Even though thousands of people have passed through his bus doors, every time bus driver Avrian Smith opens them he sees the faces of his daughters.
Avrian Smith has provided transportation for students and adults in the Richmond area for the past 15 years. By giving as much respect as he expects to receive, Smith works to make university transportation the first choice for students at VCU.
Smith, 42, has lived in Henrico his entire life. The son of a single mother, Smith said he started working at the age of 15. By 1997, he found a job working for Henrico County. Through the advice of a former coworker, Smith applied for a commercial driver’s licence in order to get a more secure job. Smith worked transportation for Coca-Cola, the GRTC transit system and Henrico county before finding a job at VCU.
Smith said starting work at a young age taught him valuable lessons in responsibility and goal-setting.
“Anything that is hard to achieve, I think is worth fighting for,” Smith said. “(Having) that experience of working and going to school has really taught me to be a good father and to teach that to my kids.”
Smith provided transportation for VCU’s RamSafe program for a little more than a year before transferring to the charter service the school provides. While driving for RamSafe, Smith would leave around midnight and return home at 8 a.m.
Smith said he made sure to spend time with his 13-year-old daughter before she went to school in the morning.
“I would talk to her and make sure her homework was straight,” Smith said. “But she is happy that I work during the day now, so I can spend more time with her in the evening.”
Smith said for the most part, he was treated kindly by RamSafe passengers. On weekends, the service would sometimes get backed up due to the large amount of calls in the evenings. When the service was backed up, students might wait for an hour to get picked up.
Smith said whenever students walked into the bus upset, he would do his best to have them smiling before they leave.
“I put myself in their shoes,” Smith said. “If you treat them with respect, they are going to treat you with respect.”
Even though Smith maintains a calm demeanor, as a teenager he was not as understanding. Smith said he was well-liked in high school, but he had a quick temper and got into many fights when his fellow classmates were disrespectful toward him. As a result, he often found himself sitting in in-school suspension.
Smith said there was only one thing that helped keep his temper down: his wife.
“The first thing she did was take me to church on a Wednesday night service,” Smith said. “I credit my wife to saving me from the way I used to be.”
Now Smith goes beyond what he is required to do as a transportation provider, and tries to keep students as safe as possible. If he notices a student getting ready to cross the street is not paying attention, Smith will gently honk the bus horn and make sure they are aware. Also, if the location where students request to be dropped off is not safe, Smith said he is willing to drive farther away from campus to a more secure area.
Smith said when he picks up a passenger, he is always thinking of his daughter.
“The parents pay for these kids to come here, and they have a right to know their kids are safe,” Smith said. “I would want the same thing for my child.”
Smith said he plans to retire at VCU. He said he enjoys his job and everyone he works with, and he could not imagine working anywhere else.
Until that time, Smith said he will continue to do his job to the best of his ability.
“I love it here at VCU,” Smith said. “My goal is to be the best person I can, be the best worker I can and make sure I provide the best charter service VCU can offer.”