Although still feeling something of a fraud and very embarrassed over the whole affair I duly arrived at Western House and entered the office where I was greeted by a very distinguished gentleman whose name I never caught and do not know to this day. After congratulating me on my presence of mind and coolness of action he mentioned that his fellow members on the board agreed that I deserved some reward for my bravery and enquired whether I had been given a special Green Line Pass to travel from Staines. On being assured that was the case he went on to day that I was being paid and would not have to work that day so the rest of the day was my own and I was free to use the Pass and go wherever I liked on the Green Lines for the rest of the day! Somehow I kept a straight face while thanking him and leaving the office only to collapse into a fit of the giggles on emerging into Oxford Circus. Passers-by must have thought I was crazy but the thought of rewarding a Green Line conductor with a free pass to trave round for a day was really rather comical. After spending eight hours every working day doing just that the last thing I wanted on my day off was a Green Line ride! Instead I returned, mostly by underground, to Hounslow and then bus to Staines - it was quicker that way! Within an hour of leaving London I was handing in the special pass and telling my mates about the interview. I am certain that at least half of them believed I was making it up but an official report came back to the Chief Inspector the following week to verify what I had said. I’m still laughing!
For some reason the incidents I remember in the 725 road are all linked to bad weather conditions. Heavy fogs between Bromley and Crayford, deep snow between Dartford and Gravesend and a torrential downpour that flooded Crayford for a depth of four feet and held us up for several hours. As the coaches were heated we rarely wore overcoats and a sudden fog would mean the conductor leaning out of the open door to keep an eye on the kerb and guide the driver along the road. Not as bad as walking in front of the tram with a flare perhaps but a cold and miserable duty when you were twenty miles from home and shivering in a summer uniform, so I was somewhat less than delighted when I was approached by a lady passenger warmly clad in a fur coat and gloves who complained of the draught caused by the open door and couldn’t we go faster as she didn’t want to be late for the Bridge Club! This thoughtless remark left me speechless - not so my driver, however - he brought the coach to a halt, closed the door and climbed out of the driving seat, “Here you are, ducks,” he said, holding the door of the cab open, “There’s a nice heater in there to keep your feet warm - see if you can get us there any quicker!” Without another word the irate passenger meekly returned to her seat and we proceeded on our way.
We dreaded deep snow, especially between Dartford and Gravesend, There were several gravel pits some ten feet or so from the road with only a frail wire fence between the coach and a sheer drop of sixty feet or more. No matter how slowly and carefully the coach was driven there was always the danger of a heavy lorry skidding into us and sending us over the top. I suppose the sand and gravel lorry drivers were on piece work - they always seemed to be driving like maniacs on that road, no matter what the weather was like. One of our coaches did bring the wire down once but, mercifully, came to a halt a bare eighteen inches from the edge.
In a heavy downpour one day, on a narrow winding country lane between Chislehurst and Sidcup, we were overtaken by a car. Spotting another car coming round the bend in the opposite direction, the lady driver cut in front of us very sharply and my driver had to brake very quickly in a vain attempt to avoid hitting her car, the front of the coach catching the tail light of the car as it swerved in front of us. Our relief, that the accident was nothing more than a broken tail light, was very short lived. Those old RF coaches were notorious for vicious back-wheel skids and this one was no exception - the back came round right in the path of the oncoming car, crushing the bonnet and offside wheel and smashing the windscreen. By some miracle, the driver was unhurt but absolutely furious - the car was only three days old and looked a total wreck. Climbing across the passenger seat, he charged down the road towards the lady driver, by now out of her car, waving her hands helplessly in the air and in tears on suveying the damage she had caused. She looked so pathetic and apologetic that the poor man stopped shouting and swearing and ended up putting an arm around her and supplying a large white handkerchief to dry her tears!
