The man who drives "The Happy Bus" has been named the best operator in the state of Florida.
Anthony "Tony" Varcalli, was honored as "Operator of the Year" by the Florida Public Transportation Association at its annual conference last week. In his 46 years as a professional driver 18 with LeeTran and 28 as a tractor-trailer driver in Michigan he has logged more than 5.2 million miles, and never wanted to do anything else.
"I've loved every minute of it," Varcalli says. "Driving the tractor-trailer was fun when I was young, but driving the bus is perfect for me. I love talking to the people, having fun."
It's that people-loving attitude that led his passengers to dub whatever bus he's driving, "The Happy Bus."
"Tony has the unique ability to diffuse customer service issues, even between passengers," wrote LeeTran Deputy Director Paul Goyette in his nomination letter. "He is a positive spirit."
The award is presented annually to an operator whose service has "enriched and enhanced public transportation in the community."
Varcalli has given LeeTran a full year's notice of his intention to retire in August 2014. He plans to move to Matlacha to indulge his love of fishing and enjoy the Florida sunshine.