In a letter to Grant Shapps MP, we have called for urgent action to tackle the current critical shortage in bus drivers.
The Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP, Secretary of State for Transport
Bus Users UK is a charity campaigning for inclusive, accessible transport.
We are also the only Alternative Dispute Resolution body for the bus and coach industry, which gives us a unique insight into the impact the current bus driver shortage is having on the daily lives of millions of people across the UK.
With passenger numbers below pre-Covid levels, some operators are reducing journeys on higher frequency routes in order to minimise the number of drivers required. This runs counter to the ethos of the Bus Recovery Grant and to the needs of passengers. In marginal and rural areas where services were already basic, the impact is particularly severe with people now struggling to access work, education, apprenticeships and healthcare. In a recent TV interview, a senior Norfolk County Council officer warned that parents would have to take time off work in order to transport their children to and from school.
We understand that while there is a present shortage of PCV licence holders in the bus industry, there is no shortage of possible new recruits. The problem lies with delays in the system and we know of two medium-sized bus operators alone that have 160 new entrant drivers between them currently awaiting tests: that represents a loss of over 6,000 driving hours a week. Larger operators who have long been able to test their own new entrants have offered to extend this facility to smaller operators but this was refused by the Department for Transportâ€™s agency.
The situation has been made worse by a recent letter sent by the DfT to HGV licence-holders encouraging them back to that field of work. PCV licence-holders were among those targeted and operators are now reporting losing drivers to HGV work. Another area of concern is the focus on increasing labour rates in order to attract and retain drivers. This clearly conflicts with the aspiration we all share for improved and affordable bus services, and which is explicit in the Bus Service Improvement Plans currently being drawn up by local transport authorities under the National Bus Strategy.
There are solutions to the current crisis in bus driver numbers but they require urgent, coordinated and determined action. We would call on Government to:
- Identify and enable innovative ways to accelerate bus driver recruitment
- Extend the recruitment campaign for HGV licence holders to the bus industry
- Simplify the outdated, convoluted and bureaucratic route of entry to the industry for new licence holders.