Taxi fares and growing debt: the impact of bus driver shortages on key Welsh workers


Key workers described paying hundreds of pounds in taxis and facing growing debt because of difficulties in taking the bus to work.

A continuing national shortage of bus drivers has hit the UK, with a perfect storm of different factors creating the problem.

Delays and adjustments were made for school transportation, but daily commuters were also affected as companies, such as First Cymru, had to temporarily change their services.

Public transport companies run some services less frequently due to issues such as the shift of drivers to post-containment jobs behind the wheel of heavy trucks, a delay in processing new license applications, and delays in staff training. newly qualified.

Additionally, as the rate of Covid rises, so does the number of insulated conductors, causing further shortages.

Staff sickness has been double normal levels, according to First Cymru, as they also face an increase in health-related retirements in the wake of the pandemic, with many taking stock of their health. professional life.

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Bridgend County Borough Council has asked bus users to plan their trips in advance for now, with the NHS and store workers among those affected.

These workers have seen hours cut off from their wages due to changing bus schedules and last minute cancellations, leaving taxis as their only way to get home.

Jamie Larkin, who works at Sainsbury’s in Bridgend, said he has struggled ever since the shortage of bus drivers became a problem.

He explained: “Last month I spent £ 18.90 on the bus and then it cost me around £ 40 on taxis when I can’t take the bus.

“Taxi money eats away at what I spend in my personal life, I can’t use the children’s Christmas money, but it all adds up.

“They put cancellations on Twitter and their app, but they only work until 7pm, so after that you just don’t know.”

He is not the only one suffering from the delays.

Dylan McAndrew, health assistant at Princess of Wales Hospital, has also been hit hard by the shortage of bus drivers throughout the pandemic.

The 29-year-old explained: “My monthly expenses have dropped from £ 80 per month on buses to around £ 300 due to having to take a mix of First Cymru, Stagecoach and mainly taxis.

“It blew up my debts as I had to reallocate money to transport costs, almost £ 800 in the last year for just one taxi company.”

Several factors contribute to the shortage of drivers

With so many late buses canceled, Dylan explained he had no choice but to spend his money on taxis to get home.

“It makes it worse, there’s no way to talk to people in the bus station,” Dylan said. “We are redirected to Twitter and use the app to view the live map which is sometimes broken.”

Phoebe, who works at Homebase, has had to go through pay cuts due to the shortage of bus drivers.

She explained: “Sometimes I had to take a two hour pay cut so I have to work but I had to pay for the hours I didn’t work because I didn’t get there on time. .

“Sometimes they’re good and they post a review on their Twitter, but you don’t always get that.”

Phoebe also pointed out that turning bus users to social media or apps shouldn’t be the only option.

“What are people like the elderly supposed to do? Like my grandparents who take the bus? This happened to me last week and they don’t have a cell phone to go on the internet and Twitter and things like that. “

Councilor Stuart Baldwin, member of the Bridgend Cabinet for Communities, said: ‘It would appear that the current national shortage of bus drivers is the result of several factors all linked to the pandemic, such as higher levels of absence. than normal for drivers who are sick or need to self-isolate.

“As private bus companies go out of their way to provide services, the shortage of bus drivers means they have no choice but to introduce these changes on a temporary basis. “

A spokesperson for Stagecoach South Wales said: ‘Our teams are working incredibly hard to ensure that we continue to perform the vast majority of our scheduled services and we remain focused on prioritizing the services that we know are most important for us. our clients.

“As with many organizations and sectors of the economy, the pandemic continues to impact our business. Issues such as Brexit and taking DVLA [significantly] the lengthening of the processing time for bus driver permits has added to these challenges beyond our control.

“We only operate one bus service in Bridgend, service 172 in Aberdare and we are working around the clock to recruit people into our team and train them for the roles we need, and we are seeing high demand. jobs. However, it takes an average of 10 weeks for a professional bus driver to be fully trained and any delays beyond our control in processing licenses means we cannot get them to run on our network as quickly as we would like.

“We apologize to our customers who have been affected by short-term service changes, and we would like to thank them for their patience with our frontline teams as we work to get our new drivers on the road.

“When we need to make changes to our bus services, we provide live updates to our customers through our social media channels.”

A First Cymru spokesperson said: “We are very sorry that the bus service standards that people are recently receiving in the Bridgend area are below the standard they would normally expect from us at First Cymru. The reliability issues we have encountered are mainly due to the availability of staff. “

The company added that factors such as increased staff illnesses to double the normal level, drivers moving to other roles, more health-related retirements from the pandemic and delays in the return of licenses from the DVLA due to industrial action, all contributed to the problem. .

This is in addition to the growing number of drivers needing to self-isolate, mainly due to the fact that family members have contracted Covid-19 due to tracking and traceability and staff vacations and accumulated vacations due to the impact of the leave.

As a result, First Cymru is currently offering a bonus to attract PCV holders into the business, doubling the capacity of their training school and using a supervisory and management team to cover mileage, among other measures.

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