Driving the extra mile

Written by Kerrie Alexander

After 20 years behind the wheel, Hervey Bay’s John Shackell has been recognised as one of the very best bus drivers in Regional Queensland.

itting at the Queensland Bus Industry Council’s Gala Dinner at the Pullman Hotel in Cairns last month, John never imagined he would need to get up on stage to be presented with the Regional Queensland Bus Driver of the Year Award.

You see, his name was amongst a massive 900 nominations and the winner was chosen by a public vote.

The TransLink media team came and interviewed and videoed John on the job before the awards and posted the clip to the Translink Website for the public to view.

The people of Hervey Bay spoke loud and clear and the driver of the 716 Route was crowned the winner!

“It was a real shock to have my name called out,” John said.

“It’s the cream on top of my 20-year career and very rewarding. After 20 years on the frontline this award is the icing on the cake.

“I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who voted for me. It was a very humbling and proud moment to receive the award.”

John was nominated originally by well-known Hervey Bay Boccia star Lachlan Kavanagh who travels on the 716 at least three times a week to Stockland Shopping Centre and back.

“I can’t thank Lachie enough for the nomination,” John said.

“We have become quite good friends over the years.”

Lachlan has a disability and says John has always gone above and beyond to assist him since becoming a passenger in 2017.

“I have a disability and use an electric wheelchair to get around as I can’t walk long distances anymore and have a speech impairment,” Lachlan said.

“For the first couple of months when I wanted to go to Stockland’s I was always getting on when it was John’s morning runs.

“I noticed that he tried to understand clearly when he asked me where I wanted to go with my speech impairment. Also, I noticed he was very good with his regular customers while I was on board his runs.

“I saw on TransLink’s Facebook that you are able to nominate a regional bus driver, so I nominated John with small words about his customer services in my own words.”

John’s father was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and the family travelled all over the globe.
John also travelled the world extensively as a backpacker travelling many miles on buses all over the world and had some hair-raising experiences on vehicles, especially in Southeast Asia.

A fascination with becoming a Bus Operator started there and became John’s career when he started driving for a company in Western Australia, Swan transit in North Fremantle.

He has since worked as a FIFO Bus operator in NT, Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Moranbah and two separate stints with Wide Bay Transit, totally 16 years of service. Johno, as he’s known to his passengers, love to have a yarn, meet new people and get them safely to their destinations.

Of course, it’s not always rainbows and lollipops with difficult passengers from time to time but luckily John has a great deal of patience and respect.

“My father brought me up to respect people and I like to give good customer service and make sure my passengers feel safe and at home.

“I do like being a part of the community. Most of the time we all get on very well and it can be a very enjoyable job.

“We do have good days and bad days but now I can look at that award and wipe out all those people that try and make my day difficult.”

John says he enjoys being behind the wheel of a big vehicle but says other road users can make his job trying at times, especially drivers who don’t stop to let buses out when merging into traffic after a stop.

“It is a challenging little office we have, especially at roundabouts.

“The rule is we have to wait five seconds (before merging) but sometimes you just have to have patience and keep trying and usually someone lets you out.

“It is law now for cars to stop and let you out.”

On the positive side, John said he gets to meet some really lovely people and even finds out some local gossip here and there.

“You do get to know what is going on around the place,” John said with a laugh.

“I have all sorts of people telling me their life story. You put many hats on while you’re going around town.”

John’s 716 Route starts at Stockland each day and travels to Pialba, up Boat Harbour Drive, down to the Boat Club at Urangan and back up the Esplanade to Stockland.

If you happen to travel with John, be sure to give him a bit hearty congratulations!

It’s not every day your bus operator is named Regional Queensland Bus Driver of the Year.