David Tannehill Special Employee Award:
Charles Davis Sings His Way Into Riders’ Hearts
Charles Davis’ tuneful stop announcements not only brighten the lives of passengers, they also keep seniors safe by preventing bunching at the front of the bus. (Photo: Mike Kepka/San Francisco Chronicle/Polaris)
October 22, 2014
Passengers riding on San Francisco Muni’s 29-Sunset route expect their bus driver to make a host of stops between the Presidio and the Bayview. What they don’t expect to find is bus operator Charles Davis belting out the stop names along the way.
“Deeep Blue Oooocean!” he croons from the driver’s seat.
Charles Davis has been a Muni operator for more than a decade, driving routes as varied as the 27-Bryant, the 54-Felton and the 71-Haight/Noriega. “I started driving for Muni in 2003, and I had been trying to get into Muni since ’79, so I was very elated to get in,” Davis said. “I enjoy my work with the people. I’m very much a people person — it turns me on.”
Soon after he started driving a motor coach for Muni, Davis realized that he preferred straight, long runs — routes that stretched across the city and took an hour or more to complete in one direction. The 29-Sunset quickly became a favorite route because of its lengthy journey from the Bay to the far reaches of San Francisco’s northwest coastal corner.
“I began to notice that a lot of the older people would be crowding at the front of the bus,” said Davis. “They wouldn’t move back, even though there was more room in the back.” He soon realized that many older riders were bunching up at the front because they couldn’t see their stops coming.
As a bus operator, Davis was required under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to announce stops. But he decided to take his announcements one step further and sing them out. He had loved to sing since his days in the church choir and thought that adding some tunes might add more excitement to the task.
Once he began singing the stops, Davis found that older riders began to sit rather than stand near the front. Young students, on their way between home and school, often quieted down when Davis sang, curious to hear what twist Davis might create for their destination. Not only did his singing give riders a better sense of the upcoming stops, but also it made for a better driving experience for Davis: Having seniors seated meant fewer passengers at risk for injury in case he had to brake suddenly.
Today, Davis’s riders expect him to sing out the stops, and after many years of doing so, it has become second nature for him. On a few occasions, Davis recalls, off-boarding passengers, in operatic voices, have sung back to him. “Thank you, operator, for a very good ride. It just made my day,” would be a typical refrain. Others have slipped him notes thanking him for brightening up their days.
Now MTC is brightening Davis’ day with the David Tannehill Special Employee Award, named for a talented MTC staffer who passed away at a young age in 2001. The award recognizes an employee who goes the extra mile to keep the region moving