09 July 2011

Travelling Time

In the bus industry, paying a driver to travel as a passenger on a bus service is frowned upon. In the privatised and deregulated bus industry, the operator's finances are a key factor - overriding many things that it didn't, under a nationalised framework. Efficient scheduling is something the bus industry knows a lot about, often to some employees' distaste. It is very rare to see a bus driver travelling as a passenger on board a bus as part of their shift, unless he/she is travelling to/from his base, which may be located some distance from the town/city centre changeover point.

In the scheduled coach industry, services are forced to comply with EC Drivers' Hours Regulation 561/2006, requiring a driver to have a break after 4.5 hours. If a second driver is conveyed, this is the reason why. Ensuring an attractive end-to-end journey time for the passenger can help business, so this inefficiency is a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things. Even when a second driver is needed, he/she is diagrammed as intensively as possible. It is nothing to see some coach drivers 'jumping' a coach along the M1 for an hour, where he/she will then leave at the next motorway services, before doing the same to a coach heading in the opposite direction. It is very rare to see a scheduled coach service with the same two drivers throughout (I can immediately think of two but as a percentage of every single scheduled coach service that operates today, this isn't even 1%). Company cars are sometimes used to enable drivers to change near to their base but to prevent an unnecessary diversion to the coach journey, taking a fleet car is, again, the lesser of two evils.

The railway industry is an altogether different beast. A letter in the latest RAIL details how taxis are used on a daily basis to convey a Virgin Trains driver between Liverpool and Chester and how one is used to transport an Arriva Trains Wales conductor between Holyhead and Chester. I wonder if it is the same one? A retired train driver friend of mine who lives in Lincolnshire was sent home by taxi each and every night he was rostered to work lates (one week in 3) from Waterloo station in central London. He was not the only one: a taxi took an employee from Norfolk home, too.

This kind of wastage is all too apparent in the rail industry. Part of me agrees with the line taken by hardened unionists, that being a member of a heavily unionised workforce and standing your ground from the start ensures that, more often than not, you'll win and that particular derogation to your contract of employment will be retained. But then the nature of the railways meant that privatisation was never going to be a carbon copy of that with buses and coaches. The prescriptive nature and micro-management by the DfT has, in my opinion, assisted the industry's workers in maintaining almost identical contracts of employment fifteen years after privatisation got underway.

The McNulty Report essentially recommended everyone sitting down and chatting about how best to turn the tide on the railway's spiralling costs. More efficient scheduling that removes the use of taxis on a daily basis must surely be a starting point. The public is largely shielded from this area of wastage but less so when it affects them directly: the cancellation of all Sunday services because either drivers or guards (or in some cases both) are not contractually obliged to work on the Sabbath. Colloquially known as Barbecue Days, these debilitating incidents have affected me on a number of occasions with Central Trains and now East Midlands Trains. This should also be one of the first things that need to be addressing. Arriva Trains Wales and London Midland have also suffered over the past couple of years.

The very fact they're known as Barbecue Days has a number of unpalatable undertones to me. This can have a knock-on effect to the following day as trains are often positioned incorrectly and a reduced service with yet more replacement buses are the order of the day on the busy Monday morning - costing many thousands of pounds. Coaches used to provide replacement road transport are usually paid a set fee per day, of around £500. Consider, say, Wales being without any trains for a day, and the cost is not inconsiderable.

Tackling these inefficiencies first are going to be relatively easy - when you consider McNulty would like to see the removal of safety-critical guards from virtually all trains - and they will make tangible savings. In the scheme of things they won't go anywhere near tipping the balance, but they will be a start. If movement can't be made in these areas, the thorny issue of Driver Only Operation will never, ever be resolved.


Anonymous said...

Personally i think they should just sack all the staff and start over. Pushing and pulling a lever to drive a train is hardly difficult to learn is it?

Anonymous said...

Don't feed the trolls

Anonymous said...

@Anon 00:45 - good luck with that one.

Anonymous said...

Sacking all the staff would be a great idea wouldn't it? NOT!
Rescheduling of shift patterns would actually help. Cutting through the excessive 'red tape' would also be another way forward.
If you think it's a simple act of pushing and pulling a lever to drive a train (safely) then I suggest you do more research and homework!
I could say alot more but hey!
Mr B

greenline 727 said...

My understanding is that, compared with the overall cost of running a TOC, the cost of a couple of extra drivers or guards is miniscule, and accordingly staff rosters and diagrams are not compiled with much regard to cost.

Compared with the bus and coach industry, where the drivers still account of around 40%-50% of the costs of running a local bus service, and the pressure to schedule cost-efficiently is accordingly much higher.

Horses for courses, I guess!

Anonymous said...

@Greenline 727 - Bus drivers are paid significantly less than train drivers and slightly less than guards, so with this in mind if the proportion of cost to the TOC for their employees is so low, I think it hits the nail on the head about the rail industry's runaway costs since privatisation.

So many efficiencies have taken place in the bus industry since privatisation, they're running as efficiently as possible, on the whole.

One such example is the removal of the need to 'double man' as the original post states. And certainly the removal of the use of taxi drivers.

And unlike the bus industry, we taxpayers contribute around 25% of the money given to the railway industry. I don't like the thought of my money going to pay for replacement coaches when a load of drivers choose to have a barbecue.

LEYTR said...

@ Anon 11.43 - the Labour govt started the ball rolling with the proportion of state money being given to run the operation of the railway from a 50:50 split to an eventual 25:75 split.

Their argument was that a higher proportion of funding from the fare box (i.e. by the people who use the railways, not those who don't) is a fairer way in which to fund the railway.