Why is this bus late?

bus-cartoon-1-e1502965634532.jpg

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…

 

 

Advertisements

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…

 

Tea and Biscuits

tea-coffee-and-biscuits

Occasionally, in the staff canteen, a driver will sombrely announce that they are “going upstairs for tea and biscuits” and be met with a barrage of banter about how nice it has been to know them.

The reason is, the term is our euphemism for having a disciplinary hearing.  We are called to account for our actions over all sorts of things – customer complaints, too much sick leave, not arriving on shift on time, getting involved in accidents, or simply damaging the bus in some way.

So far, I have managed to avoid the invitation.  I’m never late for work, have had no sickness so far and as I usually manage to be polite to my passengers, have not had any complaints against me.  I had a couple of minor incidents with the bus early on that were forgiven due to my inexperience, but I’ve had about six clear months of uneventful driving until about three weeks ago.  I managed to knock a wing mirror against a bus shelter as I pulled into the stop.  It’s the most common “accident” we have – by necessity, our mirrors stick out, and poorly positioned street furniture, overgrown hedges and other hazards regularly steal them from us.  Everybody’s done it, and it’s usually forgiven once the paperwork is completed.  Unfortunately for me, I bumped my mirror about a week after a memo had gone round announcing that there had been far too many mirror incidents recently and we really had to be more careful.

The incident itself was easily done – a group with two pushchairs were waiting under the shelter, and I thought I’d be nice and tuck in tightly to make it easy for them to board.  I was driving a double decker, which means the driver’s seat is a little higher and the ceiling quite a lot lower.  This was relevant to my defence on the forms afterwards because it meant the roof of the shelter disappeared from my view as I got close.  The mirror’s metal arm got turned nearly 180 degrees from the front of the windscreen to beside the doors.  I wasn’t tall enough to reach the arm and pull it back around, so I simply twisted the mirror itself around until I could see well enough to continue the route.

When I got back to the depot, I called one of the banksmen over to help me sort the arm out.  My hope was that we’d put it back in place and then carry on as if nothing had happened, no harm done.  Unfortunately, when he grabbed it, it felt a bit wobbly, so the decision was taken to send that bus down to the garage and give me another one.  This meant that I had to fill out a VIR – Vehicle Incident Report – after I’d finished work.  The VIR is a legal document that can form part of the evidence in the case of police involvement, so it’s detailed and onerous and having to do one certainly feels like part of the punishment!

So, the form done and sent upstairs, I kind of forgot about it.  It was only a mirror, after all.  We’ve all done it.  Then, about a week after, another form was sent me, asking for more detail.  Uh-oh.  And then came the dreaded letter inviting me upstairs for a disciplinary hearing.  I contacted my union rep, who had already been informed and was already booked to accompany me – if your job has a union and you’re not in it, join.  Now. This man was worth his weight in gold.

I went up there fully expecting to receive a first warning, which goes in your record and is active for about 6 months.  However, as I went through events with the rep before the meeting, he began to ask questions – “So, hang on, the glass wasn’t broken? Did the arm come off?”  Well, no.  It was all still intact when the bus was taken from me.  “So you never actually broke that mirror?  Give me five minutes.”  And with that, he was gone, leaving me alone in his broom-cupboard-sized office.

When he returned, he was all smiles.  It turns out, because I had reported that my bus had been sent to the garage it had been assumed that I had broken the mirror, triggering the disciplinary.  He had just negotiated with somebody that instead of receiving a disciplinary, I was going to see the manager to have an informal discussion instead.  Using images from Google Maps, I had to go through exactly what I had done, pulling into the stop, trying to get in close, where the corner of the bus shelter was and so on.  Then we had a chat about how I was going to approach that and similar stops in future so that I wasn’t in danger of connecting with the shelters.  Then it was over.  The “informal chat” will be on my record, so I have to be on my very best behaviour still, but at least it wasn’t an official warning.

So that’s it.  My first brush with management wasn’t as scary as I expected, and with a union rep by my side, had a much better outcome than might have been.  I’ve had a couple of quizzical glances from passengers over the past few days, leaving them a bit of a gap to step across at certain stops, but that’s their hard cheese.  I can’t undo all the rep’s hard work by whacking another mirror.

