Guest Post: A London bus driver highlights increasing concern on dangerous conditions for colleagues

This is a guest post from a long-time bus driver in London on ever increasing demands which many now claim is compromising safety.

Fatigue, what does it mean? I mean, everybody gets tired after a day at work don’t they?

Fatigue is different from tiredness. As a bus driver in London we of course are expected to work shifts. A variation of shifts covering early starts, middle of day and late, night time finishes.

Due to Transport For London’s continued squeeze on the bus companies to eek out as much money from them in Performance Fines and private bus companies obvious need to turn a profit, more and more demands are being placed on the Bus Driver.

Increased traffic delays buses

Here’s one example; if a Controller curtails a bus early due to late running so that the bus driver can finish on time for their meal break or to go home Tfl will now fine that bus company for doing so, they call it Unjustifiable Loss of Mileage.

TfL do not care if that driver is at the end of a long tiring day, or that perhaps that driver has a long commute home and is at work only 10 hours later. Or
perhaps that driver has a further 5 1⁄2 hours driving on his 2nd spell to complete and needs a proper rest to do so.

Average bus speeds in the capital have fallen in recent years

Life as a London Bus Driver has become tough, it’s exhausting. When
you board a bus you most likely don’t even consider if your driver is fit to drive;, I bet you think differently when boarding a plane. If I told you that it’s common for bus drivers to be at work between 60 and 70 hours between days off, and for many drivers that will increase as many are forced to work their days off due to low wages now being paid across the capital, would you think that’s excessive?

“But you just sit behind a steering wheel all day” is something that’s thrown at us. Well ask anybody who has been employed as a bus driver and they will tell you it’s not as simple as that.

Contending with poor parking

We have so much responsibility, passengers, fares, regulations, traffic, I could go on. The stress can be overwhelming at times. So many of my colleagues have had lengthy spells off work with stress and anxiety. So many are suffering from poor health with diabetes commonplace.

And fatigue, well you only have to speak to any driver and they will tell you how it’s a constant struggle, a lack of of a home/work life balance takes it toll on family life.

Bus drivers earn less than trains and tube drivers

When we talk to our managers it falls on deaf ears, not because they don’t care, in fact I’ve not once had a manager disagree that the hours are excessive, but just that they are powerless to change anything.

It’s the accountant and shareholders that take precedent. After all it’s a business and their aim is ultimately to make money. Is this morally right, to have a safety critical industry sourced out to the lowest bidder?

How can that lead to a safety conscious environment?

Tram accident

On 9 November 2016, a tram operated by Tramlink, a light rail tram system serving
Croydon and surrounding areas in South London, England, derailed and overturned
on a sharp bend approaching a junction. There were seven fatalities with 62 other
people injured; nineteen of them sustained serious injuries.

This horrific incident occurred due to a fatigued driver. A report shown there was a negligible attitude towards fatigue amongst drivers. Now as a result a 35 hour week is being introduced. Yet Bus Drivers, suffering from the same fatigue, excessive long hours and irregular shift patterns are being ignored by TfL and the BusCos.

Can somebody please explain the difference between the roll of a Train, Tube, Tram and a Bus Driver? Most would argue as a Bus Driver there’s more to have to focus on. Tfl are spending huge amounts of money on introducing technology to fix the problem, GPS Speed Limits, lasers in the eyes to test for micro sleeps, automatic braking, and I welcome that, maybe not the lasers, but any tech that can help then it can be a positive, but it will all count for nothing if fatigue isn’t

Tfl need to reduce a Bus Drivers working week to 35 Hours, in line with Tram and train drivers. We were once described by our Mayor as the bloodline of London, well right now we are on the verge of a massive hemorrhage.


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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

25 thoughts on “Guest Post: A London bus driver highlights increasing concern on dangerous conditions for colleagues

  • Agree with the driver 200% The Senior Management of TFL are receiving Fat Cat wages and bonuses. Yet you see the drivers trying to keep to a timetable which has been designed by a computer and does not take in account the major thing called traffic.

    I have on many occasions over heard radio conversations between the drivers and their controllers who are sitting in a warm air conditioned office environment and not the cold drafty cab of a bus. Asking or ordering the bus to either hold at bus stops or be cut short when the bus is full, Yet future down the route there are roadworks which are causing major delays. But the controllers do not listern to what the man on the ground is trying to tell them.

    Yet another problem that drivers have is the silly diversions that Centre Com send them on and I have seen one in North London where a route operated by Double Decker buses was sent on which had a railway bridge which the bus would not fit under.

    By law you are supposed to have an 11 hour clear break between shifts and work a maximum of 48 hours over a 6 week aggregated period. No doubt that is something that is not enforced has the profits and dividends paid to the shareholders also the bonuses that the senior management of the bus operating companies get paid.

