Bus drivers who worked through Covid face losing jobs in route cuts

Blame game over source of funding cuts

Friday, 10th June — By

Sadiq Khan

London Mayor Sadiq Khan

BUS drivers hailed as heroes during the Covid pandemic are fearing for their jobs amid shock proposed route changes.

Dozens of the frontline workers, many still grieving for colleagues who died from the virus, say their earnings will be slashed and jobs are on the line under Transport for ­London’s dramatic shake-up to the service.

Passengers have already warned they could be left stranded by the possible cuts which could see the No 24 and No 31 buses wiped from the transport map.

The 24 is the oldest unchanged bus route in London and there are concerns that fewer buses will reach the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead.

Meanwhile, political rows were opening up on who was to blame. TfL answers to Labour mayor of London Sadiq Khan, but the party’s campaigners cite a long-running funding row with the government. The drivers on the route, meanwhile, now face uncertain futures.

Mick, who drives the 24 and whose surname we are withholding for his protection at work, told the New Journal: “People were banging pots and pans for us during the pandemic, and now we are going to be banging pots and pans for our jobs. It’s like everyone’s just forgotten what we all went through and it’s only been a couple of years.”

During the pandemic the New Journal reported on the dangerous conditions bus drivers were working in.

Many were forced to go to work despite the spread of infection not being properly understood, or safety measures, such as mandatory mask wearing, not being in place.

The reduction in routes will hit drivers’ earnings as many rely on overtime and “rest day working” to top up their pay. The fewer routes that remain, the fewer shifts are available. Cleaners, engineering and catering staff are also affected.

John Murphy, from the union Unite, added: “These proposals are a kick in the teeth for bus workers who were hailed as heroes for their service during the pandemic. Now they face job losses and pay cuts if routes are slashed. “If these proposals go through, they will be bad news for bus workers and bad news for passengers. They will hit the poorest hardest and will dramatically increase overcrowding on buses that are already extremely busy.”

Emeka Nyack Ihenacho, who was based at the Holloway Bus Garage and lived in Dartmouth Park, died in early April 2020 after contracting the virus. Under the plans, the 24 bus would be stopped completely and the 88 would be re-routed to start from South End Green.

It would then go along the current route of the 24 up to Parliament Square, where it would follow Millbank and cross Vauxhall Bridge before eventually terminating in Clapham Common. Kentish Town and Highgate Road, currently served by the 88, would then get a re-routed 205 and 214 service.

The 205 would terminate in Mile End and the 214 in Pimlico. It has also been proposed to end the No 31 service from Camden Town to White City.

Passengers would have to change from a new 189 to a re-routed 113 in Swiss Cottage. Residents of South Hampstead will lose both bus routes into the West End.

When the New Journal visited the No 24’s terminus in South End Green this week, users said they were worried about the impact.

Christine Watts, who lives with her husband Harris in Flask Walk, said it was an invaluable service for them both, particularly since Harris was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

“It would be very sad if it goes ahead, it’s a really useful service. We are using it more frequently now as [Harris] can’t use the Tube at all,” she said. “The drivers are really helpful and so are the passengers, they are very understanding and give seats up. It would be a real struggle for us if it is taken away.”

Anthony Kupelia, who works at UCLH in Euston Road, uses it to commute.

He said: “It’s dreadful news, it’s really useful, it’s safer, it’s less crowded and it’s cheaper, and things are always more interesting from the bus. You see more.”

Drivers on a tea break at their cabin at the bus terminus were in shock when the New Journal told them the news on Thursday. Some had been given no warning of the changes. “I can’t believe it,” one driver said. “It’s absolutely shocking. It’s one of the oldest routes in London and now they want to end it. If there’s one route they should want to keep it’s the 24.”

A TfL spokeswoman said: “Bus drivers are key workers and play an enormous role in getting Londoners where they need to be. During the pandemic they ensured our health service staff and other essential workers could get to work safely. “We don’t expect there to be any job losses as a result of these proposed changes. Once the consultation is complete we will discuss the changes with the bus operators who employ them, and staff unions with a view to minimising any impact on drivers.”

As the blame game began over what was the source of the cuts, Seb Dance, Sadiq Khan’s deputy mayor for transport, said: “No one wants to see reductions to our bus network, but TfL is having to consider these changes because of the savings demanded by the Government as part of the emergency funding deals during the pandemic.

“If TfL is to avoid further cuts which would damage our city’s economic recovery from this pandemic, the Government must do the right thing and come forward with a long-term funding deal to support the capital’s public transport – as govern­ments of almost all other major global cities do.

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