The Next Generation

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I was recently invited by a former colleague to attend her school’s “dream job” day.  The premise was simple; representatives from various differing careers would set up stall in the school hall with paraphernalia from their job, and the children would visit, one class at a time, to look at our exhibits, guess our job and ask questions to learn about what we do.  Other careers included an airline hostess, an orthopaedic consultant surgeon, an engineering designer, a graphic designer, a teacher, a pastor and a parkour instructor.

Obviously, it would not have been practical for me to bring a bus on this occasion, any more than the hostess could have brought a plane, but we all managed to bring something to show the children – a skeleton, plastercasts, 3D printer, globe, and in my case, a ticket machine liberated from the firm’s training school.

This was a primary school with ages ranging from 4 to 11, and we were visited by all but the very youngest.  The youngest ones had the most trouble guessing what we did as you would expect, but the most fun playing with the things we brought.  The ticket machine went down a storm, and I think almost every child in the school went away with a ticket they had printed themselves.  On several occasions a child was pointed out to me by a teacher for having a particular love of buses, and I had a supply of bus postcards, cut and make models and even timetable booklets to give out.

As you can imagine, it took the whole day to get through the whole school, and by the end I was exhausted – I had forgotten just how relentless children are!  What surprised me a little was that it was the younger children who were more able to take for granted that a lady would be a bus driver – it was the older boys who would raise an eyebrow and question whether I was an actual bus driver, actually driving the bus.

I hope that my presence that day helped to break down those stereotypes a little bit.  Certainly several of the girls said they were going to be bus drivers now, and not a pop star or a princess or a unicorn (honestly).  I don’t know whether to be proud that I steered them away from “female” jobs or sorry that I distracted them from much more lofty ambitions…

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DON’T PANIC!

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When a bus is on the road between twelve and twenty-four hours a day, things are, sooner or later, going to go wrong with it.  And when a driver is on the road over forty hours a week, sooner or later, something is going to go wrong either with the bus or on the route.  For weeks, I have been driving around with no real problems apart from those caused by the inordinate amount of roadworks in our area.

Over the past week or so, however, everything seems to be going wrong. I have had two wheelchair ramps fail on me, a ticket machine give up the ghost, an engine overheat and a road blocked by parked vehicles.

The first wheelchair ramp happened while I was in the station taking over a bus  ready for my turn on the route.  A lady in a wheelchair was at the front of the queue, so I had to whip out the ramp ready for her.  Our ramps are a very simple flap on a hinge.  They sit flush to the floor in the doorway, and deployment is simply pulling a cord and opening it out to bridge the gap to the kerb.  As I did so, to my horror (and the lady’s undisguised annoyance) it came off one of the hinges and hung at a useless angle.

I had to scurry over to one of the supervisors, who proclaimed the bus unfit for purpose (and had some rude words for whoever should have checked the ramp that morning) and pointed me towards a replacement bus.  Five minutes and several profuse apologies to the unimpressed lady later, I had the bus loaded and ready to roll.

The second wheelchair ramp failure occurred a few days later on the same journey  as the printer on the ticket machine decided to stop working.  I’d had to change the roll, and the tickets worked fine for a few stops, then it simply refused to print.  I pulled the roll out, checked the cavity, put it back in, pressed the feed, but nothing.  Then, as a gentleman in a wheelchair wanted to board, I went to pull the ramp out, only to have the cord come off in my hand!

A call back to the office resulted in the discovery of a hidden button at the back of the printer with which – you guessed it – to turn it off and turn it on again and the sad news that I would just have to cope with the ramp sans cord until the end of my session, when the bus was due to go to the garage anyway.  That trip resulted in a nasty paper cut (that’s still healing) and a chipped finger nail.

The engine overheat happened one evening after a hot day in heavy traffic.  I took the bus over ten minutes late because the other driver had been held up, and discovered the cause of his lateness for myself the moment I crossed the bridge.  For no reason I could discern, there was a queue to the next set of lights that took more than ten minutes to negotiate, then, once through, clear road! By now, I was over twenty minutes late and the temperature on the gauge was starting to rise.  I kept going for as long as I could, hoping to make it round, but once the warning lights came on, I had to stop.

