London bus drivers’ action over covid-19 safety stops front door boarding

To help protect drivers from infection, union reps on London buses won agreement that the front bus doors would remain closed

Twenty six transport workers have died from covid-19 in London, the majority were bus drivers. Now London bus drivers have forced Transport for London (TfL) and bus companies to implement safety measures to protect them at work. A bus driver, and Socialist Party member, Moe, spoke to The Socialist (weekly paper of the Socialist Party – England & Wales CWI) about what has been won and what needs to happen next.

What has been done?

We have won an important safety measure, forcing bus companies and TfL to close the front doors of every bus and implement free travel, meaning passengers are kept at a safe distance from drivers. This is a victory and now other drivers outside of London are demanding the same.

How did you achieve this victory and why is it so important?

At first TfL resisted because it didn’t want to lose revenue. But we got our argument across and forced TfL and management to concede. As we have done every step of the way. When lockdown was first enforced drivers started sealing doors, sealing holes in cab doors, and stopping passengers sitting directly behind drivers. TfL and managers then endorsed these measures.

But it should not have taken so long for them to listen to us. 26 people have died, and this could have been avoided. And drivers should not pay the price for the lost revenue further down the line.

What else needs to be done?

What we have achieved is not enough. There are 2,000 London buses that only have one door – the front – and we say these routes should be suspended unless two-door buses can replace them. The other concern we have is that more people are now boarding buses because they are free.

Combined with construction sites reopening after Easter, this means there is concern over passenger numbers. We are happy to transport key construction workers, but non-essential construction sites should be shut down with no loss of pay to protect those workers and lower bus passenger numbers.

Another measure that TfL have brought in is special electronic air filters on buses that are used on hospital routes. But they have been fitted on only 100 buses, while there are 9,000 in London in total! They should be fitted on every bus, and permanently, as they help reduce air pollution.

We are also still calling for more PPE, especially for drivers who have to travel as passengers on buses to get to work or change buses. And we also want lower working hours with no loss of pay. Drivers are mostly working long shifts, 10-12 hours, meaning they are more likely to be exposed to the virus and are fatigued – an issue we were campaigning on before the crisis.

Drivers are still scared to death during their shifts, so we will keep fighting.






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April 2020