As the world dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years, getting people where they need to be – whether it’s an essential worker, someone heading to medical appointments, or those acting as caregivers – has never been more important. This week (Mar. 18), Metrolinx joins other transit agencies across the country to celebrate Transit Operator and Worker Appreciation Day, honouring the hard work of transit workers.
It doesn’t take long to understand why strangers feel comfortable opening up to Danah-Jean Brown.
A Metrolinx Customer Care representative, Brown is typically the first point of contact for customers looking for GO Transit and UP Express trip planning information.
Prior to Mar. 2020, most of the calls Brown took were short and to the point – this is when your next bus is coming, you can find schedules on this website. But once the pandemic hit and the world went into lockdown, the calls became more personal in nature.
“People like to tell me their stories,” Brown said of the biggest change to her role, which she’s held for eight years.
“I’m their social contact and counsellor. They’ll talk to me about vaccinations, mask mandates, their appointments, family. I’m pretty chatty, so I’m OK with that.”
Others are just happy they don’t have to interact with a robot, she said.
“’Oh good, you’re a human’,” Brown recalls with a laugh of some customer calls.
“It’s a comment I’ve heard more so during the pandemic. They enjoy speaking to a real person.”
Calls have ramped up in recent weeks with news of face covering restrictions ending and more people returning to the office and to social events, she said, adding she helps answer questions with a friendly tone and smile.
“Even the people who are frustrated or angry, they just want to be listened to,” she said.
Brown said she supports recognition days such as Transit Operator and Worker Appreciation Day, as public transit has played a vital role in getting her to work.
“I think it’s important to recognize each other,” she said.
Cleanliness during COVID
Keeping the GO buses clean has always been part and parcel of fleet maintenance, but has ramped up during the pandemic.
“Customers notice the cleanliness right away,” said James C. Smith, a 20-year GO bus driver veteran.
“We want to make customers feel comfortable.”
Smith realized early into the pandemic the vital role he plays in keeping people moving and getting them where they need to go.
“We want to be there for them,” he said.
He has had to remind some customers of Metrolinx’s face covering policy, and hasn’t found himself in confrontational situations, he said.
“We realize that passengers who are just starting to travel again with us are extremely important,” Smith said.
“Without them, public transit wouldn’t succeed. I personally treat everyone with the highest regard in hopes that they will be passengers for life. I know I’m here to service the public. I’m out there every day doing my small part to make the wheels turn. I’m full of gratitude knowing people appreciate what we’re doing.”
The public can help show their support for Transit Operator and Worker Appreciation Day by using hashtag #ThanksTransit on social media, and don’t forget to tag @Metrolinx and @GOtransit.
Story by Fannie Sunshine, Metrolinx media relations advisor