After a phone call back to the office, my passengers were bundled onto the next bus and the engine flap opened to help the bus to cool.  A kind lad who happens to be the son of one of our drivers saw the bus and came out with a can of coke for me.  He was more than happy to keep me company and talk buses while we waited.  We also attracted the usual crowd of smaller children.  Eventually, the office called me to say that, as long as my temperature was back below 100c, I could resume the route at the time (one hour later) that my next circuit would have been passing that stop!

I do find it stressful when things go wrong with the buses.  As a female driver, I have that slightly paranoid fear that any passengers and passers by would be thinking that, had I been male, I would have known what to do and fixed the bus and been on my way.  The sensible part of me knows that the men don’t know any more than I do, and I’ve passed plenty of them standing by the side of the road, hazard lights on, scratching their heads.  But public perception is another matter…

My most recent shift involved a route that goes via a lane that is sometimes obstructed by parked vehicles.  As I approached the difficult part, my heart sank – in front of me was an ambulance and a car parked almost, but not quite, opposite each other.  I pulled the bus up close, literally measuring myself against the space, but I really couldn’t get the bus to the right angle to squeeze through.  Meanwhile, cars behind me had started to beep, but they were seriously not my problem, so I ignored them until they figured it out for themselves and went off somewhere else.

I could not disturb the home the ambulance was visiting for obvious reasons, so I began knocking on the doors opposite, hoping to get the car moved.  The second house didn’t own the car, but was able to tell me that he sees a person park it there every morning then get picked up by a van, presumably to go to work.  The gentleman seemed a helpful sort, so I got him to watch my back while I reversed up to the nearby bus stop so that smaller vehicles could get through.

The next step was a call to the office (they must have been sick of my voice by now) to explain the problem, and to ask permission to divert up a side road that linked tantalisingly to the main road just a couple of hundred yards away.  That was no go; the road was not deemed wide enough for buses, and I was not allowed to attempt it.  I was just going to have to wait until the ambulance was finished and the way became clear.

Meanwhile, a message was sent out to the others on my route that there was an obstruction which they were to avoid by staying on the main road, so I suggested to my passengers that if they walked through, one of my colleagues would pass the next stop sooner or later and give them onward travel.  If I somehow got moving, I would of course stop and let them all back on.  All but two of them decided to do this.

One of the two was a retired gentleman who joined me on the pavement.

“I’m not being funny,” he said, “but you could get a double-decker through there.  I should know, I used to drive ’em up in London.”

“Then you would know,” I replied, “that those are nowhere near as long as one of these bad boys.” (Volvo Eclipse, for those who speak bus.)

“I still reckon you could get it through, though.”

“Not prepared to risk it, sorry.”

A whole hour I had to sit there and listen to him going on!  And yes, he did at some point grumble that if I wasn’t a girl, I’d have had a go at that gap and we’d be on our way by now…

 

The Bells…

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Driving buses, I have learned, is a noisy job.  Not only do you have the sounds associated with the engine, traffic and the passengers to deal with, but there is also the infernal bell.  Like Quasimodo, after a busy shift, the bells ring on in your ears long after you hand in your duty card and head off home. As you can see from the graffiti on the dashboard in this picture, I am clearly not the only one who suffers.

Not all bells on the buses sound the same.  Some of our Scania double-deckers have an electronic beep, while our Volvos have a good old-fashioned ding, apart from the bell push next to the wheelchair bay which sets off a horrible klaxon very similar to the fire alarms at my last employment.  It took months for me to stop having a rush of adrenaline sending my heart into my mouth each time the klaxon went – I was conditioned to think the place was on fire whenever I heard that noise, after all!

Some of our newer double-deckers (the ADL e400s for those who know their buses) have a very pretty tinkly sound.  The first time I drove one, I kept hearing what sounded like a mobile phone message tone going off, until a voice by my shoulder demanded to know if I was going to let her off.

“I’m so sorry,” I stuttered, once I had the bus safely stopped.  “I didn’t hear any bell – perhaps you could press it again for me, we’ll check it’s working.”

She obliged, and it turned out the pretty ring tone was actually the bus bell!