    Yes, the 35 hour working week should be applied to all driving posts within TFL and not to the select few!!!!

    • Well said explained very well .I’m proud of you

  • Absolutely agree 100% with the Bus Driver and Brian G Watling

    The stress put on bus drivers of late is totally unacceptable. It is now all about TFL profits rather than health and safety and well being of bus drivers and staff,

    Bus drivers should not be treated any differently to train and tram drivers when it comes to pay and working conditions. Including at least twelve hours between shifts

    Far to many cuts have recently been applied to London bus services with cuts to routes and frequencies resulting in less buses on the road.

    All of which which is adding extra pressure to bus drivers who are now driving buses that are more busier often full to bursting point at peak times. This all adds to a bus drivers stress along with traffic conditions (heavy traffic and road works). a lot more must be done to help bus drivers suffering from stress and fatigue.

    I have a great deal of respect for bus drivers who have a lot of responsibility and do feel they deserve better pay and conditions in line with other TFL staff.

  • The problem is compounded by the national press and its decades-long war against unions, and by extension anyone who stands up against poor working conditions. While there are employees who do exploit union protection for their own good, there is something to be said for an organisation that realises the safety of 60+ human beings rests in the hands of someone who has been working without food or even a change of position for many hours.

    The typical response is that ‘they should get another job if it’s so stressful’ but this is the same attitude of ATOS certifying a cancer sufferer as fit to work because they climbed upstairs to the interview. They climbed because they were scared: people stay in miserable low paying jobs because they are scared too.

    Bus drivers have an immense amount of pressure from poor drivers, poor road layouts and litter or food left abandoned on the bus, turning their place of work into a stinking hotbox. I have no power or influence with TFL or the bus company but I do have the ability to bid them good day and to wave thank you as I leave.

  • I agree totally
    As a female bus driver I work long hours for pittance pay with little or no toilet facilities n bus routes and at terminatimg points causing stress and discomfort, a rest room with no canteen just snack and coffee machine’s which are often not working.
    We are constantly being monitored or spyed on,
    People making false complaints for which we are guilty until proven innocent
    We are expected to drive in the searing summer heat with no air con ,as it is to expensive fuel wise, consequently causing exhaustion and fatigue.we are not allowed to take a drink when we are stuck in traffic only at designated stopping places
    Train drivers however, are provided with drink,
    Air con is a must, they have no public to deal with no chicken boxes left over food, bottles rolling around above their heads ..the list goes on.
    They get provided with taxis decent facilities , work less hours and are paid double what a bus driver earns therefore they don’t need to work rest days and overtime enabling them to have decent family life
    Bus drivers are treated like parasites by tfl and the public….just saying

    • Thank you, I agree with everything you said, I am also a bus driver feeling very undervalued.

    • Well said Beverley. On a route I was doing last year we had to endure 48 degree C cab temperatures, no toilet facility at one end and a 15 minute round toilet trip at the other. The timing of the route was unbelievably optimistic too so you were constantly booting it to not run late, and run into a double road and thus double agro.

    • ‘People making false complaints for which we are guilty until proven innocent’.

      As a traveller, I am extremely appreciative of bus drivers and always engage with the driver when I get on as well as saying thank you when I get off, BUT the biggest bugbear is with drivers who stop two or even three bus lengths from the stop forcing those who are even aware that the bus is in the vicinity, to walk. There is no consideration for the old, infirm or those with children.

      Having taken on passengers, the driver will then sweep past the bus stop leaving those without x-ray vision standing. Another annoyance is the driver that simply does not stop because other buses are at the stand. Too bad if that was the bus you wanted. I have a copy of The Big Red Book and I know what drivers are supposed to do.

  • A couple of things are wrong in this post. As a controller myself, there is no such thing as ‘Unjustifiable Lost Mileage’. Lost mileage is either deductible (money is lost by the operator) or non-deductible (the operator is still paid for the mileage as the circumstances were outside of their control).

    Deductible mileage is where it was in the operator’s control, such as a bus broke down or a driver was late to work, or a driver went sick, or driver error (eg. Bus went wrong way on diversion).

    Non-deductible mileage is where it was outside of the operator’s control, such as a traffic delay en route, or a passenger soiled a bus, or the bus was involved in an RTC, or the road was blocked.

    If a bus is curtailed due to a traffic delay, controllers have to minimise the amount of time the bus sits at the turn point, as that is where operators can get fined, if the bus has sat there too long and TfL find it could have made it to the next turn point in that time.

    If a bus is curtailed due to a deductible reason, obviously we are expected to minimise the amount lost, but equally we need to get that bus back to where it should be, so there are no fines for deductible mileage.