By the way, the euphemism is a misnomer – I was offered neither tea nor biscuits during the encounter…

The Fine Art of Bus Stop Body Language

bus stop queue

While driving a bus, we have a lot of things to concentrate on.  At the top of the list is the actual driving; steering safely, not bumping anything, what the other idiots on the road around us are getting up to and so on; we also have to have half an eye and one ear out for our passengers; is someone out of their seat?  About to ring the bell? – and we have to eye up the approaching bus stop and the people waiting there to assess whether they want the bus.

But that should be obvious, you tell me.  They’re waiting.  At a bus stop.  Of course they want the bus! However, we often have more than one route servicing each stop, and more than one bus company serving our town.  So the people at the stop might want a different bus, or they might not want a bus at all – the bus shelter might be the only place along a stretch supplying a bench, which is used by the elderly needing a break or the young needing a hangout – people, in short, who are not even planning to become passengers at all in the near future.

We could pull in to every occupied stop just in case, but firstly, we look a bit silly opening our doors to no one, and secondly, we would never get the bus round on time that way.  Our schedule assumes we wouldn’t need to serve every stop, so is tight enough not to allow for that eventuality.

This necessitates becoming an expert on body language, on assessing the likely want of the people at the stop.  This body language takes on many forms and nuances:

The Clear Signaller

This person is our perfect passenger.  They stand straighter when they see us, read the destination blind and hold out their hand (or their stick, bus pass or whatever they’re holding) in a clear demand for us to pull in.  Or they make eye contact and shake their head firmly, no.  You are not my bus.

The Stepper

You have to be watching because you could miss this.  The person at the stop sees you approach then either steps forward, indicating an expectation to board, or steps back, the only clue they will offer you that they are not interested.

The Back Turner

This person will have seen you are not their bus then will studiously turn their back on you, perhaps assuming that giving you eye contact will bring you in to the stop.  They may well pretend to be reading the timetable, often the one belonging to the other bus company, easy to see from a distance because they use a different background colour to us.  At least once, I have almost missed a person because they were so busy actually reading the timetable, they didn’t notice my approach until the last second.

The Hider

I know it’s awful of me, but when I see these, they make me laugh.  They see you are not their bus and they actually attempt to hide from view – behind the shelter, in the hedge, behind other people waiting and once, hilariously, behind a telegraph pole so that I could see only his feet and belly, just like in a cartoon.

The Shoo-er

These are clear signallers, but they are also deadly.  The person who shooes your bus away, often firmly, almost crossly, as if it is somehow your fault you are the wrong one for them, are sometimes completely unaware that a) they are not the only person at the stop and b) not everyone is waiting for the same bus as them.  So while you are distracted by their wild, angry flapping, you fail to spot that another person has stepped forward, that easily missable but clear signal that they, in fact, do wish to catch your bus.

The Inscrutables

These people are a nightmare.  They stand at the stop, watch you approach, and do not react at all. They simply stare through you unseeingly.  Is it because you are not their bus so they are simply disinterested?  Is it because they are daydreaming and haven’t actually registered your approach?  Is it because they assume you would know they want your bus and expect you to pull in automatically on seeing them?  So you slow the bus slightly, peering at them, trying to make eye contact and elicit a response, often without success – they are avoiding your eye contact because they don’t want your bus.  Or are they?  Just as you draw alongside, they might suddenly snap out of their reverie, realise you are driving past and all but fling themselves in your path to stop you!  So you haul in at an angle (to the annoyance of the traffic behind) and scoop them up as quickly as you can with an apology for missing them and an admonishment to signal clearly next time.

A sub-group of the inscrutables is the device-viewers.  They sit or stand at the stop completely engrossed by their mobile, and do not respond to your approach.  I’m afraid I can be a little impatient with these and doggedly keep going, and I know I’m not the only driver who does this.  I wonder how many people miss their bus because their technology has so completely consumed them.  It would be ironic if the reason for their engagement is a fascination for the App that shows where your bus is in real time…

So there you have it.  Even something seemingly as simple as serving a bus stop is not always completely straightforward, and requires a small degree of psychology to execute efficiently – pulling in only when we’re required to keep the bus flowing with the traffic as much as possible.