My favourite bells are on the Optare Solos, which are midi buses – smaller than a standard single decker and handy for routes that are narrow and less bus friendly, or simply for times when we would expect to carry fewer passengers.  I rarely get to drive these because they aren’t really used on the routes I cover, but when I do it’s a treat.  They’re much nippier than a full sized bus, and have their own challenges to drive.  The front wheels are right at the front of the bus, just like on a small car, rather than behind the cab like the other buses.  This means you have no “sweep” in front of you, so kerbs have to be approached somewhat differently.

The bells are my favourite, though, because they are so tuneful.  The normal bells play “soh-me” which sounds like a doorbell ding-dong, while the wheelchair bay button completes the chord playing “soh-me-doh,” which is very pleasing to the ear.

This brings me on to our brand new buses. Recently, our bus company has been taking delivery of a new fleet of buses for use on our flagship routes and getting rid of some of our older ones, the 54 plate Volvos.  Until now, we had 2012 Volvos on the flagship routes (the ones with the klaxons) and the older 2004 Volvos (which used to be the flagship fleet before 2012) on the other routes.  Now, the new buses are on the flagship routes, the 12 plates are going onto the other routes, and apart from a handful being saved for spares and training, the 54 plates are going. I’m sad to say, the bus with the pictured graffiti, which was my favourite, has already gone.

For those who speak “bus,” the new fleet, instead of Volvos like the last two batches, are ADL e200s. These are lightweight, fuel efficient, low-emission single deckers made by Dennis.  You’ll have heard of them – nearly every bin lorry in the UK seems to be a Dennis! If you’re interested, there’s a blog by someone who can talk horse power, torque, etc here;

http://www.route-one.net/articles/Test-Drives/Super_light_Enviro200_MMC_put_to_the_test

I only know what they feel like to use, and how they sound (like a milk float, actually). Although I complain a bit about the engine sound (which I shouldn’t – at least it’s quiet) and the handling (doesn’t turn as tightly as the Volvos, and it’s lower to the ground so easier to catch on kerbs, etc) there are several features I do like.

In the cab, the whole dash moves when you adjust the steering wheel.  This is important for someone with shorter arms like myself. It’s no good bringing the steering wheel closer to me if the other buttons are still miles away – this is a problem I have in the Scania buses.  The heating is very efficient – within about ten minutes, even on a frosty early start, I can have it hotter than Hades in there, which suits me just fine.  The layout of the cab is good – my money tin sits just in front of the ticket machine and is very easy for a left-hander like me to get at.  On the 12 plate Volvos, the money tray is on the cab door to my left, which actually means twisting my left arm slightly backwards to get into it.  On the cab door of the Dennis there is instead a slot for the defect card and a bottle holder.  Driving is thirsty work, and it’s sensible to remain well-hydrated as this aids good concentration and safe driving.  There is also just enough room to keep my bag next to me, instead of entrusting it to the luggage rack.

For the passengers, I like the fact that you have to operate the kneeler (where the suspension near the door lowers closer to the kerb making boarding/alighting easier) before you open the door.  On the Volvos, you have to open the door first.  If I’m using the kneeler, I want the passenger to wait and get the benefit of it.  When you open the door first, the passenger often struggles up (making a meal of dragging their walker/pushchair/trolley on) while you are still reaching for the kneeler button. Then they will give you a filthy look because they have struggled and it’s your fault for not lowering the bus!  If they have to wait, I know I am getting them on and off as safely as I possibly can.  Of course, sometimes a younger person in a hurry will face-plant the doors because I haven’t opened them fast enough, but I’m afraid I’m just about evil enough to find that funny!

One feature I don’t like is – wait for it – the bell!  At first, it sounds alright because it makes a tinkly sound not unlike its big sister, the e400 double decker, but then somebody presses the wheelchair bay button.  Not a pleasant chord like the Solo, or a klaxon like the Volvo, but another tinkle in a higher pitch.  It is almost, but not quite, an octave higher than the main bell.  If it was a perfect octave, it would be quite tuneful.  But no.  The wheelchair bell is very sharp – almost a quarter note above the octave, the perfect pitch to grate on your ears and set your teeth on edge!