    As a controller, I personally put a call out and ask drivers to call me up if they see any delays developing or any roadworks going up etc. so that I know what’s going on on my route. We can see what the delays are on the route on our screen so we can either advance a bus (run him early) or retard a bus (run him late). If there are delays, I would try and look at advancing buses early through the delays to get him to the other end on time. Commonly this would also involve turning a bus early to both mitigate the delays on the central section of the route, and to try and get drivers finished on time. We try to do that as much as we can, but obviously if there are delays, we can’t turn every single bus so some drivers may have to finish late.

    Just to correct a couple of other things:
    1. You need a 9.5 hour break between shifts legally (not 11).
    2. You can work up to two weeks before taking one rest day by present law.

    • You may consider this: in any organisation there are supervisors etc who are simply inadequate to the task. Typically such an individual supervisor may use fear, intimidation or other negative forms of reinforcement to achieve results. One of the most common is to treat their subordinates as children.

      How does it manifest? They shout or talk down.They talk about ‘getting into trouble’ or explain how much things will cost if it goes wrong. After a while, this becomes the norm, where they use fear of financial loss (and even threats of having to repay for the loss) to keep their unit functioning. Driver or guard blows out before the shift? They take it out on those who do come to work. Incident at work? They’ll tell you in no uncertain terms how badly this will affect the department financially and even intimate about jobs being on the line.

      The facts stated about deductible mileage may be inaccurate but who’s to say this isn’t the version being propagated in that particular garage or on that shift? Departments, units and franchises live and die by their management, and while you may support or encourage your own staff there’s no guarantee that your example holds true for other garages.

    • You sound like a fair controller. But as all drivers know there are bullying controllers too. Controllers are always careful never to say speed up driver, but they do say things like “You’re the only one who is late driver”. More bullying comes in the form of timings on the 5 minute stand time allowed. For example My 5 minutes started when my bus arrived at the destination. However no account was made for 2 minutes of unloading a full bus (reminding people asleep or with headphones and getting out of the cab to tell them this was the last stop) then 3 minutes of heavy traffic to get get to the start stand. Then if you need the toilet and can find one that is 2 minutes or less from the stand you have to run to the toilet and have precisely 1 minute to do what you have to before running the 2 minutes back to your bus. That was 5 minutes according to me but 10 minutes to the controller who secretly reported me. To add insult to injury, a few days later you the driver will be dragged into the office in your own to explain why you took 10 go to the toilet Most drivers try and hold it rather than undergo this bullying..

      • Unfortunately, we are under pressure as controllers as well. We have a manager looking over our shoulders making sure we’re doing things properly. With what I talked about in my original comment about TfL fining operators if the turn was too big, they don’t take your 5 minutes stand into account when they look at that, so in a way we wouldn’t be doing our job properly if we turned a bus to have his 5 minutes, as that will accrue the operator fines.

        I never ask a driver to go in and out. Some controllers do, but that’s not something I do. What I do instead if I need to is I just give the driver an option, either take 5 or just go in and out, totally up to you.

        I wouldn’t book a driver for taking a toilet break, it’s completely your right. On a couple of the routes I regularly control, there are only toilets on one end of the route, so I’m more than happy to facilitate an en route toilet relief if a driver requests it. What I do appreciate is if the driver does notify me that he is taking a toilet break at the terminus, by sending me the ‘Delay for toilet break’ message.

        Again as you said it depends on the controller. I appreciate some may come across as rude and intimidating.

        • I might add that I myself was a driver before, as were my colleagues, so we do have an understanding as controllers of what you face out there.

          I can understand what you’re saying as I myself have sometimes been appalled overhearing my colleagues’ radio calls. I know one guy who just calls you up and goes ‘In and out driver’. Or when you call him up to report a defect he just goes ‘You’re the first driver to complain about it’, or just generally talks down to drivers and has a go at them.

          All I’ll say is the company has a grievance policy and I would encourage drivers to put in grievances against controllers like that who use intimidation, and generally talk down to you. The calls are all recorded, so this generally leads to an apology from the controller, and often a reconciliation meeting.

    • Wrong EU working time directive states that there must be an 11hour clear break between shifts and the time spent travelling home is not included in the break hours, so if someone travels 2 hours each way to get to work the break time should be 15 hours. There is case law to prove this and many an employer as fallen foul of this and have been fined the maximum of £5k per breach. One did make the high lines when they were found guilty and walked away with a £500k fine.

      I know that this is tracked by the Wages/HR departments and warnings issued to Managers who expect staff to break the rule.

      • In theory that works, until you see a bus Drivers contract of employment has an opt out of the working time directive within it

  • Typical controller response, everything is not all about mileage and who pays for it, whether its accurate or not, the point is the hours we work, the low pay and the stressful conditions placed on us by controllers, managers and the public, cant see how lorry drivers carrying something like bricks is more restrictive, driving hours wise, than us that carry the most precious cargo, people, but what really grates is when you’re due to finish and you’re running excessively late, the controller says you have to run through making you work an extra hour etc, but when it comes to your time to finish you log off and go home.