Buses Make Terrible Get-away Vehicles!

school-bus-driver-clip-art-clipart-panda-free-clipart-images-Y3NA3p-clipart

I’ve been thinking about this problem a bit, recently.  There was an article in our local paper a while back about an author who wanted to include a bus chase in his latest novel, so an instructor from our firm obligingly took him for a test drive on an old car park we use for assessing potential new trainees (I went there on an open day, and was offered my job afterwards).  He let the author have a go at driving to see how difficult it might be if the character had never driven a bus, and then drove the bus himself as fast as he dared to show how scary cornering would be in a chase situation.

I have no idea whether the book is published yet, or whether the bus chase is still included, but I can envisage many problems, if, in real life, one were to try to escape the scene of a crime in a bus.  The first, and most obvious, is that there never is a bus when you really need one – you’re bound to be nabbed whilst waiting at the stop!  If you get lucky, and a bus pulls in just as you get there, you have further issues – the bus is too slow, and in the UK, restricted to around 50 mph.  I haven’t measured the acceleration, but believe it to be 0 – 50 by about sometime next week.  Then, of course, the driver is going to cut up a bit rough if you don’t have the fare, and if you try to threaten him, some old dear is likely to clout you with her hand bag – those pensioners can be quite protective of their drivers.

So, assuming the bus has come, you’re safely on board having either paid or successfully intimidated everybody, and the bus has wheezed its way up to the local limit (30 mph in town, of course), the police will have no trouble in keeping up with your get-away vehicle, and you have until the next bus stop to formulate your next move, because the old man waiting there with the outstretched crutch is not going to be denied.

Despite all these issues, my bus has still been used as a get-away vehicle!

The first time, two store detectives leapt aboard having flagged me down as I was about to pull away.  They saw the shoplifter they were pursuing at my stop as I was approaching, and wanted to walk up my bus and find him.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t there.  It turns out he was the idiot who had run out in front of me as I was pulling in.  While the detectives were searching my bus, he was gleefully legging it down the other side of the road.  The detectives were from a well-known supermarket. I suppose you have to admire the lengths they would go to in the prevention of vegetable theft.

The second time, I was accosted by a council enforcement officer.  He demanded to know what stop a passenger had asked for, because he was jolly well going to have the police waiting for him when he got off.  I’m afraid I was less than helpful – most passengers, if they have a pass or return ticket, don’t tell me their destination, and those that do I promptly forget unless they specifically ask me to tell them when we get there.  The master criminal himself then chose to come forward, and told the officer what cafe he worked at, and they would have to contact to him there because right now, he just needed to get to work on time.  His crime?  He had dropped his fag-butt when he saw his bus approaching, and was not keen to give his name and address or pay the on-the-spot fine for such flagrant littering!

So there you go.  The criminals of sleepy sea-side towns have yet to learn that buses make terrible get-away vehicles.  Apart from the vegetable thief, who tricked his pursuers into thinking he had boarded a bus, thereby buying himself vital seconds and proving that vegetables are indeed brain-food.

A Day in the Life…

busoutline

I realise I haven’t written this blog for quite a long time.  This is because I have been so busy day to day just getting into the routine of the job.  I keep meaning to write, but life gets in the way.  So I thought I would write “A Day in the Life” to show the sort of things I do all day.

At 07:53 I start my shift.  I never start at o’clock or half past or any logical sounding time.  I clock on exactly 15 or 20 minutes before my first bus is due out, depending on whether I have to carry out a “First Use Check.”

This morning, I’m doing a first use check.  This means going into the office where a supervisor marks me present on his computer and hands me a duty card.  I then trudge (cold and dark this time of year) around the back to the garage.  A number on my duty card corresponds with an allocated bus which I can find on a dry-wipe board.  A map then shows me the precise location of my bus in the grid of parked buses (they form roughly a 4  by 8 rectangle of buses packed tightly side by side and nose to tail.  Some of our larger drivers have trouble squeezing through…).  The grid is carefully planned so that the earliest buses are nearest the front.  When all is going to plan, the buses in front of yours have left or are just about to.

I find my bus and press the button to open the doors.  Nothing happens.  This means one of two things; either the air pressure in the tanks is low or the battery is dead, or both!  I force one door, flip on the power, check I’m in neutral and press the starter.  For a heart stopping moment, nothing seems to happen, then the engine roars into life.  The battery is clearly fine, the beeping dash tells me what I already know – my air pressure is low.  The air tanks operate the brakes, suspension and doors so they are crucial, but a few revs gets them charged up, and the doors decide they will open now.

