Friday, 26 February 2010

Chapter 38 712 St Albans

Earlier I had mentioned how the coach rota came under EU regulations. This meant that our driving hours were limited and therefore so were our earnings. Very few bus drivers wanted to take a pay cut just to drive coaches into London especially with its heavier traffic. It’s strange how over the years coach drivers pay compared to that of bus drivers has gone down. I remember when I first went onto the Greenline rota it was a double pay rise, one because it was one man operated and two because coach drivers were on a higher rate of pay. We also as mentioned earlier had our own table in the canteen. Over the years to obtain a better rate of pay for bus drivers the union has had to sacrifice the coach drivers pay differential. Before the coming of the EU regulations I as a coach driver could earn the same as my bus driver
colleagues and could work six days a week and work for thirteen days before having to take a day off. This was the way I worked for many years as it was the only way to earn enough when bringing up a young family.
By time the EU regulations came into force both Heather and Mark were on their own feet although without Annettes wages coming in things would have still been a struggle.
If the EU regulations were a restriction on the coach drivers as regards to their earnings they were even more of a burden to the company. We had to have a break of forty five minutes after four and a half hours driving whereas bus drivers could drive for five and a half hours and then only have a thirty minute break. Just think how much more work the company could get out of coach drivers if the EU regulations could be done away with. As all drivers were on a guaranteed 36 hour week often our weekly hours fell short of this and had to be made up by an additional payment. As I said I was lucky to be able to work within the EU regulations, the company however was not and soon they found that loophole in the law that would allow them to make me work longer hours for the same pay.
I am sure the original law regarding drivers hours was put in place to protect the driver from fatigue through working excessive hours. The law stated that if a route was over 50km then the driver would come under EU drivers hours. The loop hole was in the wording of the law, ‘if the route’ not if the driver drives over 50km. The solution was obvious split the route into two different route numbers. So with one foul swoop the 758 from the Hemel Hempstead estates to London Victoria became the 759from the estates to Hemel Hempstead bus station we then changed the destination blind to 758 and carried on. This meant no more tachographs, also we could now work up to thirteen days. But as our managers were quick to point out it did allow them to schedule longer duties and this allowed them to introduce a new Greenline service, the 712 from St Albans to Victoria, and the peak hour 713 from Harpenden to Victoria via St Albans.
The 712 and 713 go back a long way and were once operated by St Albans garage in the north and Dorking in the south. Both routes were cut back between 1970 and 1976 to operate between St Albans, Dunstable and Victoria. With final withdrawal of the services on 29th January 1977. Speaking to the passengers to day it is only some of the older ones who remember St Albans being served by Greenline. Many passengers do not realise how Greenline was such an extensive service or that it was part of London Transport. One can see how our past can so easily get lost.
When ever I mention the old days the younger drivers always make comments about me and the horse drawn buses but I know that things where done more thoroughly back then. take route learning for instance. when I was at Uxbridge garage we had an extension to the 98 route in Hayes. This meant all the drivers at Uxbridge being paid to come in and travel over the extension in a bus driven by an inspector. This method of route learning, i.e being paid to route learn continued for many years, in fact route learning on the 747 Jetlink was a grand day out for many, only those drivers, including myself, who were on the Jetlink rota were in fact paid. But now sadly if a new route appears route learning is often done whilst a driver is on standby, that is, you are at work and being paid but you are there to cover a driver who may be coming off late and is unable to take his bus over on time. This system is haphazard and often when the route appears on a rota many of the drivers don’t know the route as they’ve not had the opportunity to learn it. And so it was with the 712 and 713. Fortunately most of the coach drivers were familiar with the St Albans and Harpenden area. The timetables were published, and Dave Gill our branch secretary drove over the route. but no mention of route learning for the drivers. When I asked our manager about route learning his reply was “it’s quite straight forward just follow the map.” Being a bit older I am naturally concerned about toilet facilities on route. I asked one of my old friends Inspector Dennis Mulligan about toilets he said “you’ve always got the one at Brickett Wood”
“What one’s that then?”
“You know the one behind the bus shelter!”
So that was route learning 2009 style. So one day before the service started Annette and I took a ride around Harpenden and St Albans, down through Chiswell Green and Brickett Wood just to make sure I knew where I was supposed to go.
The company spent quite a bit of money and effort on advertising the new route spending the Saturday prior to the launch of the new route in St Albans town centre with a publicity bus and handing out lots of time tables.
The route itself is very enjoyable to drive and there is plenty of time to get to Victoria and back although we as drivers have pointed out that the timings are all wrong, with too much time from Brent Cross to St Albans and visa versa.
Although if traffic is heavy in St Albans or in London the extra time does help. The majority of passengers are the pensioners who travel free to London on their passes. I believe we have already received money in advance from the local councils for pensioners and therefore they are not generating new revenue for this route and fare paying passengers on a regular basis are few and far between. A special return fare to London of five pound was introduced at the launch of the service on the 29th June 2009. This introductory offer was supposed to end on the 30th September but was extended until the 31st December. Well by February the offer was still in place, whether this was deliberate or someone has forgotten to re-programme the ticket machine modules I don’t know.
The evening 713 service to Harpenden is some what convoluted and involves passengers getting the 758 from London to Hemel Hempstead where they transfer to a coach which runs out of service to St Albans and then starts as a 713 to Harpenden. How long the 712 will last I don’t know, but in the meantime it’s a very pleasant route and coupled with the 758 workings makes for an enjoyable days work. Of course what some passengers fail to realise is that both 712 and 758 are operated by the same drivers with the same coaches. At Marble Arch there are separate stops for both services yet passengers waiting for the 758 to Hemel Hempstead upon seeing a familiar driver or a coach with Hemel Hempstead transfers on the side will board it and unless we check their tickets will find themselves in St Albans. One
passenger upon going through Chiswell Green the other night said “driver you’re not going to Hemel Hempstead are you”
“No, that’s why I’ve got 712 on the destination”
“Well it’s not lit up”
So when I pulled up at the next stop, just in case she was right I check both inside and outside the coach and the route 712 and destination Harpenden was very clearly lit up. the poor lady had read Harpenden for Hemel Hempstead and not even noticed that I’d pulled up at a different stop.
Still as we say it’s all good fun.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Chapter 37 Greenline Once More

