National woes as strikes and driver shortages continue

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.

The cuts by Stagecoach in Gloucestershire reported elsewhere in this week’s issue represent the tip of the iceberg for an industry which is still struggling to recover from the pandemic, lacking in drivers and facing strike action at many large operators. The BBC reports that National Express is considering removing 12 West Midlands school bus services at the end of December out of around 60 services for pupils it operates across the region.

National Express West Midlands said: “We are doing everything we can to avoid changing routes,” and added that no decisions had been made about which routes, if any, would be changed.” The firm said it was working hard to maintain services while seeing fewer passengers and increased costs post-pandemic.

”We are currently running a 10% larger network than comparable cities nationwide. This has spared this region the significant cut-backs seen elsewhere,” a spokesperson said. ”A particular priority is to ensure that places remain served by buses and nobody is cut off from bus provision. Some services, which overlap with other routes, are no longer sustainable and are under review.”

Meanwhile in Bristol, First says it is taking action to tackle a shortage of 200 bus drivers with West of England Metro Mayor Dan Norris to try to help attract more recruits and reduce the ongoing cancellations and service disruption that are currently endemic across the industry.

Managing Director of First West of England Doug Claringbold said: “We increased our salary by 14% earlier in the year. We’re doing all that we can,” although one former driver told local media that more was needed for the industry to be able to increase rates of staff retention.

First also came under attack in Aberdeen following proposals as part of a network review to withdraw its route X27, which has seen a consistent decline in airport passengers as a result of increased competition from Stagecoach, coupled to a reduction in demand at the major industrial estate it serves beyond the airport.

Microbrewery Fierce Beer said its staff rely on the service. First Bus said that demand is below pre-pandemic levels and that the X27 isn’t viable in the current climate. The firm says that current X27 passengers could travel between the city centre and the airport by using Stagecoach’s 727 bus.

First Bus said in a consultation on the proposals: “As we continue to emerge from the pandemic and adapt to changes in customer travel trends, we need to make sure that the network of services that we offer across Aberdeen, as well as the resources used to operate that network are deployed to where it’s needed the most and to areas that will allow us to take advantage of new opportunities and grow the business.”

In the North East, a union organiser labelled one operator ‘petty’ over an ongoing pay dispute, just one of many the sector has seen in recent months. The GMB union said they had concerns regarding the treatment of Stagecoach drivers in Sunderland who were striking against pay plans put forward by the operator which it said ‘constitute a real-terms pay cut.’ A Stagecoach spokesperson said they were without foundation.