Unite has demanded that Transport for London (TfL) take action on bus driver fatigue on the eve of the publication of a damning new report on the issue.
The new report follows a previous one, commissioned by the Greater London Assembly, called Driven to Distraction, which uncovered high levels of stress and fatigue among London’s bus drivers.
When Driven to Distraction was first published in 2017, TfL sought to brush the results under the carpet. But thanks to Unite lobbying both TfL and London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a new in-depth study into bus driver fatigue undertaken by Loughborough University was commissioned.
The publication of this long-awaited report is now imminent, and Unite has seized the moment to reiterate its call for TfL to tackle bus driver fatigue, which has placed the safety of both passengers and drivers alike at risk.
Unite has demanded bus operators take a number of steps to address the problem, including improving scheduling and introducing sensible shift patterns, and ensuring sufficient recovery time between shifts. Unite has also called on bus operators to end low pay which creates a long-hours culture that’s fuelling driver fatigue. Decent rest and welfare facilities alongside shorter and more balanced work periods will also help tackle the problem, Unite has said.
Unite regional officer John Murphy called on TfL, bus operators and the London mayor to take action without delay.
“Workers are being left exhausted by a combination of long hours, shift patterns which fail to allow workers time to recover and the lack of adequate rest facilities,” he said.
“If the [new] Loughborough report recommends a radical overhaul of the existing working conditions then that has to be taken on board, to improve the safety of all Londoners.”
In the fight to tackle bus driver fatigue, Unite has also thrown its support behind legislation to limit local bus drivers’ hours across the board.
This year, Labour MP Matt Western introduced a bill dubbed ‘Rowan’s Law’, named after a seven-year-old boy who was killed in a bus accident in Coventry when the fatigued driver lost control of the bus. In the weeks leading up to the accident, the driver had been driving more than 70 hours each week.
Under existing laws, bus drivers can work up to 130 hours over two weeks, but Western hopes that if Rowan’s Law is implemented, hours can be reduced to 56 hours each week – in line with existing regulations on driving time for long-distance bus and lorry drivers.
The bill has also called for longer and more frequent break times. At the moment, bus drivers are entitled to a break of only 30 minutes after five and a half hours of driving, which the Bill wants to extend to 45 minutes after four and half hours.
Unite national officer for transport Bobby Morton wrote to transport minister Nusrat Ghani explaining the union’s support for Rowan’s Law.
“This campaign is important to me because, as the Unite the Union National Officer for Passenger Transport Services, I am aware of a number of incidents over the last five years that have resulted in fatalities due to driver fatigue, including the one involving Rowan,” he wrote.
“It is a fact that there is a national shortage of bus drivers in the UK but the bus operators answer to this is to offer, sometimes under threat, record amounts of overtime and to invest in seeing machines, which, at the first sign of fatigue in a driver, vibrates the seat robustly in order to keep the driver awake. These practices, I am sure you will agree, are not conducive to either health and safety or work/life balance.”
Morton called on the government to change the law “so that bus passengers, the public and indeed the drivers themselves are safe from driver fatigue caused by excessive hours”.
Unite urges everyone to sign a petition in support of Rowan’s Law as the union continues to fight for a reduction in bus drivers’ hours.