The dearth of commercial vehicle drivers that has recently led to shortages at supermarkets and fuel stations is also having an impact on bus services in the Stokes, the Journal can reveal.
Recent weeks have seen Stagecoach West, operator of the 10, 11 & 12 services that link Bradley Stoke, Little Stoke and Parkway Station with Thornbury, Southmead Hospital and Avonmouth, making daily announcements about “disruption” leading to tens of cancelled journeys.
View more tweets here: 10, 11 & 12 Bus Issues (Twitter collection, regularly updated)
In response to an enquiry by the Journal, Rachel Geliamassi, managing director at Stagecoach West, commented:
“We are continuing to run over 95 percent of our timetabled services and have firm plans in place to return to full services as quickly as possible. However, as is the case with many organisations and sectors in the economy, the pandemic is continuing to impact our business in the short-term. Other issues beyond our control, such as Brexit and the DVLA taking significantly longer to process bus driver licences, have also added to these challenges.”
“We are working round the clock to recruit people into our team and train them in the roles that we need, and we are seeing a strong demand for jobs. However, it takes an average of 10 weeks for a professional bus driver to be fully trained and delays outside our control in the processing of licences means we cannot get them on the road on our network as fast as we would like.”
“Whilst this recruitment and training is taking place, we are also arranging for more drivers to cover services in the North Bristol area from next week [w/c 11th October] to help prevent cancellations to hourly services.”
“We apologise to our customers in the North Bristol area who have been affected, and we would like to thank them for their patience with our frontline teams whilst we work to get our new drivers on the road.”
The issue has also been picked up by West of England metro mayor Dan Norris, who commented in a press release:
“A lack of strategic planning over the last decade means we are now in crisis. The transport industry has been issuing dire warnings about the driver shortage for many a year. The latest issue we are seeing is bus drivers being ‘poached’ to become HGV drivers, and the ongoing pandemic and Brexit issues continue to impact many businesses. The positive here is there is a strong demand for jobs. But it is clear we need urgent action from government, not sticking plasters.”
He added: “I am working hard to secure additional funding for bus services but until the driver shortage is addressed adequately, no amount of funding can guarantee local bus services
will continue running.”
Local public transport campaigner Dave Redgewell commented:
“Passengers need buses to turn up as an essential part of our public transport network for journeys to school, college and universities, for work, hospitals, shopping, journeys and of course leisure travel in tourist areas of the West of England. This shortage of bus drivers is now affecting the economy of the West of England in the cities of Bristol and Bath and our rural communities.”