Like Quasimodo, sometimes, at night, I dream about those bells…

Buses that run on Girl Power

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Last Thursday was International Women’s Day.  This is an interesting fact, because as a female driver, I was asked by the firm to take part in a little promotional video to celebrate female drivers and encourage more to step forward.  It made me realise that it has not occurred to me to mention my gender on this blog before.  I have no idea whether it is obvious anyway from my writing voice, but let’s put it out there in black and white: I’m a female, a woman, a lay-dee, no less!

When I was applying for the role, some of my female friends were horrified at the idea of wanting to drive a bus – they’re too big, too heavy to steer, just plain too difficult for us ladies to manage!  But I had attended the try-out day and had already seen for myself that all this was blatantly untrue.  It helps, of course, that I have never been put off by gender stereotypes – I was the first girl at my junior school to play football in P.E. lessons, then at sixth-form, I went out and bought a motorbike while all my friends were saving up for their first car.

I’m not a petrol-head, but I do enjoy driving, a fact I had forgotten over the years while starting a family and giving up biking for the much safer option of owning a car.  The seeds were sown for my new career when I was being trained up to drive the school minibus in my old job.  The training was simply a two hour session with an instructor from the council who would then declare you fit (or otherwise) and place you on the council’s list of approved drivers for the insurance.

After parking the minibus in the hedge to allow an ambulance to pass us on a single-track road, the instructor turned to me and said, “You really enjoy driving, don’t you?  I can always tell.”

It was a light-bulb moment, because yes, I love driving, and had somehow forgotten that fact.  A low income and a huge spike in the cost of petrol had relegated motoring from a leisure activity to a mere necessity.  Gone were the long drives (and bike rides) in the countryside of previous decades – these days, petrol could not be wasted, and the car simply became an expensive but essential tool to get to work, the shops, the son’s activities, etc.

While I was driving the minibus, I began to notice the “real” buses on the road.  I waved at the drivers and sometimes one would wave back.  And I began to wonder how cool it might be to drive one of those.  I gave it no more serious thought until my son was approaching the end of school, and I started to look for a full time career.  I tried, unsuccessfully, for several admin jobs, including at the bus firm because of their offices’ proximity to my home, before finally biting the bullet and applying to become a driver.

Back to the present day, in preparation for the video, I was given a list of questions to think about.  They involved things like what it was like to drive for the firm and what’s enjoyable about it (I think I’ve covered that in previous blogs) and whether I had any gender-specific concerns, which might be a topic for its own blog in future.  Then there was a list of “myths” that seem to put off potential lady drivers – the size of the bus, the gender pay gap, unwanted attention, making shift work fit in around family.

The size of the bus is not a problem.  They all have power steering, so require little physical strength.  The drivers are not expected to have mechanical expertise – that’s the job of our army of mechanics and engineers (managed, at our depot, by a woman, incidentally).  Driving itself is a skill, but that’s what the training is for.  We are taught how to drive and steer safely, and our spatial awareness sort of expands to fit.  Women are known to be cautious drivers, and that is a desirable trait when people are literally placing their lives in our hands as they board the bus.

The pay gap doesn’t exist, at least on the shop floor.  There is a clear pay scale dictated by length of service, not appraisal, so there is no chance of men being offered higher raises than women.  By the fourth year of service, all drivers are on the same top rate.

The “unwanted attention” hasn’t occurred, either – but you do need not to be of a delicate disposition.  Boys will be boys, and the crew room is rife with bad language and fart jokes.  The best way to cope is to join in!  This for me has been a refreshing change after the careful self control and political correctness of the school staff-room.

The main challenge for a woman would definitely be the shift work.  As a lone parent, there is no way I could have driven for the firm while my son was small, but a couple could make it work if they share the burden of childcare.  Several of our lady drivers are the parents of young children.  While most rotas are varied, there are set rotas where you do exactly the same every day, and permanent earlies or lates to be had.  The career could even become a family affair – we have more than one married couple driving, and one pair have their adult son driving buses, too!

As women, we offer something that men often struggle with – people skills.  Bus firms don’t want grumpy old men who just drive the bus any more, they want friendly approachable people who offer good customer service so that passengers will enjoy using the bus and become loyal customers in the long term.  Our boys are being trained and are getting much better, but it certainly comes more naturally to the ladies.  And our older passengers love us – “Ooh, a lady,” they’ll exclaim as they board, “how lovely!”

