My Funny Times as a Bus Driver in Kent
My Bus Driver's Badge
My Time as a Lady Bus Driver.
Some of my funniest and happiest memories were during the couple of years I spent as a Lady Bus Driver in Kent in the UK.
"Why become a Bus Driver you may ask?", well for me it was the challenge of driving a large vehicle. As a pretty petite female whose ex-boyfriend had been a coach driver, I thought this would be fun and as I had always been a bit of a "Tom Boy" I felt it would suit me down to the ground.
I saw an advert in a local paper that stated "London Transport" were looking for bus drivers. They were happy to train the applicants free of charge so long as they signed a year's contract. What's more, they were offering to pay £100 per week as wages during training. This sounded like a great opportunity, especially as my ex-fiance had driven coaches for a living, and on occasions had let me drive the empty double decker coaches half a mile or so along various "A" roads without me finding it very difficult.
My Selkent Scarf
Pretty quickly I had applied for one of the positions available within London Transport, (or "Selkent" as the section of the company was known at the time). Before long I was invited for an interview, and promptly trotted off to "Plumstead" bus garage, "dressed to the nines" in a sharp suit, pencil skirt, fitted jacket and high heels.
Whilst waiting for my turn I had to sit in the bus canteen, which was kind of weird as I was so overdressed, and had to avoid eye contact with all the bus drivers who kept staring at me.
Eventually my turn came, and I went in to chat with this very pleasant chap who asked me all about why I wanted to be a bus driver etc, (probably was wondering what on earth this tiny girl who looked like a smart PA was actually doing there at all!)
The interview went really well, that is up until he told me I needed to do a "Pre-lim" drive to see if an instructor thought I was capable of passing a test. No-one had warned me about this, and so the idea of driving a bus in high heels and a pencil skirt was not part of the plan at all. He asked me if I had a change of shoes with me, but I didn't, so I agreed to take the chance of driving in my heels and suit.
The instructor was great, and suggested that as it was an old double decker "Routemaster" bus I would be taking the pre-lim in, perhaps he should drive it out of the garage to avoid massive amounts of bus drivers hanging out of the canteen windows watching me attempt to hitch my skirt up high enough to get my leg raised enough to reach the step into the cab.
Having driven the bus some way down the road he stopped the bus, and I climbed up into the cab in a very undignified fashion and had a go at driving the bus around various roundabouts and roads locally. It was kind of fun, and went far better than I had expected, and the instructor had no problem with confirming I was more than capable of passing a P.C.V. , (or P.S.V. in the old days) test. Before the end of the day I was offered the job.
Training to drive a bus was great fun, and three of us were allocated per bus whilst we learnt. The group of three I was in were great fun, as was our instructor Alan, and I really looked forward to each day.
We were learning to drive in a "Titan" double decker, which was far easier to drive than a "Routemaster", especially as it had the air brake stick on the right hand side rather than the left, which made it much easier to put them on than the old "long handled" left sided handbrake on the Routemaster.
What I really loved was the faces of people who saw me driving the bus in training. Many was the time they were crossing the road in front of me and stopped dead in their tracks to do a "double take" at the sight of this very smart, petite, slim woman driving a huge bus. It was really funny and I guess I didn't fill the sterotypical women bus driver, i.e. being about 20 stone plus and built like a "brick sh*****se".
We all used to have a great laugh, and were even known on occasion to have a lunch break at the terraced house I lived in at the time. It must have surprised the neighbours when they realised all the light into their windows had vanished because a huge bus was parked outside, whilst we meanwhile were sitting inside drinking tea and watching "Neighbours" on the TV.
The initial training lasted two weeks before we were entered into our first driving test. During this time we had driven all over London, through the "Blackwall Tunnel", had swatted up on up on our Highway Codes, Been taught to reverse park a double decker etc.
Needless to say I was terrified of my test, but braved my way through it. Unfortunately for me I did fail my first test on a couple of technicalities, although my two colleagues passed without problem. I then had to continue my training knowing I was on a "last chance", in other words, if I failed the next test I would need to urgently find a new job, (no pressure then!)
At the time London Transport had their own examiners, and this helped I am sure, as they obviously wanted people to pass, although they were no pushover.
On my second test it went like clockwork, although at one point he did ask me if I had checked my mirror before changing lanes, which I answered honestly I hadn't. I think my honesty was why he let it go, and as everything else had been perfect he passed me much to my relief.
I was now going to be heading for my position as a bus driver based in Bromley Bus Garage in Kent.
1993 Diamond Jubilee Coin We Were Given by London Transport.
Driving a Bus for a Living
Now I quickly found out that this job was not going to be easy. Not only was I one of only about 7 female drivers in a garage of over 300 drivers, but I had the added challenge of now learning the routes, plus adapting from driving a large double decker bus, down to driving a midi-bus such as an MA or MRL, which were only designed to seat around 28 people.
At first it was terrifying, and at least once or twice I lost my way on the routes, but a passenger would always stop you by calling out that you had gone the wrong way. It was a good job they did on at least one occasion, as I ended up only metres from a width restriction the bus would never have made it through.
