A Brisbane bus has its own call sign when John Murdoch is behind the wheel

As you probably know, whenever the President of the United States of America is aboard a US Air Force plane, the official call sign for that plane is Air Force One. Well, whenever John Murdoch is behind the wheel of a Brisbane City Council bus, it becomes the Happy Bus! There’s no special signage. No rainbow colour-scheme. Just a regular-looking driver and a bus-full of smiles!

On this particular day, the Happy Bus is the 444 from QPAC to Moggill. I’m sitting just a couple of rows from the front. It’s the perfect place to observe as people hop on. We pull into King George Square, the doors open, and it’s show-time: “Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon! The Happy Bus welcomes you on board, how are you?” It’s impossible to resist a smile. “Bring on those happy faces! This is the Happy Bus to Moggill!”

Half a dozen passengers join us at Toowong and there’s a greeting for every one of them: “On a beautiful day like today, how could you not be happy? Good afternoon, keep the happy smile on. That’s one terrific happy smile you have there!” At Taringa, a woman hops off at the back and John calls out: “You look after yourself, till the next time you’re on the Happy Bus, enjoy the rest of your afternoon and keep that beautiful smile please, ba-bye!”

Seconds later, he opens the front door and three more join the club: “Welcome to the Happy Bus! There’s a happy smile, keep that with you please!” I leave at Indooroopilly, completely touched by the experience. I catch a lot of buses and I always say g’day to the driver as I hop on. But John Murdoch really does take customer service to the next level.

Next day, I catch up with him at the Toowong bus depot. He tells me: “Being a talkative person, I was already welcoming people on the bus. More and more I told people to come on-board with a happy smile and they seemed to appreciate it. It just grew from there. “I care about my passengers and this is a way for me to make their trip more enjoyable. When I finish my work and get back to the depot the feeling is ‘Hooley Dooley, what a day!’, but I enjoy being more involved with the passengers,” he says.

John tells me I’m not the first person to suggest special livery for the Happy Bus: “People have asked, ‘Can we have anything on the front of the bus so we know it’s the Happy Bus?’  “The best I can suggest is we have a Mr Happy fridge magnet but every bus I drive is the Happy Bus, two different buses a day.” After chatting for a while, John Murdoch opens up on why he’s so positive. He tells me he was involved in a head-on car crash on the Warrego Highway: “My heart stopped three times on the way to hospital. I wasn’t meant to survive. They wanted to turn the life support machine off.

I woke up three weeks later with a new lease on life. “When you have a near-death experience, you do see life differently. You only have one life. You might as well live it. It doesn’t matter if you’re happy or grumpy, you’ve only got the one.” John proudly tells me that in his five years driving buses, he has received no fewer than 114 commendations from passengers. (Every time you ring Translink to report a positive bus experience, your comments are printed on a certificate which is then presented to the driver). “If I receive one, I receive one. If I don’t, I don’t. I just like going out there and having a happy and enjoyable trip and a safe one for everyone,” John says.

By this stage, I’m soaking up the positivity. So I ask John for some final words of wisdom. “When you wake up in the morning, choose your attitude. It reflects what sort of day you’re going to have. Even if you do have some hiccoughs, they may happen, but if you say you’re going to have a good day and approach it as a good day, at the end of the day you will say ‘I had a good day’.”