HGV driver shortage: Union boss warns of ‘mass exodus’ of bus drivers to haulage industry

Bus drivers have been attracted to the haulage industry owing to the spike in HGV driver salaries, but have also left due to Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic

A shortage of bus drivers has hit services in some parts of the UK due to the knock-on impacts of the HGV driver crisis, Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Scotland, along with the North East and South West of England, have been hit by the issue, with industry body the Confederation of Public Transport (CPT) saying the sector is short of more than 4,000 bus and coach drivers.

Government statistics for 2019/20 showed there were 97,000 full-time staff employed by local bus operators - although this figure included maintenance and admin staff.

Reasons given by the CPT for the shortages included EU nationals choosing to return home after Brexit and the pandemic leading some drivers to rethink their career path.

But NationalWorld’s sister title The Yorkshire Post reported in September that drivers were also leaving to take up roles in the haulage industry - jobs which have become more lucrative as the sector battles its own driver shortages.

‘Pockets’ of bus service disruption

According to the CPT, vacancies were more than double what they were in 2019.

But it was keen to stress that while the shortages were a nationwide issue, not all bus services and routes were being disrupted.

“The vast majority of services are continuing to run as normal,” said a spokesperson for the industry body, which represents major firms like Stagecoach and National Express.

“We know that disruption is frustrating for passengers, and operators are communicating any changes to services so people can plan their journeys in advance and have the confidence to travel by bus.”

CPT said it did not have specific data for the level of shortages.

But The Yorkshire Post reported that operators in West Yorkshire were short of around 250 bus drivers - around 10% of the workforce.

Meanwhile, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) claimed one bus operator in the South-West was short of more than 100 drivers.

The union told NationalWorld there had been a “mass exodus” of drivers and added that this was particularly bad for the South-West given its rural location and the lack of other methods of public transport there.

The industry said there was a shortfall of 4,000 bus drivers across the UK (image:  Dan Istitene / Getty Images)
The industry said there was a shortfall of 4,000 bus drivers across the UK (image:  Dan Istitene / Getty Images)
The industry said there was a shortfall of 4,000 bus drivers across the UK (image: Dan Istitene / Getty Images)

‘Transport poverty’ warning

The RMT’s general secretary Mick Lynch warned bus driver shortages would have “a devastating impact on lifeline services”.

"We now risk a serious escalation in transport poverty, with those without cars in areas where buses are the only option left, cut adrift,” he said.

Mr Lynch added that bus workers had been “underpaid and undervalued” - claims the CPT suggested it disagreed with - and said the exodus of staff was a “crisis that has been coming”.

He also criticised the government for allowing a “toxic combination of bus deregulation and private sector greed” and urged ministers to bring the industry under public control.

The government did not directly respond to these criticisms.

Calls for Government action

The CPT said the industry had put recruitment plans in place.

However, it added new recruits were being put off becoming bus drivers owing to delays in getting licensed and a lack of testing capacity.

The organisation urged the Government to help ensure training processes were as “streamlined and efficient as possible”.

“What we now need to see is the requirement for a provisional licence to be issued to begin training abolished and the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) to not prioritise HGV testing to resolve the shortfall in that sector at the expense of the bus and coach sector,” said a CPT spokesperson.

In response, a Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We are working closely with the bus sector to mitigate workforce issues, as we have done throughout the pandemic.

“Additional capacity is being made available for HGV, bus and coach tests. [The] DVSA is working closely with the logistics industry to encourage them to make best use of this additional capacity.”

The Government has sought to boost testing capacity by streamlining tests and bringing in MoD examiners.

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