Drivers COVID-19

Getting back to some semblance of normality is the industry’s holy grail of the moment. More passengers equals more vehicles in use equals more business for suppliers. It is not quite that easy, but it is a start.

It is no secret that bus operators are already shaping up for a major increase in vehicle utilisation. One large company will grow its PVR by 70% from Sunday 24 May. More will follow in a similar vein a week later.

But in other parts of the industry is the staff pool ready for a major rise in workload? For those operators that have an older driver resource, the answer may be no.

Some of those individuals will remain self-isolating because of health concerns. Others may elect not to return to a public-facing job at all through fears of virus transmission, particularly where there is no screen between themselves and passengers.

That poses a problem. The coach and bus sector has long relied on older drivers. It is well known that younger people often do not see it as a desirable career path. While replacing more senior staff members who decide not to return may not be pressing in the short term, it will become so later.

Arriving at a solution to that challenge will not be easy. A recession is predicted. Such periods usually simplify recruitment. But many forecasts say that recovery from economic slowdown will be rapid. If that is the case, with it will come increased competition for staff from other industries.

That may mean that only one thing can be done: Pay more and attract new entrants. Such thoughts will be unpalatable while some parts of the coach and bus community fight for survival. But if some older drivers do not return after COVID-19, it is difficult to see any other mechanism that can help to replace them in sufficient numbers.

The days of some operators running for little more than fuel and paltry wages should have been over years ago. Perhaps today’s predicament will ultimately see off such practices once and for all. If it does, there can at least be one silver lining in the current grim cloud.