Matt Cranwell, Managing Director of Stagecoach East Midlands, explains the cause of the issues and what the bus operator is doing to make sure they can return to their full service as quickly as possible.
During the past 18 months, we have experienced challenges like we have never seen before – it’s nothing I could ever have imagined dealing with in my career. Firstly, the pandemic which brought the country to a standstill, but in amongst the terrible times, it demonstrated just how important buses are to our region. I could not have been prouder of the role that our teams in Lincolnshire played in keeping the county moving and buses running for key workers. It gave me great pleasure to see the positive comments many of our customers fed back about how well we had adapted and kept the county connected.
Fast forward to now and whilst I still remain fiercely proud of my team, I am frustrated that we currently aren’t able to offer communities in Lincolnshire our full service. As people will have seen in the news, there is a driver shortage right across the country that is affecting the transport and logistics sector, and this includes bus drivers. It is estimated that there is a shortfall of around 4,000 drivers across the country, and unfortunately here in Lincolnshire, we are not immune to the impact of this.
As well as the continuing effects of COVID-19, we have also seen a number of our drivers choosing to leave the business – and it’s for a wide variety of reasons. It’s true that some people are choosing to move into other driver roles, such as HGV and van driving, but that’s only a very small part of the issue. We are also seeing that the pandemic has made people decide to make different choices about their future. One example of this is more people choosing to take early retirement – this has increased by around 55%.
This is all leading to some short-term issues with delivering the services that our communities need. However we do have positive news on the plans we have in place to resolve the challenges we face.
Bus driving remains an attractive profession, with flexible working, guaranteed hours and promotional opportunities; it can be a long-term stable career. We’re pleased to have seen that we have no shortage of people wanting to drive our buses. We’ve had more than 750 applicants for our driver roles since August and we now have a strong pipeline of people ready to start working for Stagecoach East Midlands.
And whilst this is great news, it will take a little bit of time to get everybody behind the wheel. Firstly, even before training can start, every new driver has to have a licence issued by the DVLA – this year, due to delays at the DVLA in processing licences, this has been taking between 8 to 12 weeks. Thankfully we have started to see this position improve and in the last four weeks this process has reduced to around a week.
Then, once the driver has their licence, our free industry leading training programme starts which includes everything from safety to route learning to customer service, everything needed to start driving a bus with confidence. This ultimately means that appointing a new driver to getting them on the road can take up to 12 weeks.
Whilst we wait for our new drivers to be fully trained, and based on the number of drivers we currently have available, we have unfortunately had to reduce our timetables for some of our services. Given the issues, many of which are outside of our control, it is impossible at the moment to say how long we expect this to last for but we are currently planning that reduced timetables will need to be in place for the remainder of this year. For the latest updates please go to stagecoachbus.com or our Twitter page @StagecoachEMid.
Whilst we are continuing to run more than 97% of our normal services throughout the county, we know that this is causing inconvenience and disruption for some of our customers, and I am very sorry for that. I have always been proud of our strong performance and the important role we play in keeping Lincolnshire connected and I am frustrated that we are currently unable to run our full service.
We will continue to keep customers updated through our website and social media channels and are providing daily updates on the services we are running.
We are also continuing to recruit drivers to make sure we always have a strong pool of drivers available. If anybody reading this would like to apply or has a friend or any family member they think would be a good fit for bus driving, please tell them to visit stagecoachbus.com/careers.
Looking forward, there are strong commitments in place for strengthening public transport within our local communities. Government plans are in place for significant investment in green sustainable transport, and this is further supported as part of new Enhanced Partnership plans with local authorities. Set to come into force by April 2022, these plans are aimed at providing a core focus on delivering a long-term commitment to ensuring public transport remains a reliable and integral part of our daily lives.
I would like to thank our customers for their patience and also thank our fantastic team of drivers who are working under some difficult circumstances right now. Please be kind to our team when you see them and please be reassured that we are doing everything we can to get services back to normal as quickly as we can.