The continuing driver shortage across the UK is affecting some areas worse than others. One such area is Lincolnshire, where one local operator has made the decision to take action to ensure its Monday to Friday local and school services operate
Boston-based operator Brylaine has announced to its customers that is to suspend all Saturday bus services due to the ongoing driver shortage, which it says is hitting Lincolnshire particularly hard. In a statement on the company’s website, Managing Director Marrianne Garbutt told passengers: “It is with regret we inform our passengers that due to a significant reduction of drivers within our team and an extreme shortage of PCV drivers in Lincolnshire, we will be unable operate any Saturday bus services from 1 January to 31 March.
“We had hoped to avoid this action, taking intermediary steps on 6 November 2021, adopting temporary reduced Saturday services. However, after further reductions in the team we find ourselves in the position whereby we must consider what is best for everyone in these exceptional circumstances.
“This action is not in any way taken lightly and we hope that it is temporary; it is a big decision for a local family business as we fully appreciate both the disruption and inconvenience it may cause to loyal passengers. It is being taken with our best intentions to ensure Brylaine are able to fully operate all service between Monday and Friday on the days they are most needed by the communities we serve.
“All Monday to Friday daily commuter and education services will be unaffected by this action. We want to ensure consistency for all passenger using our bus services during the week between Monday and Friday, so that they can be assured there will be no changes to their midweek service timetables.
“The reason for such a purposeful response, is that we absolutely do not want to adopt a strategy of dropping services ad-hoc on any given day due to available driver resources. Many of our passengers are elderly or vulnerable or walk substantial distances to wait for hourly or half hourly services. Many don’t have access to digital or social media, many don’t have bus shelters to wait in and as a rural operator, it is without doubt in the best interest of passengers to ensure they have clarity on what is and isn’t available before setting off.
“Clarity is key as we hope Lincolnshire County Council will now step in and support our Saturday services with their own Teckle Company – Transport Connect and the funded Call Connect DRT services. The bus driver shortage is a national issue escalated by the impact of HGV recruitment and online shopping delivery roles, with PCV drivers choosing less stressful employment options.
“Heightened on-bus Covid-19 responsibilities and passenger management have meant many are looking for alternative career options. Over the past 20 months they’ve had the opportunity to evaluate what’s important to them being at the forefront and serving the public daily throughout. We absolutely support any decisions any have taken in their and their family’s best interest.
“Wage levels are of course a significant issue, it’s a trained profession which requires multiple licences/CPCs, elevated DBS clearances and holds a lot of daily personal responsibility for each driver. Without regional funding and support for the operation of rural bus services, rural operators like ourselves simply cannot reach wage levels that compete with HGVs, or indeed many of the local warehouse distribution operations and online delivery services here in Lincolnshire. Substantially increasing fares to meet the professional wage deficit is not an option, given we serve some of the lowest socio-economic and sparsely populated areas in the country, whilst also delivering some of the longest bus service routes.
“On a more positive note, we have a fantastic team here and our driving team is and remains incredibly supportive and hard working. Our hope is to reintroduce Saturday services levels from 3 April and we are liaising closely with Lincolnshire County Council’s Transport Team on this timeframe.”
Passengers are able to use CallConnect or Lincolnshire County Council-arranged replacement services provided by Black Cat Travel and Stagecoach in Lincolnshire on some routes. Brylaine has now created a Driver Training Academy and is welcoming applications and interest from people who would like to consider PCV driving as a career step.
Others bus operators in the county are also suffering from driver shortages, including Centrebus, which has made temporary changes to some Saturday services in the Grantham area.