‘We have a duty of care to all our passengers’: A day in the life of a night bus driver
- Credit: Archant
“You get two types of people who travel on the bus at night, drunks and people who need to get home to sleep.”
Welcome to the life of a night bus driver, ferrying passengers around London under the cover of darkness.
Revellers, rough sleepers and overnight workers call your double decker home, some refusing to leave at the end of the route.
I’ve got many night buses over my years living in the capital, always wondering what the men and women sitting calmly on the other side of the glass see from behind the wheel on a Saturday night.
From the outside it seems like a thankless task, dealing with inebriated party-goers spilling food and drink onto the seats.
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But drivers tell me the roads are quiet and no night is the same.
I head down to Go Ahead’s garage, in River Road, Barking, to meet two drivers whose routes cover Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge, Havering and Newham.
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“I became a night bus driver three years ago,” Basil Blake tells me.
“I was on a bus and I couldn’t understand what the driver was saying.
“I thought I want to know what he’s saying, so I decided to become a driver.”
Basil, 40, of Herne Hill, in south London, is a “spare”, meaning he picks up any routes on the night that need covering.
“I get so bored doing only one route,” he explains.
Stephen Lwere drives the same route every night, the EL1 from Barking to Ilford.
The 50-year-old from Forest Gate started the job six years ago, inspired by his wife Mildred, who is also a driver.
“After she started doing it, I started feeling her love for it,” he says.
“And it’s a good job, it pays well.”
The company gives Stephen and Mildred the same days off and holidays, and allows them to work different shifts so one can look after their five children.
“I’ve been told there are a few other couples working at the garage, although I have not met them,” he adds.
So why the night bus I ask?
“Quiet roads,” says Basil.
“It’s less stressful, but more risky,” Stephen explains.
“You are expecting drunk drivers, people who are driving tired, you have to look out for these things.”
It seems other drivers are more dangerous than inebriated passengers, however the pair have a few stories about those as well.
“Everyone gets sleepers every now and then,” Stephen says, talking about napping drunks who don’t wake up at the end of a route.
“I had one the other day in Romford, it was 4am and I told him he had to get on the next bus and he refused, he refused to leave the bus.
“I explained it wasn’t going anywhere, but he still refused to get off, even when I said I would call the police.
“Eventually officers came and forced him to leave.”
The drivers have a direct radio to the police, and hearing this usually puts off trouble makers, however Basil has been spat at by a passenger refusing to pay.
There are also homeless people who sleep on the night buses.
The pair explain this has got more common since the Boris buses were introduced, with entrances on the side and rear.
“They just go up and down the back stairs, and use the bus as a place to sleep. I just leave them to it,” Stephen says.
“There’s a guy who knows every bus route, which one is going to be the last bus running,” Basil adds.
“He will wake up the end of the route and get off immediately, you don’t have to say anything.
“He knows all of the drivers as well, he pays using a bus pass. I just leave them be.”
“We have got a duty of care to all of our passengers,” Stephen explains.
So next time you’re travelling home late at night, remember your bus driver will be keeping a watchful eye out.