Celebration time

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Excellence displayed by the cream of the industry’s drivers was brought to the fore at the 2016 final of the annual Bus Driver of the Year competition. Mike Morgan reports on this year’s event in Blackpool

It was a true celebration of driving skill as the competition to find the UK’s best bus drivers clocked-up 50 years, ensuring the annual event’s status as the premier event of its kind.

Having started in Coventry in 1967, the UK Bus Driver of the Year (BDoY) moved to Blackpool 15 years later. Now, after 35 years at the Lancashire resort it was with justifiable pride that the organisers celebrated a notable landmark.

Winner: Craig Lockyer, National Express West Midlands

Held on Blackpool’s Middle Walk on Sunday (4 September), the BDoY National Final 2016 attracted 115 entries from almost 50 operating companies. Although the vast majority of drivers represented the major bus groups, there were also entrants from smaller groups, local authority-owned operators, and independents Ensignbus, McGills and Peoplesbus.

In order to ensure their appearance in the Final drivers have to first take part in company or regional heats, which are usually organised by individual operating companies. Success in these heats means that it’s the top drivers that go through to represent each participating operator in the Blackpool, adding significant prestige to their achievements.

Nevertheless the Blackpool is event is organised in such a way that it is a further challenge of skill and knowledge in a day-long competition calculated to determine who are the best bus drivers. Consequently it really is a major achievement to win one of the many top awards never mind the accolade of Bus Driver of the Year.

Supported by colleagues and family, the drivers’ skills come under the microscope as they guide their vehicles through a series of 10 challenging tests that include positioning at bus stops, and judgement of width, length and driving in traffic… all while under the close scrutiny of the marshals who deduct points for the smallest of errors.

The drivers also have a two-part theory test geared to ensure that they have professional levels of knowledge when it comes to the Highway Code and Driver CPC.

Replicating real-life bus operation as far as possible, there’s a timetable with buses departing every two minutes from 0900hrs to 1300hrs, leaving time for scores to be checked before the prize-giving in the Hilton Hotel’s Royal Suite at 1600hrs.

Prior to taking up their allotted duty drivers undertake an alcohol test when they sign on and are expected to read any special instruction on the notice board. They are allocated one of the 20 buses generously provided for the event by participating operators. The majority of these buses are young, if not brand new, and without exception reflect the status of the competition. Indeed, there’s the keenly contested Vice President’s Cup for the best presented buses – an award in which operators owned by local authorities shone, accounting for four out of five vehicles selected for commendation.

However, when it came to the driving awards the top spot went to National Express West Midlands driver Craig Lockyer who was taking part in his third BDoY final. He was joint fifth in 2015.

With prize money significantly increased for the 50th event, Wolverhampton-based Craig, 32, not only took home a clutch of trophies but also £3,600.

Had it not been for Craig’s winning score drivers from First in Scotland were heading for a clean sweep of the top positions, finishing in second, third and fourth place, while another First driver achieved the accolade of best from Wales.

This year the prizes were presented by the Mayor of Blackpool, Councillor Kath Rowson who stood in at the eleventh hour for Senior Traffic Commissioner Beverley Bell who, in a twist of irony, was forced to withdraw because of illness. The planned guest of honour, Leon Daniels had to cancel because of official business in the capital.

To the relief of the BDoY Council Councillor Rowson proved a popular stand-in who added her blend of warmth and wit to a most successful golden jubilee celebration.

The results 2016

  • First place and highest National Express: Craig Lockyer, National Express West Midlands
  • Second place, best from Scotland, highest First Group: Jonathan Welch, First Aberdeen
  • Third place, second First Group: Colin Henderson, First Scotland East
  • Fourth place: Adam Ksiazek, First Aberdeen
  • Fifth place: highest Go-Ahead: Darren Marshall, Morebus
  • Highest Stagecoach: Brian Mackie, Stagecoach East Scotland
  • Highest RATP Dev: Neil Cousins, Bournemouth Transport
  • Second RATP Dev: Georgina Fish, Bournemouth Transport
  • Second National Express: Stephen Bate, National Express West Midlands
  • Highest London and second highest Stagecoach: William Bradford, Stagecoach London
  • Second London: Stephen Appiah, Go-Ahead London
  • Second Go-Ahead: Steven Williams, Oxford Bus Company
  • Highest Arriva: Mark Woodgate, Arriva Southern Counties
  • Second Arriva: Martyn Smith, Arriva Southern Counties
  • Highest independent: Andrew Cawley, Peoplesbus
  • Highest Album: Shaun Clark, Ipswich Buses
  • Best theory test: Toby Kay, Stagecoach South West
  • Best from Wales: Peter Mascall, First Cymru
  • Vice Presidents Cup: Rosso/Reading Buses – newly delivered bus, Blackpool Transport/Lothian Buses – nearly new bus, Peoplesbus – older bus