It appears that West Midlands bus operator National Express West Midlands might be pickier than most when it comes to selecting drivers for their buses.
Its been revealed that thousands of people who applied to drive West Midlands buses have been turned away by the company simply because of they have points on their driving licences.
Out of about 4,500 applicants last year, National Express apparently took on less than 10% and the company is carrying scores of driver vacancies as a result. And just to make things worse, they lost another 170 of their current drivers to retirement.
The company blames the failure rate on applicants having points on their licence, and this is where National Express West Midlands appears to diverge from the practices of other bus operators.
The bus industry standard is to accept drivers who have three points on their licence – the sort of penalty you can expect for one minor speeding offence – but no more. Not National Express, however - they don't allow anyone to pass the interview if they have any points.
The company also makes applicants undergo strict literacy and numeracy tests, and some applicants fail those as well.
Only those who pass all the tests and have a clean licence to show get through to become trainees who are then put through their paces at the company’s Walsall training centre. Then its more theory, more tests and more careful assessment before they are allowed out onto the road – and only then with a trained mentor.
But then National Express West Midlands aren't unique in demanding high standards from their drivers. I blogged last month about London-based bus company Abellio flying all the way to Poland to recruit drivers for their London buses because they couldn't find any which quite made the grade in Britain. At the time, I assumed it was because Polish drivers might be less demanding than British drivers – or cheaper, in other words – but perhaps that's not the case. Perhaps British drivers have just spent too long playing Grand Theft Auto for their own good.
At one time, people assumed that driving a bus was a dead easy, unskilled job. It's clearly not.