They’re not always known for their sunny disposition and helpful manner, but London’s bus drivers won the praise of passengers yesterday for keeping the capital moving in the face of a Tube strike that had threatened to bring chaos.
Commuters took to social media to salute some of the 8,200 drivers who were behind the wheel at the height of the industrial action.
Despite earning less than half that of their peers on the Underground, many drivers came in on their days off to work additional shifts, with 250 extra buses put into service.
This included about 60 drivers taking control of a fleet of vintage buses — some dating from 1946 — that was drafted in to ease overcrowding on routes in central London and the East End.
One over-eager driver was pictured cutting his bus in front of an ambulance and jumping a red light in an attempt to beat the traffic. Others were lauded for their calm amid the chaos.
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, condemned the “bone-headed” strike and accused unions of holding a gun to Londoners’ heads with the action — the second walkout in a month.
The 24-hour strike, which ended last night, was called as part of a long-running protest over the introduction of an all-night Tube service. Unions want guarantees on working hours, more pay and extra staff. Other strikes are expected within weeks.
It emerged yesterday that the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), one of four involved in the dispute, was calling for pay rises in line with increases in the capital’s house prices, which are predicted to rise by 25 per cent over five years.
The walkout led to lengthy queues for buses and cramped conditions on vehicles. Some passengers complained of sweltering conditions on the mayor’s new generation of Routemasters.
One private bus company, Travel Masters, began an investigation after a driver was filmed swearing and racially abusing a passenger.
At the peak of the morning rush-hour, almost 200 miles of queueing traffic and 428 jams were recorded by the satellite navigation company TomTom. There was double the congestion on a normal Thursday in the capital.
Many passengers found reasons to be cheerful, however. “Today is a momentous day: the bus driver let us stand on the top deck,” one wrote on Twitter.
Another passenger said: “My bus driver was on another level this morning. He deserves a raise.” A third said: “After this morning’s save by an epic bus driver, I think we should halve Tube staff pay and double bus drivers’.” Other comments included a passenger who said: “Totally impressed with my calm bus driver amongst the chaos and impatient commuters.”
Another added: “Yay! Friendly Geordie bus driver got me to my bucket collection early. Winning on Tube strike day.”
Some drivers were a little too eager to get their passengers to their destination on time, however. One London Ambulance worker posted a picture online of the back of a bus, adding: “This bus pulled out in front of my ambulance in Euston then jumped a red light!”
Natasha Lambert, 42, a driver for Go-Ahead London, the biggest bus operator in the capital, was behind the wheel of the 77 between Tooting and Waterloo yesterday. Part of the route was a nightmare, she said, explaining how she used her PA system to warn passengers of jams ahead, allowing them to get off early and walk. In another incident, she left her cab at Waterloo to escort a passenger to the correct stop.
“Sometimes bus drivers do get a raw deal but there are quite a few people like myself who will go the extra mile to help passengers out,” she said. “Talking politely tends to neutralise every situation; that’s what I find. I have a calm nature.”
Mick Cash, the RMT general secretary, said: “Our dispute is not with the travelling public, it is with those who have botched the introduction of Night Tube and who are trying to plug staffing gaps by wrecking any chance of a decent work/life balance for our members. It really is as simple as that.”
How the jobs compare
Pay Typical pay ranges from £17,000 to £25,000, depending on which of the 18 companies in the capital a driver works for, according to the unions. In some cases salaries can reach just under £30,000
Hours Bus drivers typically work a 38-hour week on one of 670 routes, with some working night shifts
Holiday One of the biggest companies in the capital says that staff are given 20 days’ holiday a year, rising to 23 days after five years
Pay Drivers start on £49,673 a year, well above the £41,500 average London salary, according to Transport for London. After five years, salaries can rise to between £50,000 and £60,000
Hours Underground drivers work a standard 36-hour week. Some Tube unions have been campaigning for drivers to be put on a 32-hour, four-day week
Holiday Drivers are entitled to 43 days of leave every year