‘I tried to train as a bus driver and it was a lot harder than I thought’: Bus driver shortages lead to virtual reality recruitment

A shortage of bus drivers has driven a scheme to recruit in Yorkshire using a mix of virtual reality and hands on experience - and The Yorkshire Post sent a reporter to try it out.

There is currently a national shortage of bus drivers which has led to more unreliable services, some routes being cut and inevitably more delays for passengers in Yorkshire and nationwide.

A virtual reality recruitment scheme, however, is being rolled out across West Yorkshire to recruit and train drivers from all walks of life.

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“Whether you’re a single mum of five, you’ve just turned 19 or your 58, anyone can become a bus driver,” said Chris French, Head of Learner and Employee Experience at Realise who have been tasked by West Yorkshire Combined Authority to train drivers from the area as part of their Route to Success scheme.

There's a shortage of bus drivers across West YorkshireThere's a shortage of bus drivers across West Yorkshire
There's a shortage of bus drivers across West Yorkshire

Our reporter Sophie Mei Lan went to experience what life is like as a bus driver.

Those who use public transport like me know how bus drivers can make or break your day especially on the early morning commute.

I have a lot of respect for bus drivers as they really keep this country running. And after trying my hand at driving a bus I now have even more respect for the sometimes fun yet complex job they do.

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I had just imagined myself cruising around a carpark driving a bus, but even with the turns, curbs and a handful of passengers it was a huge challenge.

'I tried to drive a bus, but it was harder than I thought but good fun,' said Sophie Mei Lan'I tried to drive a bus, but it was harder than I thought but good fun,' said Sophie Mei Lan
'I tried to drive a bus, but it was harder than I thought but good fun,' said Sophie Mei Lan

Now, I have a driving licence but I no longer have a car so I was even more nervous controlling this huge vehicle which fortunately was automatic.

To prepare myself for the ‘real thing,’ I had been introduced to a virtual experience of driving a bus half an hour before. Putting on the VR goggles it had felt as if I had been driving in a real-life scenario where I had to check for hazards and be aware of bus and cycle lanes as well as delivery drivers and pedestrians. Fortunately I didn’t have to also try to drive safely and deal with passengers hopping on and off and fares.

Even before jumping on board the actual bus I had begun to realise how important this training is to become a bus driver.

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And with only 8 percent of bus drivers being female I was even more determined to have a go.

While the bus was automatic it was hard to find the right amount of force to use on the sensitive pedals as well as working out the location of the wheels as opposed to a car.

But as soon as I got carried away I pressed too hard on the accelerator and had to sharply brake which sent passengers flying. Fortunately after that blips I then got the pressure right and I had fun although it definitely got my brain working.

I had taken part in the day’s recruitment drive, which gave members of the public the chance to try driving a bus and then if they were interested in further training they could sign onto a free five day course before they would be helped to get an interview with one of the several bus companies.

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Chris said: “This training is about bus drivers, we’re independent of companies, after training we will help people get work but the difference is it’s not training to become a bus driver with one company which is part of the reason why there may be a shortage.”

Other people believe the shortages are also due to low pay, unsociable working hours, Brexit and people leaving the profession during the Pandemic.

He added: “One of our best case studies was a single mum of five who was struggling to hold down jobs but really enjoyed the experience day. She is now fully trained and driving patient liaison buses which fits around school drop-offs and pick ups. She’s loving it.”

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