Riders on Greater Portland Metro buses have a habit of saying “thank you” to the bus driver as they exit. This happens whether they’re leaving from the front or rear, when the bus is empty or full, or on the Nos. 4, 5 or 9B.

When I began commuting to work on the Metro a few years ago I found the practice strange. Public transit riders in other cities didn’t do this. Why, I wondered, were riders thanking the drivers for simply doing their jobs?

Spend a little time on the Metro, however, and the answer becomes clear: Kindness abounds on the buses. Over countless trips, I’ve seen bus drivers wait patiently for latecomers rushing to a stop. I’ve noticed many who listen earnestly to customers’ tales of hardship and exchange friendly banter with regulars. Metro drivers help passengers secure their wheelchairs, offer advice about routes and sometimes overlook short fares.

Their kindness is contagious, rubbing off on the riders who give up their seats for elders with shopping bags, or make room for a parent with a stroller. One rider regularly collects trash from seats and the floor so the driver doesn’t have to. During the holidays, a stranger gave away a 10-ride pass to a young mom; yesterday, another shared a package of tissues with a sneezing seatmate. These small acts add up.

It turns out the bus is one of the best places to connect with your neighbors. All kinds of Portlanders – students, immigrants, families, workers, even tourists – use the bus to get around. It’s affordable and pretty convenient, thanks to the user-friendly app and text service. I believe these are reasons why the Metro’s ridership is growing.

I don’t mean to say that it’s all rainbows and unicorns on the bus. There’s plenty of evidence of the big problems that plague our city, like addiction and poverty, but despite the occasional rude or annoying behavior, riders and drivers alike make the effort to be considerate and friendly.

I started riding the bus to reduce my carbon footprint and save on gas and parking. I keep riding because, to my surprise, I’ve found it’s actually a community, one that I’m glad to be a part of.

These days, I make sure to thank the bus driver. Every time.

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