Thursday, 21 May 2009

The End of an Era

I acquired a licence to drive a bus in 1974, when working for the National Bus Company in Brighton. I didn't need it then, my job was office-based, but it came in handy a couple of years later when the NBC and I parted company and I needed to find a job -quickly - which I did with Lancashire United Transport based just outside Manchester.
After a while I returned to office-based employment but I've always kept up the licence "just in case". Once a bus driver turns 46 he's required to renew the licence every 5 years and the renewal procedure involves a medical. My latest renewal is now due. I know I'll have difficulty passing the eyesight test - the standards for bus drivers are much higher than for ordinary car drivers. In fact, I know I'll fail as standards have been tightened, but I've always got through in the past because of the get-out clause that says if you can't meet the current standards you'll still get a licence if you can meet the standards that applied when you first passed your test!

However, I've decided not to bother. The medical isn't available on the NHS and doctors can - and do - charge handsomely for it. My recent heart problem may still be an issue as I'm still on medication but, really I ask myself, will I ever want to drive a bus again?

At one time I thought a little part-time bus driving job might be a pleasant way to spend my retirement, but buses and the bus industry have changed. Privatisation, deregulation and the diminished power of the trade unions have made the bus driver's lot "not an 'appy one." Duty rosters are now designed to work staff right up to the legal maximum hours and minimum breaks and, of course the traffic is far worse than it was 35 years ago. The buses themselves have also changed. I did most of my driving on one of these

A Guy Arab V with a 4-speed crash gearbox, no power steering and a conductor (although in the north-west we called them "guards") running around inside ringing the bell and collecting the fares. Modern buses have power steering, automatic gears and an electronic till for the driver to sell the tickets from (although that could be better company than some of the grumpier conductors you used to get saddled with).

So I've decided not to renew my licence. After all, I've now got Starcross to play with and I'll soon have my bus pass so that I can ride around on the buses, even if I can't drive them. Its still, after 35 years, the end of an era though.


Captain Ahab said...

Well I never! I used to drive a double decker for fun back in the 1980's when it was still possible on a car license, providing there were no fee paying passengers. It was an old D Reg front loader with a seperate cab. 4 speed with no syncro and no power steering - just a huge 4.5 litre engine with loads of torque but few revs. Magic!

NB Willawaw said...

I can sympathise on two counts. Firstly, my father drove a London bus for a while (RT101 ?) and said the training skid pan was the best and secondly, I've just decided not to renew my canoeing coach licence due to requirements for expensive update training courses (money making scam).