  • What counts for dead mileage? I thought it was the amount of miles a bus run out of service between Garage and terminus where the route starts and finishes, I was really surprised when Go AHead London changed route 188 North Greenwich Station to Russell Square from operating out ot Modern Wharf on the Greenwich Peninsula to Camberwell Garage several miles away from North Greenwich Station and Russell Square.

    While route 1 Canada Water to Tottenham Court Road Station was allocated to operates out of Morden Wharf Garage on the Greenwich Peninsula again several miles away from Canada Water. Do London Central get penalised by TFL for this lost mileage why the bus is out of service?

    So this mean a driver who has already completed a long shift in the early hours of the morning and is already feeling tired and fatigued still has several miles to drive the bus between Terminus and Garage. Before they can even think of signing off and driving home.

    9.5 hours break shifts is not a long enough break for a person who has so much responsibility on their hands and are dealing with a lot of stress as part of their working day. Whether that be a train driver, tram driver or bus driver

    Again I have a lot of respect for bus drivers and always say thank you when I swipe my oyster card and put my hand up to say thank you when I alight the bus.

    • You are correct that dead mileage is the out of service mileage. This is not paid by TfL.

      With regard to the 188, the route moved to Camberwell as a result of staffing issues at Camberwell (where a couple of routes had been lost and they were very overstaffed), so the 188 move was to balance the books for staffing essentially.

      Dead mileage isn’t something that costs operators a huge some of money, as when you look at it in relation to the amount of service mileage, it is fractional. A bigger issue is the distance to the relief point. However, Go Ahead have started to introduce something called Remote Sign On, where drivers sign on remotely at the relief point rather than start from the garage. This was first introduced on Routes 1 & 188 which remotely sign on at the relief point in Waterloo. It is also employed on Route 403, signing on at West Croydon. From late this month, it will also be introduced on Routes 178 & 291 at Woolwich.

      Dead mileage is factored into duty times. At Go Ahead, drivers are paid for a 38 hour average week (some may be more and some may be less but will average around 38 hours). This is an average 7 hour 36 minute shift (minus the drivers break). Dead runs are factored into this, so dead running does not make a duty longer than it otherwise would be.

      • Yet TFL allow routes to be awarded to a garage in Dartford with starting points in Bromley, Bexleyheath, Thamesmead, and Woolwich lots of dead mileage. And does a great deal for the Carbon footprint of TFL.

        Yes I understand the need for tendering of the routes but surley when the tender process takes place the garage operating route is declared or is it a case of rhe senior management of bus operations have worked for the company that is awarded the contract or its purely given to the cheapest/lowest tender.

        It is nice also to hear a controllers point of view and like most bus passengers only hear some drivers moaning about the controllers.
        Yes I have heard drivers calling in problems on route and the controllers comments why are telling us to the person thanking them.

      • Remote sign ons, so how can drivers have random alcohol and drug Tests? How can they check Notice of Events, Diversions for example. And how can drivers be assessed by Management and Counter Staff for well being and in turn how can Drivers who may need assistance get it. This is just to save money and once again at the cost of safety and driver well being.

        • Go Ahead have acquired a facility in Woolwich which will be staffed by counter staff. This will allow random testing to be done on drivers signing on at Woolwich, and will allow drivers to view NOEs as well.

  • Sorry should have typed 9.5 hours between shifts is not a long enough break,

  • Thank you for the update GAL Controller much appreciated.

  • All bus companies need to get together and say to TFL enough is enough, contracts changed penalties added making most routes not viable. Many drivers are on long term sick not to mention those that sadly pass away ok not all due to working conditions but a vast majority are . No toilet facilities on some routes under 10 hrs between duties enforced overtime due to building traffic conditions management that DO not acknowledge the role drivers perform the only industry where your guilty until proven innocent with complaints. Until theres a major change I.e. companies agreeing on network wide terms & conditions this will not get better the only losers will be drivers etc used to be a job for life not no more sadly

  • Interested that TfL is getting all the blame for driver working conditions. Isn’t that the responsibility of the private bus companies to run the service according to the timetable etc set by TfL? Surely TfL doesn’t set the staffing rota too. Bus deregulation is a Tory policy to create ‘competition’ – and so it’s the bus companies who bid how they will provide that service. If they bid in such a way that they aren’t able to provide the service and ensure driver’s working conditions are kept good then surely it’s the bus company to blame? Yet not one mentioned in the comments, it’s all TfL TfL TfL. A bus company may be able to provide the timetable as set by TfL AND employ more drivers so that each of their hours worked are within the WTD limits. But the bus companies choose not to do that. Not TfL surely? Seems odd to blame TfL for the details of how the bus companies staff the routes, when that is not set by TfL.


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