After filling in some details about myself and the bus on a defects card, I proceed to walk around the bus checking everything on my list.  This includes lights, wheels, mirrors, wipers and many other things around the outside, then lighting and seating, safety equipment etc in the saloon (where the passengers sit).  I have a tick list on the card to complete to make sure everything is in working order.  Today, a parking light bulb is out, so I trudge back to the workshop to tell the supervisor and get someone sent to replace it.  Meanwhile, the guy in the vehicle behind mine is looking at his watch; it’s not just my bus that will be held up if the problem can’t be resolved quickly.

Bulbs are easy, however, and I’m quickly underway.  Today I’m not starting in the bus station, but going out “dead” to start an inbound journey.  I love driving along with the “Not in Service” sign showing at the front of the bus; I can take short cuts and drive as fast as I like (safely and within speed limits of course) as I have no passengers to worry about.  I reach my starting point with a couple of minutes to spare, and set up the destination blind so it now shows my route number and destination.  Once I have logged in to the ticket machine and programmed the correct journey into it, I’m ready to go!

Because it’s early, I manage to go a couple of stops before I find some passengers to collect. I manage a particularly cheery good morning as they board, because even though I only started the engine half an hour ago, the air blowers are starting to blow warm already, and that puts me in a good mood; some buses seem to take an hour or more to warm up, while one or two have no heating working.  Hard cheese if that’s the case; if the blowers are doing their job of clearing the windscreen, they’re legal, hot or not!

Because it’s a Saturday, I’m not too busy this early, and I get the bus back in plenty of time.  In fact, I have to pause at one of the stops and wait.  My duty card has a list of timing points that I must not get ahead of.  If I start to run early, I simply stop and wait until the time on my card matches the time on my ticket machine, then set off once more.

This particular route is a circular.  Having started from the halfway point, I now have two more full circuits to run before my break.  This is a short day – it is more common to have to do four of these circuits before a break.  The next two circuits pass without incident, apart from the fact that everybody seems to have ten pound notes, eating up my float.  I have explained how we have to maintain our own float in one of my earlier blogs, so you can appreciate how annoying it is for me, giving away all my coins. On my final return to the bus station, I log off the ticket machine and sign myself off the defect card, circling the box to say there have been no defects arising en route, then leave the bus ready for the next driver.

After an hour’s break, which I spend in the staff room chatting with the other drivers as they come in and out on their various breaks, I now switch routes.  I’m no longer doing the circular, but taking a bus to a hospital in the neighbouring town and back, an hour each way, done twice (so a four hour stint). Before I have to start, I pay an extra visit to the loo in the hope I will then be able to hold on for the duration.

At the station, my bus is nowhere to be seen; it isn’t back from its previous trip yet. The sun is out and the traffic has built up which doesn’t bode well for the smooth running of the second half of my shift.  Another vehicle is found for me and I’m underway on time.  Halfway up the hill out of town I pass the guy whose bus I was supposed to have on his way down, and give him a cheery wave.

It doesn’t take me long to find out what kept him.  I am held up for over five minutes queueing at the roundabout for John Lewis.  The unexpected mild and sunny day has brought everyone out of hibernation and they’re all driving to the shops.  This queue is repeated at every shopping centre between home and the hospital.  I get there ten minutes late, then have to fight my way back through it all again! For the first time this year (well, it is only February) I get hot enough to ditch my jumper and put my sunglasses on to protect myself from the unaccustomed glare of sunlight on my white shirt.

By the time I get back to the bus station I’m over twenty minutes late – it’s a good job I paid that visit earlier – and as fast as I can I reprogram the ticket machine and get my next load of passengers on board.  I stop looking at my duty card at this point; knowing how late I am will only make me want to rush, and that’s when errors happen, as I have learnt to my cost (more on that another day).  I put on my four way flashers, a signal to the banksmen I’m ready to leave, and one of them approaches to guide me back out of the bay.

