Who would have thought that obtaining a provisional licence to drive a bus could be so difficult? Well for me, it was much harder than it needed to be.
All of my working life, I was told that I would not pass a medical to be able to drive heavy goods vehicles or buses due to poor vision in my left eye. I was born with a cataract on my left eye and after 2 pretty major operations as a child to correct the vision, these did not work. Cataract surgery in the 70’s was nothing like it is today. The cataract, incidentally, was due to dad’s service on Christmas Island.
So, I go through life always wanting to drive lorries but never being able to drive anything above 7.5 ton, as this was automatically added when I passed my car test (grandfather rights). Likewise with the Public Service Vehicle (PCV), I was told I would not pass the eye test.
In April 2021, I was looking through the job adverts on Indeed.com, trying to find something better than chasing around the country in battered tipper vans. I came across an advert to train as a bus driver. I read it very carefully and all it said I needed was a car licence. I got in touch with the company to ask the question about eyesight. At first, the training manager didn’t know the rules for eyesight but said she would check with their own company doctor and let me know. She rang me back 10 minutes later. Good news, apparently, the rules changed around 10 years ago.
Instead of being able to read a chart with each individual eye, you only have to be able to read the chart fully with the good eye and the top letter with the bad eye. Brilliant-I can do. I was told to pop down the following morning to fill in the forms, have a short interview and have the medical.
I went and saw the doctor and I got through the eye test initially, but needed to go to the optician to have the field vision checked. Also they wanted my diabetes sugar readings. Again, I got through the opticians tests, but the diabetes readings were taking longer to obtain. One of the tablets I was on caused an issue that meant I needed to test my bloods regularly. It was actually easier to change the tablet which my doctor did. The whole medical procedures took around 2 months to complete, but I was finally signed off in early June.
I sent all the forms off to the DVLA. This is where the real waiting game started. Due to Covid-19 and lockdowns, there were short staffing at the DVLA. Nowadays, thanks to modern technology, you can check online, the status of your driving licence, so I was checking 4 or 5 times a day to see if anything had changed on my licence, i.e. had the provisional entitlement been added. Short answer was NO. 6 weeks this went on for. It even got to me contacting my own MP to chase it up-after all, the DVLA are a government department.
He did do well and chased the matter up and it did seem strange how, within a few days of contacting him, I received my licence back with the medical form and 9 questions left unanswered. I could not believe that the doctor had missed out 9 tick box questions. So the form had to go back to the doctor then back to the DVLA.
A further 4 weeks down the line, and constant checking for changes and contacting the training manager. I was pulling my hair out. We have a shortage of drivers, both PCV and HGV and people are waiting for licences to be updated.
Then, one Wednesday morning, (8am to be precise) early September, I received a text message from the training manager. “Morning Martin, can you call me as soon as you can please”. Why she just didn’t ring is still beyond me. Anyway, I rang her straight away. My provisional licence had been granted. Hooray, I am finally on my way to becoming a bus driver.
First day was an induction.
It was the second day before I actually got sat in the driving seat of a bus. An old battered single decker that looked like it had had its fair share of learners in it. It was an old S reg (about 1998/1999) so had definitely seen better days. There were 5 of us on training and we were thrown in the deep end-reversing.
We had to do an ‘S’ type reverse between some cones. I opted to go last, because I was so nervous, I was literally shaking. However, it was actually easier than I thought.
The second day of actual driving saw us out on the open road. After this day, 5 became 3. 2 quit, said they couldn’t hack it. This was good for us as we got more one to one training. One of the instructors told us on the induction that there would only be 2 left by the end of the course, so that meant 3 were to quit. I didn’t think my name was in those 3 but in his mind it was. He told the training manager, that if I was still there by the end of week one, he would show his backside.
The training was not easy and if anyone says driving a bus is easy, they are very wrong. It was stressful, mentally draining and was like having a sergeant major screaming at you all day. There were a number of tests to pass along the way which you had to pass to progress to the next stage. Most of these were to obtain the driver certificate of professional competences (CPC) qualification.
I breezed through my theory test dropping only 9 points and the case study test dropping only 3 points. However the hazard perception test was proving beyond impossible for me. I failed it twice. This was extremely worrying as the company only give you 2 attempts at each test. I got
They let me have a third and final attempt because they could see I could drive but getting through this computer test was a problem. I was given lots of advice to pass this test and on the third time, I passed. Fantastic, I can now do my practical driving test.
On the day of my test, I was listed as last driver as the other 2 candidates came from the Midlands and had further to travel home. I must say at this point that this depot is the training centre for the country so they get new trainees from all over the country every week. My test came.
The first part of the test is the reverse that I was quaking about on day 2. You have to pass this to continue your test. I did an almost textbook perfect manoeuvre. Once out on the road, the examiner stops you at random stages to carry out various tasks. The first one being a standard stop at the side of the kerb. I grazed along the kerb with the tyre. In my own mind, that was it, I had failed, so I carried on driving the rest of the test as though I had failed and drove the best I had ever done in training. Chatting to the examiner, having a laugh, basically totally relaxed.
We got back to the test centre, which is the depot and I was told to switch everything off and take a seat at the table on the bus. Paul, the examiner sat there adding his numbers up while sweat pumped out of my head………….
“OK, that is the end of the test and I am………………….
Pleased to tell you that you have passed”!!!!!!
Wow, I could not believe it. Passed with 8 minor faults (you’re allowed 15). In reality, counting working days and not weekends or the bank holiday or the day they sent me homesick, I had become a bus driver in 10 DAYS! I would start route training the next day for 6 days. Learn 23 routes in 6 days, now that wasn’t easy. After the route training, I was sent out with a buddy driver for 3 days to get to grips with the real world of picking up and setting down passengers. Then, I was let loose on my own.
It wasn’t easy learning to drive a bus, but I’ve done it, and I love it. It would be easy without passengers though and the dreaded school run. If you’re ever in Bolton, be sure to catch a Diamond bus. You might get lucky and have me transporting you. But please don’t ask me “HOW MUCH TO OLDHAM”
By the way…………I’m still waiting for the instructor to show his backside.