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From: The Socialist issue 1021, 5 December 2018: Not one more day - Tories out now

Search site for keywords: Buses - Drivers - Stagecoach - Health and safety

Fatal bus crash - an avoidable tragedy

photo Ad Meskens/CC

photo Ad Meskens/CC   (Click to enlarge)

'Tom Woodcock', Birmingham Central Socialist Party

As a former bus driver I was appalled by the news story about Kailash Chander, the Stagecoach bus driver, whose dangerous driving resulted in the death of two people.

In October 2015, the 77 year old mistook the brake for the accelerator pedal and mounted the kerb outside Sainsbury's in Coventry city centre.

He couldn't stand trial due to his dementia and was handed a two-year supervision order by the court last week. What does this say about Tory benefit cuts and poverty pensions, that an old and disabled man is driving a bus?

It sickens me to learn that Chander had been working 75-hour weeks, and had been the subject of 24 complaint letters regarding his driving standards.

A plain-clothes bus inspector reported Chander's poor driving, but despite this, he continued to be employed. Stagecoach put profit before safety.

The 2.3 million fine handed to the bus company will not make any difference to the families of 76-year-old pedestrian Dora Hancox or little Rowan Fitzgerald, aged seven. Rowan was travelling back from a football match with his grandad on the bus.

Both were killed as a result of unfit-driver Chander being put to work by Stagecoach to cover staff shortages. The fine will barely dent Stagecoach's 123m profits from their local bus operations.

Stagecoach bosses have been let off the hook. They should have been jailed for corporate manslaughter.

It was they who ignored the dangers and placed an unsafe driver behind the wheel of one of their buses.

As gross an example as this is, I have been convinced for many years that it would only be a matter of time before the long-hours culture of the bus industry led to a horrific incident.

Readers may be surprised to learn that bus drivers on local routes can work up to 16 hours a day, are entitled to as little as eight-and-a-half-hours rest between shifts, and work up to 19 days without a day off.

My union for transport workers, RMT, has called for bus-driving hours to be brought in-line with slightly more stringent EU hours which are used for coach and lorry drivers. This has been resisted by the employers, citing the impact on their fat profits.

Overworked

During my 10 years on the buses in London and the West Midlands, many drivers worked all of their rest days and booked as much overtime as possible to make up for the low wages.

Supervisors were always asking if you would do an extra trip for them or come in on your day off to cover shifts.

Split shifts are the norm and together with highly restricted access to toilet facilities and frequent abuse from members of the public, bus driving really is a long-hours and unhealthy occupation.

Bus drivers are exempt from many workplace health and safety regulations that the law affords to most other workers.

Bus industry standards need to be urgently improved. Driving hours should be reduced to a maximum of 35 hours a week, wages must be sharply uplifted to a liveable level, and shifts must be compiled and rostered with the safety and wellbeing of drivers in mind. Train driving is seen as an attractive job, why can't bus driving be?

Renationalising the bus service without compensation to the corporate parasites who have been sucking the industry dry for 30 years will be the first and most important step towards this goal.

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Article dated 5 December 2018

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