Many were the times that you simply end up going the wrong way because so many routes cross each other, and as you drive almost on "Auto-Pilot" mentally much of the time, you do tend to occasionally turn left instead of right, forgetting you are on a 126 bus, and not a 396 or a 314.
This was no easy job mind you, as the hours were very unsociable, and my earliest shift used to start at 05.04am, whilst my latest shift used to finish at around 1.04 am. We were "one man operated" buses, so had to not only drive, but also take the money as well, not to mention Police the bus against drunks, troublemakers, annoying badly behaved schoolkids etc.
Things People Leave on Buses
Now one of the funniest topics that would come up in the garage canteen, (usually when you were on a "standby" shift waiting to see if any driver went sick, whose shift you would then have to cover), was the items people leave on buses. Some of the best ones I heard or experienced are below:
1) A Baby, (genuinely forgotten, not abandoned!)
2) An inflatable female woman with a puncture!
3) Used Condoms
4) A dead body, (actually the man died on the bus, but the story is hilarious, see below!)
The Dead Body
An ex-boyfriend bus driver of mine told a hilarious tale of how him and his bus conductor on a "Routemaster" bus found an elderly man dead on the bus. The problem they had was that as they were due to come off duty they didn't want to be late finishing because of all the paperwork this incident would involve. They decided to "dump" the body on a seat on the final bus stop in the hope he would be discovered after they had left.
As between them they attempted to heave the body off the bus they saw curtains twitching at a nearby elderly ladies window. Panicking they had to frantically drag the body back onto the bus and drive it back to the garage, therefore being unable to avoid the huge amount of paperwork this incident involved.
The Inflatable Doll
The inflatable doll was a story that I was witness to, and I have seldom laughed so much.
It was late one night and several of us had just come off duty. As was the custom each driver would check their bus to see if anything had been left on it, including suspicious devices.
One of the drivers discovered an inflatable naked woman, which had us all in fits of laughter. We took the doll into the canteen and attempted to blow her up properly, but soon discovered she had a bad leak. Eventually we tracked it down to being somewhere in the region of between her legs, and having found the hole we sealed it up using sellotape.
What followed can only be imagined, as we then took the doll out to the "bus wash", (a large car wash designed for Double Decker buses), and hung her from the central bar of the machine in full view of everyone.
Within about 20 minutes a group of lads leaving the pub next door spotted the doll, and immediately ran into the open bus garage and ran off with her.
I can only imagine what happened to her afterwards!!!!
The Conductor with Tourette's Syndrome
Another story I heard about was from a driver who had formerly had a conductor working with him who had "Tourette's Disorder". This condition means the person tends to be offensive or swear at people without having any control over themselves.
You may well imagine correctly that this conductor upset many people, and frequently had complaints made against him as he would tell overweight women they were "fat sl*gs" and made many other insulting remarks. One can only wonder who on earth thought it was a good idea to give this guy a job which involved so much contact with the general public.
The Diamond Jubliee Magazine We Were Given By London Transport
The Driver Who Had 42 Accidents But Still Kept His Job.
A driver I knew called "Steve" was one of the funniest drivers in the whole company. The stories he could tell would have other drivers doubled up laughing in the company canteen, and I for one found him truly great company.
Steve had so far been involved in over 42 accidents, yet London Transport could not sack him. "Why" you may ask? Well, the answer was that "technically" in each case he had done nothing wrong. He had followed the "Highway Code" to the letter.
The way he had got round the problem was that for example, if he saw a car pulling out of a side turning in front of him, he would not bother to brake. Technically the car was in the wrong as it had pulled out too soon, not to mention the rule that states "Always let the bus go first". By colliding with the side of the car Steve had done nothing wrong, but the car driver had!
If Steve came across multiple cars that had parked in a "buses only lane", he would line up his bus so that he could drive the whole length of the lane and take off all their wing mirrors and open car doors in the process. They hadn't got a leg to stand on, as they were illegally parked, and Steve could not get in trouble as he should have been able to use the bus lane.
At the point I was working in the bus garage his stories were the highlight of my day, and although Steve had already had 42 accidents, his record was technically perfect, he had done nothing wrong!
The Time I Threw all of the Kids off the Bus
An occasion I was driving I was having a problem with a bus full of children from the council estate at "New Addington" in Kent. Every time I pulled up at a stop they would repeatedly keep ringing the bell.
After around six stops I was getting pretty fed up of this, and as I entered "Bromley South" I had already had enough. I pulled up at the stop, and sure enough a few kids got off the bus. As I went to pull away the bell dinged again. Annoyed I stopped, but no-one attempted to leave the bus. As I went to pull away again the bell went. By now I was really annoyed, and slammed on the brakes, before turning round and demanding to know who it was who kept ringing the bell. Of course, no-one owned up, so I told the kids they had one minute for the perpetrator to admit he was the culprit.