 

A Busman’s Holiday

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One of the local excursion coach companies

I have recently come back from a holiday on the lovely Tenerife in the Canary Islands.  Now that I’m a bus driver, I decided that instead of my usual car-hire, this time I would use the local bus services to get around the island.  Sounds simple, right?  Wrong!  On the first morning, I located the bus station and went to customer services to get a bus timetable.  Language was an issue as my Spanish is very much limited to ordering drinks in bars, but I came away with a timetable and the warning that local travel was cheap, but not cross-island trips.

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The bus station in Puerto de La Cruz, from my hotel balcony

This led to the decision to book coach excursions for the big days out, including the one pictured at the top, which took us up the fabulous Mt Teide volcano.  If you ever get the chance to go, pay the extra for the cable car to the peak – it is worth every penny!

On one day, we decided to use the local guagua (pronounced wa-wa) to pop across to the capital, Santa Cruz, for a shopping day.  Firstly, I had to work out from the booklet which bus we should take and what time it would go.  This was not clear, but I soon realised that the first column was the times the bus left one terminal, the second column was the times it left the other terminal for the return trip, but there were no timings for stops in between or any clue how long the journey might be!  Once I was fairly confident that I knew more or less what I was doing, we trotted down to the bus station, found the right queue, ran into a shop to buy a “bono” travel-card because we were told the fares would be discounted, then had an amusing five minutes while the poor driver tried to show us how to use the thing!

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Tenerife, showing the mountain and the island’s one motorway

Tenerife is almost tear-drop shaped.  We were on the north coast on the wide part.  To get to the capital, we had to cross over the narrow part which is a ridge of foothills leading up to the mountain that forms most of the wide part.  This means the highway was a long, long incline, and our poor bus didn’t make it!  Half-way up, we ran more and more slowly until at last we ground to a halt with steam pouring from the back – the engine had overheated and what was left of the coolant was boiling off!

From the sounds of dismay coming from the locals on board, this seemed to be a common occurrence.  The lady next to me seemed particularly annoyed – I got the impression she would be late for something as a result of the breakdown.

The driver got off the bus, looked at the steam coming from the back and got onto his mobile phone – presumably calling the depot for help.  Then he came back on board and told us all something in rapid Spanish. I turned to the lady next to me.

“Nuevo autobus?” (new bus?) I asked hopefully.  She shrugged.  I managed to work out from snatches of conversation around me that a replacement would take around 40 minutes and that the police were also coming.  In the meantime, my group (myself, my son and his friend) entertained ourselves by renaming the bus company from “titsa” to “tits-up.”

At last, the replacement arrived, a bus with livery for the Siam water park all over it, and the police arrived to transfer us safely between the two (because the highway was effectively a motorway).  All they did was to stand at the back of our bus and direct cars to give a wide berth while we walked forward and onto the other bus.

We reached Santa Cruz without further incident and had a lovely day shopping.

The next day, while the boys went on another excursion, I took myself, by guagua, to a nearby historic town.  By now, I felt I was quite the expert, and braved asking for my fare in Spanish.  “Quiero ir a La Orotava, y vuelta, por favor,” I said, and the guy actually understood me!  Then proceeded to tell me, “no vuelta, solo” – a return fare wasn’t available, just singles.

Travelling by bus and coach was quite entertaining.  I had more time to look at the views and to observe the other drivers than if I had hired a car.  The term guagua, which is used in the Canaries and Latin America but not mainland Spain, is thought to be onomatopoeic in origin – the sound of the horns. This would fit my experience – not content with merely waving to each other as our drivers do, these guys generally beep at their colleagues as  they pass.  They also beep at taxis (hatred of these competitors seems universal), any vehicle too slow to pull away at junctions, any vehicle trying to squeeze past on the narrow mountain roads, and any time a toot on the horn just feels like a jolly thing to do!

Why is this bus late?

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These are the words I have come to dread.  When you’re already having a bad day, the point will come when somebody boards your bus with the words, “Would you mind explaining why this bus is so late?”

