Buses Magazine – Issue 816 – March 2023
English | 102 pages | pdf | 23.62 MB
Welcome at Buses Magazine Issue 816 March 2023
By coincidence, announcements about the development for the CAVForth and CAVForth2 autonomous bus projects in east Scotland were made in the issue I had earmarked as a Scotland special. Not only has the fi rst load of passengers now been transported without a driver by one of the fi ve Alexander Dennis Enviro200AVs (see page 8), but the manufacturer is to provide an autonomous version of the new Enviro100EV for an extension to Dunfermline (see page 28).
The thought crossed my mind that perhaps the progress was a response to the national bus driver shortage, but I doubt it. The technology is still miles away from being safe enough to use on your average city centre streets, and even if it was there,
I don’t believe doing away with human bus drivers entirely is something operators will be keen to do. There are too many nuances to many bus services that cannot easily be replaced by an algorithm. One aspect of the story that did strike me though, was that Project CAVForth’s Co-Design Panel – volunteers from the public helping to test and develop the project – had suggested the introduction of “bus captains” in the saloon of the buses.
These individuals “reassure and help passengers with their queries, boarding and purchasing of tickets”.
Now, I’m too young to remember bus conductors. By the time I was catching Stagecoach buses into Peterborough city centre, or travelling across Norwich with First in my student days, halfcab buses with conductors were long gone. But I imagine the description of the bus captain above is very similar to what a conductor once did.
While conductors are not something I experienced, they’re still in living memory of the travelling public. A couple of times now, radio hosts have asked me whether bus operators would consider bringing conductors back to make their services more appealing, after they heard the suggestion from their listeners. I of course responded in the typical bus businessman way – it’s simply not economical. As it is, there is a shortage of bus drivers in no small part because the wages operators feel able to pay them is low. There are very few services indeed which would be viable with the additional staffi ng cost of conductor, as Boris Johnson discovered when he tried to bring them back for the New Routemasters in London.
But on a driverless bus, the dynamic is quite different. While there will no doubt be a hefty cost attached to the technology required to make a bus drive itself, it will eliminate what is likely the most expensive running cost of the bus, the driver’s wage. At the same time, will the public feel comfortable travelling in an unstaffed vehicle, with nobody there to ask if it’s going where they think it is, or what their stop looks like? Will it betargeted by fare dodgers or anti-social passengers, intent on vandalism or obnoxious behaviour?
To tackle these issues, will bus conductors make a comeback? Their wage would doubtless be lower than that of a bus driver, making more economic sense to employ them than it does now, and with many operators focusing on customer service skills for their staff, it could establish more of a dialogue between staff and passengers. I can imagine a conductor, once they were done checking tickets, chatting with passengers about their journey, destination and what the operator could improve, instead of the silent barcode scans and muttered thank yous to bus drivers we often have today.