One minute later no-one had owned up. It was teeming down with rain, and so I told all of the school children to leave the bus. They all obeyed, and only one stopped to ask me if he could have a ticket that would allow him to catch a further bus as he had no money to buy a second ticket. I gave him the appropriate free ticket, but left them all in the rain to find their own way home. I had many compliments from the few elderly ladies who were on the bus at the time, and strangely enough I had few problems on that route in the future, and no complaints were made to the bus garage about my throwing the children off of the bus, (my guess is that none of them had the guts to own up to their parents about their bad behaviour).
The "Giant Bin" Incident
In the bus garage they used to have those huge metal bins on wheels. These bins must have stood 2.5 metres tall by about 1.5 metres wide.
I remember hearing about the time one of these bins had been left outside and over time had gradually filled up with rainwater. Some of the drivers thought it would be ever so funny to cover the water with old cardboard and paper until it was full to the top. They then asked one of the engineers if he would mind jumping on top of the rubbish to "squash it down", so making room for more. The unknowing engineer willingly agreed, and climbed up onto a platform to jump onto the rubbish. What happened next will require your imagination, as when he jumped down into the bin he promptly vanished through the cardboard etc, and under the water, only to emerge soaking wet and not too amused. The poor guy was drenched to the skin in the middle of winter, and had to go straight home so he could get into warm clothes having first dried himself off.
The Bus Driver Who Went Under the Low Bridge
At the time I was working at Bromley Bus Garage, one of the drivers made a fatal mistake that he was very lucky to get away with.
He was driving a Double Decker "Titan" at the time, and on one of his routes he passed fairly near to where he lived. This particular day he was on "Auto-Pilot", and got it into his head he was on his way home in his car. He made the mistake of taking a turning that would take him off route, and promptly encountered a very low bridge at a fairly high speed.
The entire top of the bus was sliced off, and he was completely in shock. Terrified he ran up to the top deck to see if there had been anyone travelling up there. Ever so luckily for him the top deck had been empty, but the garage insisted he go for counselling, and he was not allowed to drive Double Deckers ever again, but was forced to return to the Midibuses. Before many months had passed he gave up bus driving altogether.
My Experience of a Drunk on the Bus
One late night I was driving in "New Eltham", (a pretty rough part of outer London).
The bus in front of me had been running really late, and had therefore been "turned" early by the garage. This meant by the time I got to the stop in New Eltham the people waiting thought I was the bus that was over an hour late.
Most of the passengers were fine and simply got on the bus and paid their fare, that is all apart from one drunken chap who simply got on the bus and sat down. I peered round my shoulder and asked him to pay his fare, at which point he became really abusive and began to berate me for the bus being so late.
I tried to explain that this bus wasn't late, it was the the one before, but he was swearing and being very aggressive. Finally he slammed the 40p he needed to pay down onto my payment shelf. He then sat down again F'ing and blinding at the fact he was required to pay.
I was pretty mad by now, and told him that his language was "highly offensive to both me and my passengers", to which he just said words to the effect of, "Shut the F*** up and just F*****g drive".
My blood boiled instantly, and I turned off the buses engine and demanded he get off my bus. He stayed put and refused to move.
Eventually I radioed the garage and explained the problem. They told me to radio "Centrecom", the central depot that all London buses radio in an emergency. I did this, and told them I had a highly abusive passenger on my bus who refused to leave. At this point my abusive passenger heard what I was saying and stormed off the bus swearing at me as he left.
The best bit was that he hadn't even gone a single metre for his 40p, and still couldn't get home.
As I got to the next stop one of my male passengers said to me, "I think you handled that situation particularly well".
It was a compliment, but I couldn't help but wonder why he had stayed so quiet when the guy had been giving me trouble and I was a 6 stone weakling female. Whatever happened to chivalry?
Generally Why I Left Bus Driving
The reason I gave up this job was that the job was quite dangerous, plus unsociable hours and not great pay.
At least one of my colleagues had been stabbed in the leg in order for a thief to steal his cashbox. There was always the risk of bombs, plus the hours were incredibly unsociable. The money wasn't great, (around £5.00 per hour), and I didn't like driving Midibuses nearly as much as Double Deckers, yet would have to wait months until enough Double Decker Drivers left the job before I could be upgraded to a Double Decker again.
There was definitely an element of bitchiness from some of the female drivers, and although the majority of us stuck together, I did have some nasty graffiti written on the rear of bus destination blinds and inside ticket machines about me and inferring I was a "sl*g" which I most definitely wasn't! On one occasion I even got the Union to take a certain bus off the road until the inside of the ticket machine was cleaned up of the libellous accusations about me. I even found such remarks written in the women's toilets at the garage. I am guessing this was because I was quite attractive in thosedays, and always went to work with makeup and looking smart. I found this very hurtful and unfair, as not knowing who had written these comments made me look at everyone with suspicion.
I ended up landing a job doing something I knew very well, i.e. managing a petrol station for ESSO. The money was better and the people I worked with were mainly great. I never truly missed bus driving, but I do have fond and amusing memories of my time "On the Buses", which closely mirror the UK TV series of the same name.
At least I will always hold my P.C.V. licence, and although I have now moved on, my memories still make me smile!