And actually, I would mind, because having to engage in this conversation only serves to make my bus even later. The only way to deal with it is a simple apology, a word or two about traffic (“Oh, they always use that excuse!” I once overheard a woman tell her friend as they sat down) and hope to goodness they’ve thought to actually get their fare or pass out ready during all that time they’ve had waiting.

The full explanation would simply take too long, as a number of small factors usually combine to slow the bus down.  I will use one particular journey yesterday to illustrate. I was driving the slow route from my town to the next and back again.  It’s a slow route because instead of following the trunk roads like our flagship buses, it trundles around various housing estates, allowing those residents access to both town centres.  We actually have two routes, and we drive out as one number bus, and back as the other.

I had actually been having a good day to this point, with the driving punctual and uneventful, and I was still on time on my outbound journey when I reached the train station and had only a mile or so left until I reached the destination at the town centre.  On leaving the train station, the next road had a traffic queue.  This is a sea side town and it’s holiday season and the weather was unexpectedly nice, so people were out and about, causing a particular traffic hotspot to snarl up.  In the space of just one mile, I went from cheerfully on time to ten minutes late.  My duty card read that I should be arriving at my destination at 13:35 and departing as the other route at 13:40.  As I pulled in, it was already 13:45.  But this wasn’t a worrying amount of lateness, I just had to get loaded up and underway as quickly as I could.

The passengers had other ideas.  There was already quite a queue for my bus, but there was also a large queue for the quicker flagship buses which apparently hadn’t been able to break through the traffic for a while, either.  When they saw me, they decided a slow bus was better than no bus and surged forward to augment my queue.  This lot took more than 5 minutes to board; so much for my quick getaway!

Then the next problem occurred – the bus interchange got snarled up!  There is a bottle neck at one end where the buses can only pass through one at a time.  Buses coming in are supposed to give way to buses coming out, but nobody seems to have told the drivers of our rival firm this.  They pile through regardless until nobody can move any more, a literal bus jam!  So there I was, loaded and ready to go, but unable to get out.  This took another five minutes until somebody at the top of the interchange finally moved out allowing everybody behind to squeeze through until at last the way was clear for me to exit at the bottom.  Now I was a good 15 minutes down and hadn’t even left the town centre yet!

The next bus stop at the top of town was also busy.  I pulled in, followed by a flagship bus (how had he caught up so quickly?) and the queue jostled while they sorted out who was getting which.  Then I had my next (usually small) problem.  The passenger who needed advice on where they were going, what fares were available, etc.  In the queue behind her there was a shriek – what on earth? I quickly saw the cause – not a murder in progress, but a small boy wearing ear defenders.  I’ve worked with children with special needs in the past, and I’d like to think I can spot a child with an autistic spectrum disorder a mile off.  Having spotted him, and pulled faces at each other, I knew I should be prepared for more unexpected noises and not allow myself to be startled by them as I drove.

I was loaded, the other bus had already pulled out and left me, so I shut my doors, looked in my mirrors and prepared to pull out.  And promptly put my handbrake back on.  There in front of me, practically hugging my windscreen, a man had appeared from across the road, brandishing crutches.  I opened my doors again.

“Are you trying to catch my bus, or get run over by it?” I demanded. This was not, perhaps, the polite way of greeting customers as should be expected from me, but seriously – that was a damned dangerous thing for him to do!  In response I got a gust of alcohol from his breath and a cheerful apology.  As he hobbled up the bus on his artificial limb, I realised he was legless in more ways than one…

Finally, I was underway again.  The drunk man spotted a friend (who was apparently deaf) and the two were conversing loudly across the aisle.  This was too much for the little boy, who shrieked in response.

” ‘Ere, then, what’s all this fuss?” demanded one of the men, and the child was shocked temporarily into silence.

As I pulled into another stop, the drunk gentleman came forward.  “You got a pen I can borrow, love?  Gotta write my address for this guy.”  Speechless, I handed it over, cursing myself because it was a nice one, and I need to have it on me at all times for the job.   Two stops later, it was sheepishly handed to me by a lady as she got off.  “That man asked me to give it you, is it yours?”

