Exclusive: London Bus Drivers Are Being 'Forced' To Breach Covid Capacity Limits

London mayor Sadiq Khan told HuffPost UK he was aware of the issue and that operators had been warned by TfL not to flout the rules.
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Bus drivers in London say bosses are “forcing” them to breach Covid regulations by allowing passengers to pack on, HuffPost UK can reveal.

The flouting of rules has led London mayor Sadiq Khan to contact TfL, which oversees the companies responsible, and tell it to lay down the law.

He told HuffPost UK: “Bus drivers should not be told by their operators to flout the rules.”

Capacity limits have been introduced on all buses by TfL in line with the government’s social distancing guidance.

Double-deckers are supposed to carry 30 passengers, while single-deckers, depending on size, can carry either 11 or 14 people.

But drivers and union Unite have told HuffPost UK that operators are instructing drivers to stop at every stop along their route – even when full.

It has sparked renewed fears from drivers about public safety, following a lack of PPE at the height of the pandemic.

Unite said the issue of overcrowding is happening across the capital.

One driver, who asked to remain anonymous, said their managers at Abellio have been putting them in the “impossible” predicament to avoid passengers making complaints.

“On any given day, if we drive past bus stops [without stopping] then people can complain to your bosses and you run the risk of getting into trouble,” they said.

“We are only supposed to be driving at half capacity. Yet, when the bus is at capacity, managers tell us that we still have to stop at every bus stop, attempt to explain to passengers if they can’t board the bus, and if they do then carry on anyway [...] while continuing to stop at each bus stop.

“More often than not the passengers don’t listen when we say the bus is too full – particularly during rush hours or when it’s raining. And the managers have not been listening when we flag these complaints. They have been forcing us into that position. The alternative is being penalised at work if complaints come in.”

The driver added that it is “stressful” having to shoulder the responsibility of controlling passenger numbers.

“I just want to do my job – drive the bus – and go home. I don’t get paid enough for this,” they said.

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Another driver, who works for Go-Ahead, is facing the same predicament and echoed the first driver’s sentiments.

“As we learned at the beginning of the pandemic when bus drivers weren’t being given proper PPE – it is clear that these corporate companies don’t care about us. They’re a set of dog shits,” the driver said.

When the national lockdown was announced in March, transport workers told HuffPost UK they hadn’t been given protective kit and complained about poor cleanliness in their cabs.

Drivers, who were risking their health to bring vital key workers to hospitals and schools, said they felt cast aside.

It led to widespread coverage and the eventual introduction of safety provisions for drivers.

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Signs on buses clearly mark new passenger limits, and drivers have the discretion to allow more customers on board if they are travelling in household groups. A “one-off, one-on” policy operates on buses at full capacity.

Asked about the matter by HuffPost UK, Khan said: “I spoke with Unite last week and they made the same point to me in relation to bus drivers being told by their bus operators to take more than the maximum number of passengers on board.

“I immediately got onto TfL to speak to all the bus operators to make sure there’s no misunderstanding: the rules are there to be followed and every bus driver is trying to keep his or her passengers safe.

“By having more than maximum number of passengers on the bus you’re taking a risk with your safety and theirs. The only exceptionalities are school buses where more than the same number of passengers are allowed; for children its different rules because schools have different rules. Other than that bus drivers should not be told by their operators to flout the rules.”

Khan added: “If an operator is flouting the rules then we’ll be taking that up urgently with them.”

Claire Mann, director of buses at TfL, added: “We regularly meet with our bus operators and recently reminded them of the rules around the capacity limits on buses, although we had no specific reports of these rules being broken.”

Three young people wearing masks and social distancing during a bus ride, looking serious.
Three young people wearing masks and social distancing during a bus ride, looking serious.
NicolasMcComber via Getty Images

Unite regional officer John Murphy said there had been a “notable increase in London bus usage”, with buses increasingly exceeding capacity limits.

“It is not the role of drivers to enforce capacity limits,” he said. “Their role is to safely drive the bus. The bus operators and TfL need to work together to develop an effective enforcement mechanism to ensure that capacity limits and mask wearing are adhered to and passenger safety is not compromised.”

But a spokesperson for Go-Ahead London denied outright that drivers were being encouraged to break the rules. “The health, safety and wellbeing of colleagues and passengers remains our top priority,” they said.

“The company is in ongoing, and regular, dialogue with its workforce on a host of coronavirus issues, including TfL guidance on passenger loadings.”

But they added: “The company takes this allegation seriously and will therefore issue reminder guidance on bus capacity to all colleagues.”

Abellio declined to comment and referred us to the TfL response.