It was with great relief that I turned up for work as a driver on Monday June 16th 2008. There was a slight hiccough as Eric Beir our schedules manager checked with DVLA Swansea to make sure that the letter confirming the return of my PSV licence was valid. My actual PSV plastic licence arrived in the post a couple of weeks later, and that was a really wonderful day, just to hold that licence once again. Eric had arranged for me to spend a couple of days driving to London with a driving instructor to check out my driving. As luck would have it the instructor was an old friend Barry Neave. I had known Barry since starting at Hemel in 1972 when Barry was a fellow bus driver. Barry was due to retire in a couple of weeks and so on Monday I was looking forward to driving to London. Unfortunately nobody had informed the driving school, so no Barry. After a while checking out what had gone wrong Eric
suggested I go out and do some route learning. There were however very few alterations to the routes over the last year so I just made myself scarce for the rest of the day. I went around the town a couple of times then caught the Greenline to London and back.
Tuesday I reported for duty at 8 o'clock and this time Barry was there waiting for me. "Don't worry I'm not looking for faults, just enjoy your driving, this is just to make sure you are confident"
None the less it was still somewhat nerve racking driving out on the roads and the motorway after a year, and of course most odd when pulling up at Park Road where I had my stroke a year earlier. Having turned right into Baker Street Barry said " well that’s got that bit out of the way" Barry obviously realised what was going through my mind. One round trip to London was enough for the day. The next day we went to London but on the 748 route which goes via Camden Town , Kings Cross, Farringdon Road, Fleet Street, Parliament Square and the Embankment before reaching Victoria. I was now feeling a lot more confident and when we arrived back at Hemel Barry wished me good luck. I went in and saw Eric so that I could find out what I'd be doing for the next few days until I was back on a permanent rota position.
I soon settled back in and driving became a pleasure once more. I was certainly more relaxed, I no longer got upset if people used their phones but like all the drivers if somebody was talking extra loud you would gently remind them to be a bit quieter.
During my stay in hospital I had been visited by Dave Gill our branch secretary. At that time I did not believe I would be returning to work again and therefore I told Dave it would not be fair for the branch if I retained my
position as Health and Safety representative and so I tendered my resignation, much to my regret. No longer being Health and Safety representative meant that to continue my BA course at University I would have to attend in my own time and not get paid leave from the company. I wrote to the Managing Director who replied that they were now paying the new Health and Safety Representative paid time off to attend courses and that if I could show a business plan whereby my degree could help the company then he would pay for my attendance. As I would be retiring when I obtained my degree this was impracticable. I therefore had to attend university in either my holidays or just have a week off unpaid and this is what I did.
One small problem that had to be overcome was what to say to the regular passengers to whom I’d been so horrible to when I was so stressed out. Well an out and out apology was the only way and to my relief they were all so kind to me saying that they could tell I was going to have a heart attack or a stroke. I was able to thank those that helped when I had the stroke.
Soon things returned to normal, early turns where you are half asleep, late turns when you’ve spent the morning in the garden and don’t feel like going to work. I looked forward to going to university twice a year and to weekend courses at the T&G centre at Eastbourne. It would appear that things would now continue without much change for the next couple of years. Well nothing ever does that.