe farewell gathering.

“What are you all doing here?” asked a puzzled Chris Johnson as he recently walked towards his GO Transit workstation.

Greeted by his wife Sandra, his son Dave, as well as his sister-in-law Cathy, they were at GO Transit’s Steeprock bus garage to pay tribute to a career keeping untold thousands of people moving.

Chris, who first joined GO Transit in 1981, is no stranger to Metrolinx News. We introduced him last summer when he gave us a glimpse of his career as a GO bus mechanic.

Now, after 40 years on the job – and more than 12,000 vehicles worked on – he’s finally put away his bus tools for good.

From servicing Prevost buses and later GM highway and city coaches to then the MCIs and Double-Deckers, Chris has fixed them all. He’s also seen changes in society, reflected in the habits and movement of transit customers. From a time when people used to smoke on the bus and leave behind their cigarette butts on the floor and windowsills, to taking precautions and working during SARS, H1N1, and now COVID-19.

Chris stands in his shop and looks at a monitor.
Due to this current pandemic, Chris’ send off was small and intimate. A few of his colleagues were on site and set up a monitor to host a virtual event where colleagues from other garages were able to log on and say farewell to an employee who made a lasting impression. (Nitish Bissonauth Photo)

Chris’ shift used to be scheduled for 5 a.m., yet he would show up an hour, sometimes an hour and a half early, everyday.

“He’s done that many, many times and we’re going to miss that,” said George Alleyne, manager of Bus Garage Operations at Metrolinx.

Alleyne remembered years ago when he received a frantic phone call at 4 a.m. about a bus at the front row not able to start, preventing the other buses from getting out and going into service.

He recalled: “I said ‘don’t worry about it, Chris is there’. They didn’t believe me, but sure enough they found him at his workstation, ready to go.”

Chris looks over a GO bus.
One last look. Chris Johnson looking over a Double-Decker GO Bus, one of the nearly 12,000 buses he’s helped repair during his 40 years as a mechanic for GO Transit. (Nitish Bissonauth Photo)

Chris loved what he did. His favourite part was helping people get to where they needed to go.

When buses used to break down on the highway, he’d be the first to hop on another bus and drive out to fix them on the side of the highway. That’s all changed now but the desire to help hasn’t.

“The best part was seeing the bus go out off the hoist and go into service…it was uplifting,” said Chris, fighting back tears.

“This has been most of my life. I’m going to miss the people and coming into work.”

Chris is looking forward to switching gears and taking some time to relax.

But now, it’s his time to focus on venturing to destinations, rather than just helping others do that.

An avid traveller prior to the pandemic, he’s now eagerly waiting for things to return to some normalcy so he can travel again with the family. He’s also floated the idea of becoming a part-time dog walker.

Because after four decades making sure the wheels on the buses keep going round and round, he’s earned some time to casually stroll through retirement.

Story by Nitish Bissonauth, Metrolinx bilingual spokesperson, Media Relations and Issues Specialist