Sign up for our weekly newsletter
NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

A Bus Driver in Notts

21 September 21 illustrations: Kasia Kozakiewicz

"The role is customer-facing and interacting with passengers is both the best and the worst part of the job." 

Bus driving isn’t exactly what I thought I’d end up doing, but it’s something I had an interest in when I was at college in the nineties. I just enjoy driving. I’ve got Asperger’s, so because of that, if I find something interesting, I dive in and try and find out as much information as I can about it. I gathered an awful lot of information about bus driving and then ten years later I actually got the chance to become a driver. The company were amazed about how much I already knew! 

What I didn’t expect was the neck muscles – the steering doesn’t do your body in, it’s your neck! The first week I got out of training school, I was surprised about all the turning around. The amount of neck movement you do is unbelievable, but by now it’s all muscle memory. Another thing I didn’t expect was seeing a guy run naked across the ring-road near Beechdale Baths soon after I started, but there you go. 

In some ways the job is repetitive by nature, but in others it isn’t. Every time I get on a bus, yes, the route is the same, the schedule is the same, twirly time – that’s around half past nine when all the little old ladies come on – is the same, but every journey you make is completely different. I’ve driven at six o’clock in the morning and had a full bus and the very next day driven the same hour with an empty bus. Before, I used to drive lots of routes, but now I just do a single long one. There can be monotony to it, but I’m also going through fields and I like getting to see the seasons changing, horses, cows. 

The role is customer-facing and interacting with passengers is both the best and the worst part of the job. I especially like saying hello to the kids when they get on board, though I try to enjoy all passenger interactions. Most of the time I’m a jolly person who’ll have a laugh and a joke with people, and then there’s occasions when you just don’t feel like it. But it’s different every time a child gets on, because they’re excited that they’re getting to ride a bus. Kids always look surprised when I say hello because somebody’s actually talking to them. By the time they get off they’re usually talking back to me, which is nice.

She started off on one, yelling, ‘Do you know I’ve got a Master’s degree?’ and I was thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got a bus driver’s license and I haven’t got infrared vision.’

Unfortunately, there are some passengers that will take the Michael, try and get free rides, that sort of thing. I try to be understanding and say, ‘Look, I’ll let you off this time, but please remember for next time.’ One time I was driving at night and nearly missed a woman who was at the bus stop dressed all in dark clothing. When she got on, I told her that maybe she should wear brighter clothing otherwise drivers won’t see her. She started off on one, yelling, “Do you know I’ve got a Master’s degree?” and I was thinking, ‘Well, I’ve got a bus driver’s license and I haven’t got infrared vision.’ 

Passengers also expect you to be a SatNav for them. They’ll come up to you, show me a postcode and ask, “Does this bus go here?” – ah, let me just look at my crystal ball! People don’t understand that we don’t know everything. That person has a phone, they’ve got Google Maps on it, they can put in a postcode. I’ve got a route that’s fifteen miles long, I can’t remember everything that goes off from it and definitely don’t have all the postcodes in my head. 

But, really, driving is the most challenging thing. You’re handling something that’s forty feet long, eight feet wide and weighs twelve tonnes – and that’s without passengers! Every fifteen passengers adds a tonne on and most of our buses are eighty plus capacity so that’s a lot of extra weight. Trying to squeeze that through a gap can sometimes be very difficult. You have to anticipate any vehicles in front of you. I once had an eejit come the wrong way around a roundabout and nearly crash into the front of the bus, head on. I’ve been with the company twenty years now and must’ve been in about one hundred close calls, at least. 

As for the future, there’s currently a bus trial in Edinburgh where they’re trying out self-driving buses, but my job is guaranteed to be safe for the next ten years or so. What’s termed the ‘Frankenstein Complex’ will not allow bus companies to go autonomous. That won’t happen for at least fifteen to twenty years unless they come up with a way of having every vehicle on the road controlled in the same way by the same device and everything is moving at a similar pace. Unless you have that, you can’t have truly autonomous vehicles because there’s too many unexpected variables. 

For now, when I finish work, I wind down by watching TV and being still. When you’re constantly moving, travelling at fifty miles per hour with intense concentration, you’re processing a hell of a lot of information. Just being able to stop helps slow your mind down. 

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now