Cinderella service Bus issues are no surprise - driver
ABUS driver claims he is “not surprised” about a recent vehicle fire in Gloucestershire and has raised numerous concerns about parts of the service.
The driver, a current employee who does not want to be identified, came forward with a number of allegations following a recent bus fire in Mitcheldean.
He said there are many problems across the county’s bus services, but claimed the Forest of Dean is the Cinderella of them all.
Stagecoach, however, hit back at his claims and said their safety measures are a “top priority” and that buses are maintained to a “very high standard through a robust regime that goes beyond what is required by law”.
The long-serving employee claims the company does not have enough drivers and vehicles and that is why recent timetable changes were needed.
Stagecoach said the changes were brought in to help improve links in more isolated areas like Ruardean and Whitecroft.
The driver went on to say he has concerns about the reliability of some of the company’s buses and doesn’t believe they are always being maintained to a high enough standard.
”Basically, Cheltenham get all the new buses, Gloucester get Cheltenham’s cast-offs and the Forest of Dean get the cast-off cast-offs,” the driver said.
He blames an “ageing fleet” for how buses “often struggle” on the forest’s hills and claimed that colleagues at the Milkwall garage in the Forest of Dean only get five minutes to carry out safety checks on their vehicles every morning, compared to eight minutes in other depots locally.
This is despite Milkwall being such a tight squeeze that drivers have to reverse the buses out before checking them, he said.
Stagecoach responded to this by saying there is “no material difference” in the age of its vehicles and how they are maintained in different areas.
The driver claimed Stagecoach struggles to recruit enough drivers because it operates split shifts and “doesn’t pay enough”. He revealed a rota which he said showed how drivers are often on duty for longer than they are paid.
“We only get paid for the time we are behind the steering wheel so we have a lot of shifts when we are on duty for much longer than we are paid for,” claimed the driver.
“For instance one duty is from 6.22am in the morning until 7.05pm at night, but the drivers only get paid for nine hours 22 minutes.
“They cannot keep staff because other companies pay from the start to the finish of the shift.”
On top of this, he said, Forest drivers are paid nearly £1 per hour less than colleagues in Gloucester, who in turn earn less per hour than those in Cheltenham and Swindon.
And because the staff turnover is so high the Forest service often needs “on loan” drivers from other areas who are paid more per hour and are given meal allowances of up to £25, alleges the driver.
Stagecoach said it does its utmost to make sure drivers have a good work/ life balance and that differing pay rates are common across the economy because of “all sorts of variables”.
A spokesperson for Stagecoach West said: “Safety is our absolute priority and all of our vehicles are maintained to a very high standard. There is also no material difference in the age of vehicles or standard of maintenance criteria for vehicles operating in Forest of Dean compared to rest of the Gloucestershire network. “We do our utmost to ensure our drivers have a good work/life balance by offeringa variety of working patterns including five-day rotas, parttime hours and flexible working options.” The company puts differing pay rates down to “differing working options, specifics of the local business operation, historic agreements and the local economy within that area.”
But the driver added that the rest room in the Forest is “a disgrace”, especially compared to the staff facilities at the new bus station in Gloucester.
He claimed the new timetable is about addressing Stagecoach’s “failings” rather than what people want.
He said: “They [Stagecoach] fears people will stop using the 31 Coleford to Gloucester [service] because it takes longer and say some buses now drop off at the Quays when town centre workers would prefer the bus station.”
Stagecoach replied: “Buses between Coleford and Gloucester will run either as 22 or 23, taking around 10 minutes longer per trip to improve links from more isolated communities including Ruardean and Whitecroft.
“The new times are more generous to reduce the risk of late running and to factor in worsening peak-time traffic congestion around Gloucester.” The company said the city was experiencing major growth and it was expanding its network.
“We are carrying out a comprehensive training programme to get our new drivers all trained,” it added. “And, in the meantime, we are trying to secure additional drivers for neighbouring depots to ensure we can continue to offer passengers the best service.”