01 September 2010

Bus Driver turns Guard

While the Editors are a little unwell, I've been asked to write an entry one one aspect of how my job as a train guard for First Scotrail differs from that of my former job as a bus driver for Inverness Traction.

I remember being astounded at how little cross-pollination that was between bus and train industries. At the depot where I'm now based with Scotrail, the number of people who've worked 'on the buses' can be counted on the fingers of one hand. While at IT, only 1 colleague had rail experience. Consequently, I see myself in a reasonably privileged position and have chosen one aspect where the roles differ.

The nature of the railways being as it is, passengers board their train, take their seat and provided the service has a guard on board (i.e. is not DOO) will have their ticket checked after the service has departed their station. On the buses, the driver effectively checks every passenger on board, one by one. Since bus conductors were removed from service, this has been the norm virtually everywhere in Scotland and England, so what's the problem?

There's no real problem as such, just the level of agitation, frustration and potentially serious incidents that can occur when a guard walks through his/her train to check tickets belonging to those on board. Oh how I long for a similar system to the buses, no matter how time consuming and inefficient it may be. Stations like Edinburgh are reasonably straightforward since gated entry ensures that passengers are at least on the correct train. Most other smaller stations in Scotland do not have such a comprehensive coverage of barriers and so it is here were problems occur.

Yes, it's all in a day's work and some would argue it's one of the reasons why a guard's basic salary is greater than that of a bus driver.

Over the past 8 years, I've been assaulted three times, been spat at twice and had excess fare vouchers ripped up in front of my eyes so many times I've lost count. Had these passengers been checked on the train in the first place, much of this wouldn't have occurred. Company policy is to call British Transport Police, but this is time consuming and there's no guarantee they'll even turn up, especially at the wee Highland stations. Plus, the likely delay to the service will see a fine levied upon Scotrail (and indeed any operator whose guard calls the police and an ensuing delay is recorded while the train awaits their arrival) and we've been unofficially told to just let all but the most serious of incident go, since the Network Rail-imposed fine of around £35 per minute is far greater than any fine received from an offender.

While bus driving has its own problems, a large proportion are cut out dead as the driver sees everyone on first. That's not to say people won't turn violent once on board, after being on their best behaviour while boarding. I once had someone set fire to three upper deck seats in a Leyland Olympian and I'd vetted these people on fifteen minutes earlier.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job as a guard and would not want to go back bus driving full time, but having working in both industries, this is the one area I've long identified as being a major cause of problems to guards. The plus side is that once we've checked tickets, we can offer greater customer service to our passengers are we're able to spend more time between stations offering advice and to go through ticket options. Bus drivers tend to need to think quicker as they could have a ticket irregularity when there is a queue of 60+ people waiting to get on and for this reason alone, I believe their wage should be higher than it is.

Have an opinion on how one aspect of the transport industry differs from another? Would you like to write a blog entry comparing them - anonymously if need be? If so, email the editors:

transport.reviewNOT THIS@gmail.com

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The main difference in salary is because train conductors or guards or paid for what they know - not for what they do.

According to the National Office of Statistics, Bus drivers are in Group 8 - Routine occupations alongside Van and Truck drivers. Rail Travel Assistance come in under Group 6 - Semi Routine occupations.