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Bus Drivers Talk About the Worst Stuff They've Encountered On the Job

And also the best stuff, in the interest of fairness.

by Amy Walker
26 April 2017, 1:53pm

Photo by Oxyman, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

(Top photo: Oxyman, via)

Take enough London buses and you'll know there are exactly two types of people who'll ever address the driver: vexed old biddies cursing them out when the route is diverted, or drunk people calling them a prick for not letting them and their kebab on without an Oyster card. Which, in fairness, is probably why the absolute majority of bus drivers always look somewhere between completely indifferent and just absolutely furious. 

I spoke to a bunch of bus drivers about whether or not the job is as miserable as it can seem from the outside.

Daniel, 38, began working as a bus driver in London 17 years ago

VICE: What's it like to be a bus driver in London?
Daniel: You get bored. Sometimes I end up sitting there talking or singing to myself. In London, all you're doing is sitting in traffic, and that's it. You're sweating, you've got people moaning because they're hot and want to get off the bus. I don't want to be sat in traffic either, I've got things I want to do, but I can't fly over it.

What's the worst experience you've had with a customer?
When I first started driving, Pollards Hill in Croydon was one of the places where, if you got out of the cab, you'd be liable to get jumped for your money, and once a driver threatened to slash me up there. Then, about ten years ago in Brixton, somebody wanted to get off while I was in the middle lane, and when I said no they said they were going to have somebody come down to shoot me. But if they had got off, and they were run over, it would be me up for the charges for letting them off in the middle of a road.

And what's the best bit about working with the public?
It's nice seeing kids grow up. I've done the same route for seven years now, and you see them grow from little kids to young adults, and notice how they change over the years.

Mohammed, 49, has been a bus driver for 11 years

Only a daily basis what's your interaction with the public like at work?
Mohammed Shabbir: I interact quite a lot and I try to be as helpful as possible. If I'm asked a question I'll try to give them the answer. We tend to get asked a lot of questions – people think bus drivers know every single bus route in London and know every single side street, high street – which they don't.

Have you had any particularly bad experiences with customers?
I haven't had any bad experiences that I can remember, and that's the god's honest truth. I think it's my attitude – I just wouldn't let it get to me. We're in such a melting pot of cultures that we're scared to talk to people and everyone's rushing around, but bus drivers' experience at work is down to our attitude. Bus drivers seem to be grumpy all the time, and I personally think they shouldn't be.

Any particularly good experiences?
I got invited to a passenger's daughters wedding. The passenger was a regular and I was her driver for about four years. A group of us used to go out for a drinks, and then her daughter was getting married and she invited me. It was really nice of her and we still keep in touch. There's another passenger who's a friend of mine now, too. I don't drive him any more, but we went go-karting together once.

Richard, 46, has been a bus driver in London for 16 years

What's your daily interaction with the public like?
Richard: I do mainly early duties, so quite a few of the people I take are regular commuters. You get used to certain passengers, and you even miss them when they're not there. They get used to you as well – they know their driver, sort of thing. Even if they're in a rush they're still pretty polite.

That doesn't sound like the London I know.
It's because it's the outskirts of London. I've done many routes in central London before – I use to drive the bendy bus at London Bridge. There was no personal touch with people; it's just the hustle and bustle of everyday work life for people. They haven't got time to say good morning to a driver.

What's the worst experience you've had with a customer?
I was in Tottenham, pulling away from a stop, and a passenger started banging on the window – but we can't stop when we're on a schedule, so I carried on going. Then I got caught in traffic lights and he managed to catch the bus at the next stop. He was swearing at me and threatening me, and I ended up calling the police because he wouldn't get off. I didn't get help or a single thank you from other passengers, because I was delaying them, and some of those getting off the bus started to abuse me as well. That wasn't particularly good.

Andy, 50, has been a London bus driver for 29 years

VICE: Hi, what's your interaction with the public like as a bus driver?
Andy: Ninety percent of people will ignore you and say nothing, and only the ten percent who you take home every night will actually say hello and thanks. If you randomly talk to someone you'll probably get a nutter or someone who wants to fight you, because we don't take money, so you don't really need to interact with the public. A couple of guys have even quit their job after bad experiences with people at work. Someone's probably had a go at them out of a car or a customer's had a pop at them, and then they've just thought 'I've had enough of this' and got off the bus and left it.

Have you ever had a particularly good experience?
Not really. It's just a job. I drive the bus, the customers get on and off, and that's basically it. You get to know your customers, but there isn't really a relationship there. I know exactly who I'm going to pick up tonight because I'm doing a duty I do quite a bit, like the two guys from the chicken shop after the chicken shop's shut. They'll be getting on stinking of chicken.

Thanks, Andy.