Without a single glance at my card, I fight my way back up the hill, back through the John Lewis traffic and all the other hotspots and back to the hospital.  Only then do I dare to check the card – I’m only just over ten minutes late!  Somehow I’ve managed to claw back some time.  It’s now mid afternoon, the sun has found a new bank of clouds to hide behind and the traffic is thinning out.  After a quick sip from my water bottle and a change of glasses I start my final inbound journey of the day.  Again, I ban myself from looking at the card until I’m on the last leg of the trip.  Miraculously, I bring her in to the bus station just two minutes late, where the next driver is waiting to take her out again.  He was my mentor during training, so we chat while I log myself out of the ticket machine, sign off the defect card (no defects to report) and he adjusts the seat and signs himself on.

I haven’t quite finished my day.  I now have to go to one of the machines to pay in my day’s takings.  I have a paltry amount today because I didn’t carry many commuters (it being a Saturday)  and most of my passengers had passes or pre-paid tickets.  The readout from the ticket machine declares that I have £79.60 to pay in.  A good day (on a more popular route during the week) could see me taking over double or triple that amount.  But I have another problem.  I may only owe £79.60, but I have £85 in notes and a rather depleted float. To give the correct amount, I would have to put in £75 in notes, then deplete my change further to pay the rest.  Instead, I choose to make an over-payment and shove £80 into the machine.  The difference will come back to me in my pay packet next week or the one after.  If I under pay (because, for example, I make a mistake with change and my takings are down) this gets deducted from my pay.  Funnily enough, we’re all really careful giving out change!

Now, at last, I am done for the day, and I’ve had a good one.  Even though my bus was really late at one point, nobody has grumbled at me and because today was a shorter shift than usual, I’m away home with time and energy to spare.  I’ve a day off tomorrow, then I’m on early Monday, when all the commuters will want to buy their weekly passes from me, and no matter how much they slow me down serving them, they will grumble if we’re late…

Keeping Afloat

sterling-coins-7201598

After a few weeks of driving, I’m beginning to get into the swing of things. I’ve managed to get lost one more time – driving late, in the dark, on a less familiar route, I became a little confused at a roundabout and chose the wrong exit.  However, I am now much more confident at manoeuvring the bus, and quickly chose a suitable side road to reverse into and get back on course with only a couple of minutes delay.  It earned me one cheerful comment from an elderly gentleman as he disembarked about exploring a part of town he hadn’t seen before, but I’m not sure how many other passengers even noticed!

Our bus company is quite forward technologically, with their own version of the Oyster card and even a mobile app you can use to buy and display tickets.  From the driver’s point of view, it’s very simple; if the passenger has valid travel for that day, they simply show you their phone screen with an animated rectangle that alternates between the current time and that day’s codeword.  The driver then simply presses the button on the ticket machine that says “mob app” and the passenger is counted on board.  The animation and time are to help protect against fraud; you can’t simply lift a screenshot of the rectangle from your friend’s phone and show it to the driver on yours for a free trip, because we know not to accept static images.

However, when it comes to cash handling, we are still so twentieth century!  When we started our classroom week after qualifying to drive, one of the many things we were issued with was our float, which we keep for the entire time we drive for the company.  Basically, I was given (and signed a slip to say I had received) two twenty pound notes and a list of recommended coinage.  These I took to the bank with the list, and that was my float sorted.

Every day at the end of the shift, the ticket machine prints out the total takings for that day, and we go to another machine to pay it in, slotting the notes in one at a time (fiddly) then pouring coins into a hopper until the counter reaches the figure on the ticket.  We have to be selective doing this – we are responsible for having the right coins for next day’s float left in our tray at the end.

This week, I’ve had a bit of trouble with change – everybody seems to have boarded my bus with notes or pound coins, and by yesterday I had all but run out of twenty and ten pence pieces.  The firm do not provide change, so that meant a run down to the bank on my own time for more.  I was a little mystified as to how I could run out so quickly, as other days I have had an excess of coins which I have gladly poured away into the hopper to lighten my load, but I think I’ve worked it out.  This week has been half term holiday in the schools, and I’ve been taking a lot more teenagers on board, all with ten pound notes doubtlessly given them by parents keen to get them out from underfoot for an afternoon!

So next time you board a bus with a twenty pound note and the driver’s face drops, you know why.  If you are on board early in his shift, and he has to  change it with his precious coins, you’ve probably cost him another trip to the bank later, on his own time.