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March 13 2019
By Michaela Peacock

Michaela writes for routeone and Group Tourism & Travel magazines

The truth about driver shortages

It’s a ‘huge’ issue many operators are struggling with, and as routeone finds out, no one is facing this battle alone

Driver shortage is very much a hot potato in the coach and bus industry.

Some operators say they don’t have problems recruiting drivers. In fact, routeone carried out some research which highlighted an issue that some people in the industry think it’s a “myth”.

But reflecting on what some operators have said regarding the issue, driver shortage is very much real.

What shortage?

Some operators have spoken to routeone about the issue. While some are facing minor shortages, one operator has expressed his concerns about having a “huge” shortage of drivers.

“We do have a huge driver shortage and it’s causing a massive issue. It has slowly become worse over the years and we have no idea what to do about it,” says Keith Sanzo, Director of Eurotaxis.

The Bristol-based firm, which also operates full-size coaches and midi and minibuses as well as taxis, is an approved centre for drivers to get their DCPC.

Mr Sanzo says: “[We run this centre] to try and make it easier and free for drivers, but that hasn’t helped. And in fact, has just made it even more expensive for us. 

“It all became so much worse with the introduction of the DCPC, which we felt has been no use whatsoever. We don’t have a single driver that has felt the DCPC has been of any use.”

Mr Sanzo isn’t alone when it comes to having this view on the DCPC. Many operators have said their drivers don’t want to go through the 35 hours of classroom time so go on to do other work.

Only the good

Drivers of all vehicles are aware of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ones. Some cars have become infamous for how they’re driven, and the ‘white van man’ has also gained a notorious reputation.

A driver of a coach or bus doesn’t need to simply drive the vehicle. They are customer-focused jobs which can have negative effects on a journey for a passenger, and therefore a negative effect on the business.

“Finding qualified drivers is difficult. We find that they have worked elsewhere and have left for reasons which we would not consider them suitable,” says Colin Stafford, Managing Director of Halton Borough Transport.

Mr Stafford believes there isn’t a lack of drivers, but rather a lack of ‘good’ drivers.

“This is the main issue: There are drivers often available, but not employable,” he says.

Although he says his firm does not have a driver shortage, Terry Mcintyre, Director of Golden Boy Coaches, agrees that the problem is more to do with a lack of good drivers as opposed to a lack of drivers in general.

“Where we have tried to fill vacancies, we have often been disappointed with the calibre of candidates applying and have had to filter out unsuitable drivers at quite an early stage,” Mr Mcintyre says.

Training is key

How does the industry tackle this problem? It’s a growing concern; drivers are a fundamental foundation to every operation.

One operator who is currently suffering from a shortage of part-time drivers is David Hand, Managing Director of Rover European Travel.

Mr Hand’s firm trains both full- and part-time staff and have had good success with this.

He says: “If you want to attract good drivers, you do need to train your own which takes time.

“Like a number of other decent companies, we have a number of good drivers and even a few young ones that we have trained ourselves and they are great.”

Kevin Hughes, Managing Director of Ashford Minibuses, says he doesn’t have a driver shortage, and he puts this down to training his own drivers.

“In the last year, we’ve trained five new ones, with two going for their test this week,” he says.

Mr Mcintyre adds: “Like other operators we have looked at the option of training drivers by covering the cost. Within the past six months we have secured the services of one excellent driver through this method and it is a process that we are likely to build upon in the coming years.”

Tackle the issue

There are many ways to attract drivers into the industry, such as by offering an attractive employment package. Mr Mcintyre feels insurance providers could play a part.

He says: “I do have strong feelings on what insurance companies could do to help, particularly in relation to younger drivers. 

“After 22 years with the same insurance provider, where difficult operational restrictions were imposed by the insurer on drivers under 25 years of age and for those with less than two years’ experience, we changed provider in December 2018 to an insurer where no age restrictions are applied. 

“This is already making driver recruitment easier for us as we are now not hitting the frustrating obstacles in the early stages of trying to employ what we see as suitable younger candidates. We certainly feel like the shackles have been taken off since we’ve had the young driver restrictions lifted.”

I agree with you Kenneth that a certain number of drivers are not aware of the impact of shift work on their lives prior to application. I also agree that the CPC modules are informative and a handy refresher of industry knowledge, but overall i believe it only equates to a stealth tax on drivers. I have been in this industry for near enough 20 years now and yes i agree that benefits packages for drivers from their employers have got a lot better and practical and yes you are not treated like just a number as much as we were when i first started in the industry but nowadays i find that implied respect from other road users and passengers has deteriorated to an all time low, i regularly get brake tested on the motorway, undercut, have u-turns pulled in front of me with no warning, all this adds to the stress of an already stressful and responsible position of a PSV driver. I myself believe that like the CPC that we are legally required to undertake, car drivers should have to take a PCV/HGV awareness course as part of their driving test. Once implied respect for said drivers improves (which wont happen overnight) maybe then firms will be able to retain staff for longer and build up sufficient numbers
Interesting article that is long overdue though I believe a bigger problem is driver retention rather than recruitment. So many people come into the industry not appreciating that shift work is the norm and when they realise they have to work evenings and weekends they look for a way out. I also believe that too many people talk the industry down when they should be promoting the many positives. As a trade union representative for 32 years I always tried to portray the great benefits of bus driving such as the great comradeship and banter that exists in the workplace, the fact that most promotions to supervisors and management roles come from within and the freedom to negotiate better pay and conditions through trade union recognition agreements that exist within virtually every company while the flexibility to exchange duties and holiday periods is in existence in most workplaces. The pay, in general, whilst still less than train drivers, has also improved in recent years and the risk of redundancies and short time working is far less than most other industries. I do feel that respect for Bus Drivers has also improved in recent years and that management are treating drivers far better than they did years ago having finally woken up to the fact that a happy driver usually equals a happy customer. Wish I could start my 50 years stretch again!
Kenneth Farrington

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