Local bus users have praised a kind-hearted Translink driver who always goes the extra mile for her passengers.
Easibus driver Cindy Dawson is on first name terms with almost every single passenger who boards her bus.
At every stop along the route to Abbeycentre, she greets each by name, with a friendly smile and a wave. Those who are less steady on their feet, she helps onto the bus and off again when they alight, lifting their shopping bags and when required, carrying their groceries right to their front door.
It’s all part of the service the Yorkshire-born bus driver provides for the dozens of pensioners who rely on the Easibus. For almost three years she’s been a firm fixture around Rathcoole, Rushpark, Cloughfern and surrounding areas on Tuesdays. Wednesdays and Fridays, driving her regulars to the Abbeycentre and returning to pick them up and drop them home when they’ve completed their shopping.
For many, the service Cindy provides is convenient and handy. For others there is a social aspect to it, as it gives them a chance to get out and about. And then there are those passengers for whom Cindy’s bus is a lifeline - a service which they say they could not do without.
Speaking during Northern Ireland’s first ever Bus and Train Week, Irene Gilmore (65), who uses the bus service several times a week, commented: “It’s really handy for me and Cindy practically drops me off at my front door. She has a lovely way with her, she knows everyone by name and is so helpful. You couldn’t get better than that.
“I’m lucky because I still have my husband but many of Cindy’s passengers are widowed. What she provides is very valuable. She has a friendly smile for everyone and that’s so important, particularly if you’re not getting to see many people in a day. It’s especially important in winter when many of the passengers are afraid to go out in the wind and rain. It makes such a difference knowing the bus is coming and there’ll be plenty of conversation too. In fact, my husband and I call it ‘Goggle Bus’, there’s so much going on.”
Betty Hutchinson (86), from Fernagh, says she couldn’t be without Cindy and her Easibus. A widow, whose only son tragically died, Betty says the bus helps her hang on to her independence.
“My daughter-in-law is great and she’ll take me anywhere I want to go,” she said. “But I like using the bus because it means I still feel independent. That’s important to me.
“Cindy is a great girl, she’s so thoughtful. She won’t let me lift my shopping, she carries it for me and brings it right to my door. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
Rushpark resident Barbara Wallace says that with Cindy at the wheel, she always feels in safe hands. The 80-year-old only uses the bus service a few times a month but says she looks forward to boarding the bus and seeing all the familiar faces.
“Everyone on the bus is very friendly,” she said. “And Cindy is just brilliant. She goes above and beyond the call of duty, she won’t let you lift your shopping and I’ve seen her literally set grocery bags down in someone’s kitchen. That’s a great service.
“I think Cindy must’ve been trained to deal with elderly people because she has such a caring way with her. And I feel very safe with her. When you’re elderly and you have wonky joints, it can be difficult when a bus driver brakes suddenly or pulls off before you’ve got a chance to sit down. It’s these little details that make all the difference.
“One afternoon, I was walking across our park when the bus pulled up alongside me and Cindy shouted out ‘Do you want a lift?’. She’s a real people person and that shows.”
Joan Warnock is recently widowed, having lost her husband at the end of last year. The 80-year-old says her son is very helpful and always buys the heavier provisions she needs, but she still likes to get out of the house herself and use the Easibus.
“I don’t know what we’d all do without Cindy, she’s an angel really,” she commented. “She drives me right to the top of the hill so I don’t have to walk it. My husband wasn’t able to leave the house when he was ill but it was important for me to get out once or twice a week. I couldn’t’ have done that without Cindy. She’s a life-saver.”
Once a week Clifford Johnston and his wife get the Easibus from Rushpark to the Abbeycentre, where they meet up with friends and have something to eat. It’s something of a social outing for the 73-year-old.
“We love getting the bus and seeing Cindy,” he explained. “We have good fun with her. She’s very friendly and when it’s Christmas, she comes to our house with a card. She’s quite out of the ordinary.”
And 75-year-old Irene Lorimer from Newtownabbey agrees, saying: “I have sight problems and I have to be very careful walking, particularly on dark days, but Cindy is brilliant. She brings you right to the door and carries your shopping, if you need it.
“My daughter is in England and my son’s in Australia and it’s easy to feel marooned. But Cindy cheers everyone up. She is so warm and friendly and there’s always a good atmosphere on her bus. In fact, I call her Saint Cindy. She should win an award.”
Cindy joined Translink almost 10 years ago and was delighted to take over the Easibus routes. She puts her ease with the elderly down to her relationship with her father, who had Multiple Sclerosis.
“It’s about having the right attitude and patience,” she said. “My dad was in a wheelchair and I think in many situations like that, people tend to just see the wheelchair and not talk to the person.
“Some of the passengers have wheelchairs and a few have signs of early dementia. But sometimes there are things you can’t see. Betty, for example, has a heart condition so I’ll never let her lift her bags and I’ll always deliver her right to the front door. When you get to know people, you get to know what’s wrong with them and how to treat them. It just takes a few extra seconds so why wouldn’t I do it?
“There’s a social element to the bus as well. One woman lost her husband last year and when she started getting on the bus she didn’t speak to anyone. Now she gets on with a big hello for everyone. I like to think we’re bringing people together.
“You know, there are a few ladies and I’m perhaps the first person they’ve seen that day. Can you imagine that? So if I hear them talking about birthdays then yes, I’ll get them a card or some flowers. The way I see it is that people should give pensioners the time, get to know them. They have amazing stories to tell and we shouldn’t forget that. They might appreciate me but I appreciate them too.”