A survey of Unite activists working in the bus sector has revealed driver shortages at a far higher level than previously indicated by the industry. The survey reveals that the principal reasons why drivers are leaving is due to low pay, poor conditions and long hours.

Severe driver shortages

Over 500 activists working throughout the UK took part in the survey, which found that there were bus driver shortages at 99 per cent of bus garages.

The survey found that driver shortages are getting worse, with 79 per cent of respondents recording that vacancies had increased since the pandemic began in March 2020. This is a highly disturbing picture for passengers, who will be concerned about declining and unreliable services, especially as buses remain the most used form of public transport.

Drivers leaving in droves

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This survey reveals that bus drivers are leaving the industry in droves due to low pay, poor working conditions and long hours. Bus companies have got to stop trying to sweep driver shortages under the carpet and start tackling the fundamental problems in the industry. 

"That starts with eradicating low pay. If this isn’t swiftly addressed, shortages will only get worse. Unite’s campaign fighting for a better deal on jobs pay and conditions includes action to get better pay for bus drivers across the UK.”

Shortages downplayed

While the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) has admitted there are bus driver shortages they have sought to downplay their seriousness. The Unite survey paints a far more concerning picture:

  • Almost half (46 per cent) of respondents said that their garage had lost 20 to 40 drivers
  • Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) said that losses were higher at 40 to 60 drivers
  • Four per cent recorded that their garage had lost between 100 and 200 drivers.

 Low pay key reason

The survey’s respondents provide clear reasons why drivers are leaving the industry:

  • Ninety one per cent believing it is due to pay
  • Closely followed by working conditions at 89 per cent.
  • While over two thirds (68 per cent) cited long hours.

Bus drivers' pay has been the top industrial issue for Unite in recent months, with drivers from across Great Britain being involved in industrial disputes over wages. These have resulted in many drivers receiving significant pay increases.

Action needed

Unite national officer for passenger transport Bobby Morton said: “The survey lays bare the shortage of bus drivers in the UK. Bus operators must take these findings on board and act before an even greater number of services are cancelled due to a lack of drivers.

 “Until the bus operators improve pay and conditions and reduce the long hours culture then drivers will continue to leave and new entrants will be few and far between.”

The shortages have resulted in bus services being cancelled. Just nine per cent of those who replied to the survey said there had not been services cancelled at their garage. In contrast, over two fifths (43 per cent) of those who replied said that cancellations were equally split between peak and off peak services.

Unite is concerned about the impact of service cancellations on the safety of those finishing work late at night. The issue is particularly acute for women, who make up a significant proportion of the night time economy, working in hotels and bars, and are disproportionately more likely to experience sexual harassment in a public space. According to a recent UN Women UK YouGov survey over 80 per cent of women aged 18-34 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, and two thirds of women say they “always” or “often” feel unsafe when walking alone at night.


The full details of the survey

During the coronavirus crisis Unite is working to keep workers and the public safe, to defend jobs and to protect incomes.

For media enquiries ONLY please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 07802 329235 or 0203 371 2067.

Email: barckley.sumn[email protected]

Unite is the UK and Ireland’s leading union fighting to protect and advance jobs, pay and conditions for members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Sharon Graham.