Metro Transit bus driver Tony Taylor was behind the wheel the night the Twins won Game 7 of the 1987 World Series. He was on duty during the paralyzing 1991 Halloween blizzard and a year later when the Super Bowl was played at the Metrodome.

For 36 years through poor weather and heavy traffic, Taylor has delivered more than 2 million passengers to their destinations in all corners of the Twin Cities area at all hours of the day. He’s logged more than 700,000 miles without an accident and collected more than 60 driving awards, including being named the Minnesota 2013 Bus Operator of the Year. On Thursday he will call it quits.

On Wednesday, Taylor, 65, made one of his final runs, capping off a career that started in 1978 when buses had no air-conditioning, power steering, GPS or electronic fare machines.

It ended with a surprise visit from General Manager Brian Lamb and co-workers who boarded his northbound Route 7 bus when it rolled up to Lake Street and Minnehaha Avenue. Passengers broke into applause as Lamb presented Taylor with a framed print featuring a replica of a pocket schedule for Route 877, Taylor’s badge number.

“When somebody has contributed as much as Tony has, we wanted to make this special appearance on this bus,” Lamb told riders. He’s not only been one of Metro Transit’s longest-serving drivers, “he’s been a great mentor in the garage. Thank you very much for your great service.”

Taylor, who has been driving the Route 7 for the past couple months, was speechless — an anomaly for the driver who has always had plenty to say, Lamb said. Customers filled the gap with their own words of praise. One woman handed him a card.

“This is awesome,” said rider Anne South, a frequent Route 7 customer. “He is very friendly, very nice and very polite, one of the best drivers I have ever had. To get on the bus and get a smile and a hello just makes your day. He always did that.”

On routes, on camera

As an on-call driver for most of his career, Taylor filled in on routes when drivers called in sick or buses were running late. The agency assigned him to test prospective routes. When he was not behind the wheel, Taylor mentored new drivers and appeared in scores of in-house training videos and TV commercials.

As the face of Metro Transit, Taylor was often quoted in the media. He was the man Metro Transit asked to give tours to legislative leaders when they came to visit the agency, Lamb said.

“It was more than just a job for Tony,” said his boss Jeff Wostrel, who was the garage operations manager at the Heywood Garage in Minneapolis until he retired in June. “He was committed to Metro Transit. He wanted to help and that is what he did.”

His efforts were rewarded with 34 Safe Operator Awards and 27 Outstanding Operator Awards, which are given for safe driving, on-time performance and customer service.

Not a planned career

Taylor said the bus-driving gig worked out pretty well, even though “the last thing on my agenda was to come to the bus company.”

Taylor was selling men’s shoes when a friend of his persuaded him to apply for the job. Taylor said meeting new people and following the Golden Rule made driving the behemoths enjoyable.

“People think anybody can drive a bus, but it takes a certain amount of patience, attitude and, of course, people skills,” Taylor said. “There is never a dull moment. If you can’t let something go and have a little humor, it could be a very long day.”

Taylor is the second long-tenured bus driver to retire recently. Paul Liddicoat retired last week after driving for more than 40 years.

Taylor says that what he’ll miss most is interacting with customers.

“I have a big fan club, and it will be hard to not see them,” he said. “A lady on the bus gave me a card saying she was going to miss me.”