The traffic was still a little slow, and I crept slowly forwards with it, humming to myself to drown out the loud chatting and occasional shrieking going on behind me.  “I’m on a road to nowhere” seemed to fit just then.

At one point on this route, we turn off the main road to go through the housing estates, and it was at this point that my next delay occurred.  Remember at the beginning I had taken on some passengers who had wanted the other bus?

“Hang on, hang on, I’m on the wrong bus!” a voice called.

“Okay, don’t worry, let me get round this corner and I’ll let you off,” I replied.

As I got round the bend, I saw a delivery van was parked at the bus stop, partially blocking the narrow road.  I pulled in behind.  The man who had called out alighted gratefully, followed sheepishly by two others.  In front of me was the van and a very narrow road.  And I just wanted to get this flaming bus home!

“Hold your hats,” I called back, “we might mount the kerb!”  Of course, I knew full well that was the only way I was going to get past.  Thankfully, there were no lampposts or people or other junk on the pavement and we were soon underway once more.

Now, this is the problem with running a full service.  You get slowed down letting all the extra people on, then you drive more slowly because you have people standing, then you have to let them all off again, slowing you down even further.  My bell by now was being rung for every. single. stop.  The legless drunk went, then his friend, the little boy with his mum and countless other people all needed their own stop.

As I got to the top of the estates to begin the road down towards home, the inevitable happened.

“Would you mind explaining why this bus is so late?” demanded a very irate lady just slightly older than me.

“I’m so sorry,” I replied, “the service has been rather full today.”

She raised her eyebrows as she looked up the bus.  I followed her gaze, to where there were just three people looking back at us…

 

 

The Joy of New Technology

new ticket machine explained 2

 

As you might guess from the picture, we’ve had new ticket machines installed.  Which means a new round of training to get us all using them.  Now, for the twenty-somethings, the iPad-like interface probably made instant sense, but for us Luddites, it’s taken a bit of adjustment.

The training involved going upstairs while we had a gap between shifts (overtime paid, of course) and sitting in a room with a machine and a trainer and basically playing with the thing.  The training was supposed to take 45 minutes, but mine was a bit longer, mainly because the poor guy got a barrage of questions from me: “Why does that do that, though?  What would it do if I…” etc. and it took nearly twice as long to get through his list of tasks.

One of the main differences with the new machine is its ability to take contactless payment, so we had to practise that, too. “Okay,” he said, “You set up the ticket… that’s it, then the customer puts their card on…”  (he placed a card on the reader) “Then you see, the button for pay by card appears… don’t press that – DON’T PRESS THAT!!! It’s actually my card!”

So, one head-ache for the instructor later, I felt ready to hit the ground running as soon as the machines were installed.   On the first day, I managed to get signed on, and the machine made a great talking point as passengers boarded, a change from discussing the weather, at least.  All went smoothly enough (a few curses from me as wrong buttons were pressed and corrected) until my last run inbound, when my screen decided to freeze!  I stopped the bus, snuck the manual out of my bag and onto my lap under the steering wheel so the passengers wouldn’t see, and tried to look up the troubleshooting pages, but frozen screen wasn’t in there.  I thumped it, I stroked it, in desperation, I clicked the ticket punch… and the stupid thing started working again! Why?  To this day, I’ve no idea.

Most conversations those first few days involved teaching the customers how to use the new reader.  Our elderly passengers would come on with their passes, and without even noticing the machine was different today, try to put their card on top of the ticket printer (because the reader was on top of the old machines) and you’d have to say, “It’s a new machine – yes, all the buses have these now – it goes on the blue bit there, look” about a hundred times like a stuck record, sometimes to each person in the queue!  Luckily, this only went on for a few days until they got the hang of it, and now we only have the occasional “infrequent flyer” who hasn’t yet encountered the machines – “On the blue bit – there, look!”

My main concern switching to the new machines was the adjustment period; one of the things that makes new drivers slow (certainly true in my case) is not being able to find and issue fares quickly enough.  I was worried that, having got to the point where the majority of my buses run to time, I would go slow again, but this was only the case for a couple of days.

Now all I have to do is persuade all my passengers to pay contactless so that I can win the staff competition for who gets the most payments this month.  There’s a shopping voucher to be had…