London bus driver says £10 an hour salary ‘isn’t worth it’ and ‘you’d be better off working at Wendy’s’

It’s been a long road for Mike, who after driving buses around London for almost two decades recently decided to call it quits.

He is one of hundreds of bus drivers around the country who have walked out on their jobs for a multitude of reasons, the simplest of them being due to lack of payment.

Many have been lured by better paying jobs as HGV drivers amid the nationwide lorry driver shortage that has left the country low on supplies this winter.

Able to earn double the salary they got as bus drivers, they have chosen to bear spending days away from home to make a living. Having already served as bus drivers, they’re well-accustomed to the long, arduous hours.

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Speaking to MyLondon with an alias out of fear of losing his job, Mike, who has since found other work within Transport for London, shares some of the reasons why former bus drivers like himself have decided to move on, and why those considering getting into bus driving should be wary.

“I have 19 years experience as a bus driver. I started in 2002 and ended in 2021,” says Mike, who lives in East London.

He explains that he left his job after being one of many bus drivers who were disciplined for taking their own health and safety precautions during the pandemic, during which at least 52 bus drivers died in London.

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He said: “During the pandemic, the necessary PPE weren’t provided to the bus drivers, so some bus drivers took certain steps on their own initiative to protect themselves, like putting cling film on their doors and tape around the front seats.

“They were disciplined for that by their companies, because that wasn’t company policy. Every company was doing this, including my own”.

But Mike’s health and safety concerns as a bus driver pre-exist the pandemic.

He says although the private operators contracted by TfL to run London’s bus routes work within the legal requirements they are subjected to, bus drivers are often made to work inhumane hours with little consideration towards their personal circumstances.

“If you want to be a bus driver, you shouldn’t care about your social life, because you won’t have one,” he says.

“If you’re a family man, forget about spending time with your kids. It’s a 24/7 job. You could be doing shifts up to 16 hours long. You won’t be able to be there for your kids, and you won’t be getting paid enough to pay for childcare,” he continues.

Some bus drivers are complaining that they have too little recovery time at the end of their routes which can cause them stress and fatigue over a long-term period
(Image: Callum Marius)

Mike says that bus driver salaries depend on how long one has been driving.

“You might start on £10 or £11 an hour. Every five years they might bump up your wage a little, but after 15 years you’ll still only be getting £13 or £14,” he says, adding, “you’d be better off working at Wendy’s”.

He also says that while bus drivers are given the minimum of 10 hours rest between full shifts, they rarely have the opportunity to turn down over-time work and there is a lack of thought put into the time drivers need to travel between their home and their pick-up point.

“Often that means you only sleep three or four hours before you need to wake up and go back to work,” he says.

Bus drivers may have to travel long distances to their pick-up point
(Image: Callum Marius)

“Before you would travel to the garage, but now they want bus drivers to go to the exact point where they are picking up the bus from, so you might have to travel all the way to the other side of the city to get your bus.

“If you take your personal car, you have to pay for the travelling and the parking. We are given free passes to use on public transport, but this can be dangerous as sometimes we are recognised by commuters who have had issues with us in the past. It’s a hazard.”

Mike claims that fatigue and burn-out is a major issue for bus drivers, and that this leads to them making more mistakes while driving.

Penalties for even the pettiest of mistakes are harsh, and more often than not profit-driven companies are looking for excuses to fire experienced bus drivers who get paid closer to £15 an hour, only to rehire them on a lower salary, Mike explains.

He says: “In 2015, I was dismissed on baseless claims that I didn’t take certain health and safety precautions, without evidence.

“I won an appeal but I couldn’t afford to go to a tribunal. I was sacked but then offered my job again, but I had to start from £11 an hour. It was a classic case of fire and rehire. This is a common practice.

“Whenever a member of the public makes a complaint, company policy is to investigate.

“This includes checking security camera footage 10 minutes before and after the alleged incident. Even if it is proved that the claim isn’t true, if within the 20 minutes they’re watching the footage they see the bus driver make any other minor mistake, like not checking a mirror or taking one hand off the steering wheel, the driver gets disciplined”.

London busses regularly get caught up in accidents and incidents
(Image: MyLondon)

Mike goes on to say that a lack of understanding from the general public makes life even hard for bus drivers.

He says: “The company gets penalised £150 by TfL for every person caught not paying for a ticket.

“People can afford their alcohol, their Nike trainers, their Louis Vuitton jackets, their Apple phones and Apple watches, but they can’t afford £1.50 for a bus ticket.

“But we’re the ones who get disciplined. People don’t care about the family members we have to feed.”

In times of crisis, Mike says that bus drivers are “abandoned” by their companies, and they are not given the psychological support they need after an accident.

“Bus drivers don’t get any psychological checks when someone commits suicide in front of them, for example,” he says.

“London Underground train drivers get time off and counselling, but bus drivers don’t get that, even though we are dealing with the public a lot more and we have a lot more going through our minds when we’re driving.

“If someone jumps in front of our bus, the first question the company asks is ‘why didn’t you stop?’ There’s a lot of ‘why didn’t you do this, why didn’t you do that?’ Ultimately everything comes back to the bus driver.

“If an accident happens and someone dies, the bus driver will be put in custody until the investigation is done, and even if we are released, we still have to answer to the company, and still get put on a warning”.

Mike feels that better understanding from the public is needed to improve working conditions for bus drivers
(Image: Humphrey Nemar/Daily Star)

Asked what he believes could be done to help the working conditions of bus drivers, Mike says that bus drivers “should be able to refuse over-time, and have more powers over the public,” noting that the power balance between drivers and the public is a lot better in other cities in the UK.

“TfL knows about our problems, but they don’t look into it. They leave it all to the private companies,” he claims.

“None of the managers of the private companies are driving the buses, so they don’t understand what we’re going through. Our job is to run the service, but we cannot control things like traffic, accidents or roadworks”.

Mike also urges members of the public to be more understanding towards bus drivers, and calls on TfL to do more to give bus drivers the same sympathy and working conditions afforded to London Underground staff.

He says: “Do not blame bus drivers for their mistakes, or for your mistakes.

“We’re here to do our job, just like everyone else, so let us do our job.

“We are not your servants, we are not your slaves, we are not your personal mini cab drivers”.

MyLondon has approached TfL for comment.

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