Bus firms report shortages as workers quit for better-paid HGV roles

You wait years for a driver crisis then two come along at once: Bus firms report crippling staff shortages as workers quit for better-paid HGV roles

  • Bus firms are reporting staff shortages as workers quit for better-paid HGV roles
  • Operators estimate there are 4,000 vacancies for bus drivers at present
  • Bus drivers earn £32,500, but can now be paid £78,000 to drive HGVs instead 

Bus firms are reporting crippling staff shortages as workers across the country quit ‘in droves’ for better-paid HGV roles.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, which represents National Express and Stagecoach, estimates there are more than 4,000 vacancies for bus and coach drivers at present.

Bus drivers earn £32,500 on average, but can now be paid up to £78,000 to driver lorries instead.

Services in Derby, Stockton-on-Tees, Nottingham and Loughborough are among those affected by the mass exodus, with routes cancelled in Scotland, the North East and South West.

Operators blame road haulage bosses for poaching their drivers, and say they need 4,000 new recruits just to keep the industry moving. 

It comes as a shortage of lorry drivers left Britain in turmoil as delivery rates plummeted leading to major disruption leading to stock shortages in supermarkets, chaos at abattoirs and trouble accessing goods from abroad. 

Bobby Morton, Unite’s national officer for passenger transport, told Sky News the sudden shortfall of drivers was caused by the ongoing shortage of lorry drivers in the haulage industry.

‘A number of the things that lorry drivers share with bus drivers is very long hours, massive fatigue levels, lack of basic facilities such as toilet facilities and washing facilities,’ he said.

Bus firms are reporting crippling staff shortages as workers across the country quit ‘in droves’ for better-paid HGV roles (stock image)

The Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, which represents National Express and Stagecoach, estimates there are more than 4,000 vacancies for bus and coach drivers at present (stock image)

‘And the mindset of the bus drivers at the moment is that, in the haulage industry, the employers threw money at the problem, at the shortage.

‘So the mindset is now, if we’ve got to work in these Victorian conditions, then we might as well get £20 an hour driving the lorry, as opposed to £10 an hour driving a bus. So the bus drivers are leaving in droves to go to the other industry.’

A CPT spokesman told Sky News: ‘Operators have recruitment plans in place, and we are talking to government and its agencies to ensure that the recruitment and training process is as streamlined and efficient as possible.

‘What we now need to see is the requirement for a provisional licence to be issued to begin training abolished and the DVSA (Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency) to not prioritise HGV testing to resolve the shortfall in that sector at the expense of the bus and coach sector.’

Nearly one million letters have been posted across the UK, asking HGV licence-holders who have left the industry to return. Bus drivers are also being targeted in the recruitment drive.

As a result, there are now pockets of driver shortages across the country, with areas in Scotland, the north east of England, Bristol and south Gloucestershire being hit hardest.

Bosses at First West of England have said the problems are ‘unlike any other the UK transport industry has faced’, and blame a mixture of poaching, Covid, Brexit and strike action at the DVLA for the shortages.

Boris Johnson standing on the back of a London bus during an unveiling in London in 2012

In an aerial view, lorry cabs are lined up in a holding facility on September 9, 2021 in Dover

In Scotland, some services have been cut from half hourly to hourly, with First claiming it is 17 per cent short of the number of drivers it needs to run a full service in the region.

Elsewhere, bosses in West Yorkshire say they are ten per cent short of the required workforce.  

In most cases, bus and lorry drivers renewing their licences can continue to drive while their application is being processed, the DVLA said.

A DVLA spokesman said: ‘There are no delays for bus and HGV provisional licence applications which are currently being issued in around five days – we are prioritising these applications and looking at ways to speed up this process even further.’

It comes after bosses from the haulage, recruitment and food sectors warned ministers at the Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that the UK’s lorry driver shortage is ‘not visibly getting better’ and could take around a year to recover.

ONS figures published on Tuesday showed that driver numbers have plunged by 53,000 over the past four years, largely driven by retiring drivers not being replaced fast enough by new recruits. 

Jeff Counsell, managing director of Trentbarton, told Sky News: ‘At the moment, the transport and logistics sector are literally throwing money at drivers to plug their shortfalls. 

‘The difference is that they can pass that cost on to the consumer – we can’t readily pass that cost on. We’ve not been allowed to increase fares for the last 18 months. 

We haven’t made a profit for the last 18 months because we’ve received a government subsidy. We can’t compete with the logistics and distribution sector at this moment in time.

‘Other cost pressures are also going up – so fuel, for example, is costing us £100,000 more so far in 2021 than it did in 2020 because the price of fuel is escalating.’ 

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