Of course, all accidents have to be fully reported on the appropriate form at the conclusion of the day’s work, in the crew’s own time, and all accidents are entered on the driver’s record should London Transport decide that their driver was in the wrong. Despite an abject letter of apology from the lady driver and another from the driver of the wrecked car stating that, in his opinion, the accident involving his own car was totally unavoidable, my driver was held to blame on two counts: 1) He was too close to the car in front! and 2) He had been trained on the skid patch at Chiswick on how to control a skid and was, therefore, to blame for damaging the other car! In vain, he protested that all skid patch training was with a double deck bus on an enormous square half the size of a football pitch - whereas the accident involved an RF coach on a narrow country lane. His appeal was dismissed, he lost a day’s pay and the accident was entered on his record sheet.
I suppose the reason behind such harsh judgement is to keep the drivers alert to possible accident situations in future, though it frequently results in the driver giving notice and leaving the job. There is no doubt that London Transport employs some of the finest drivers in the world as a result of such high standards.
ONE MAN OPERATION
I spent fourteen happy years on the 701 and 725 coach roads until, in 1969, London Transport began “OMO” working. Over a period of several months the drivers attended conductor school for a couple of days of intensive training on ticket issuing and waybill working and gradually the Green Line coaches became “One Man Operated” - OMO. Within a year, most of the Green Line coaches throughout the fleet were working without conductors and it became evident that our days were numbered.
At first, London Transport were confident that all the buses and coaches would become OMO within two years and conductors within five years of retirement age were offered the chance to retire early, without the loss of pension rights. There were several reasons for the staff concerned to accept this offer. There were still plenty of other jobs available, it was possible to apply for a lump sum of several hundred pounds (depending on length of service and a clean record) instead of a small weekly pension and a few hundred conductors leaving the job immediately would obviously find it easier to get a good job than if they waited until thousands became redundant. Those conductors who decided to hang on or were too young to apply for early retirement were easily absorbed on the bus rotas.
So it was back on the buses for me and I soon discovered that it wasn’t as easy to start bus work again at forty-nine as it was at thirty-five! The first few weeks were agony, up and down stairs all day after fourteen years on a single deck vehicle. My leg muscles ached, my arches threatened to collapse and I quickly decided to go on a diet and trim off some excess weight. At first I thought the extra exercise would take care of my weight problem - but no such luck - all it did was to sharpen my appetite and I gradually gained weight in the first few weeks!
Over the next five years I worked on the double deck 441 route. More and more routes went OMO until, at last, in 1976 even the 441 was taken over and the last stage of my employment began.
The TGWU had done its best for us and negotiated terms that allowed us to stay in employment should we wish to remain. All conductors were given the chance to train s drivers should we wish to do so. In the ordinary course of events a driver who failed the test was allowed a refresher course in the driving school and a second attempt to pass the test but conductors were to be allowed to go back to the school after each failure indefinitely. Presumably until they finally passed or gave up the job in despair. Somehow I couldn’t see Auntie Doris, aged fifty seven and never piloting anything bigger than my bike, ever making it as a driver of a one man bus so I declined the offer, as did three other long service conductors, and the inspectors racked their brains in an attempt to keep us employed.
Sometimes the single deck OMO buses broke down in such numbers that the engineers couldn’t cope and out would come a double decker again and one of us would be back on the platform again for a day or two - just like old times. Or something similar would happen at another garage in our area and we would be loaned out. We had to be paid for travelling to and from the foreign garage so that the actual work on the bus would only be half a duty. This suited us all. We soon learned the new roads and made new friends among the staff at the other garages and the travelling public were glad to see us.
On the whole, I would say that the public did not like the changeover to one man operation. Either the journeys took longer because of the delay at every stop while the driver took the fares and issued tickets or the route had been speeded up in an attempt to overcome this fault and the ride became more uncomfortable as the driver cut corners and drove more aggressively in a, sometimes, vain attempt to keep to the new timetables. But it soon became obvious that the public were faced with a choice of one man buses at reasonable fares or crew operated vehicles that cost so much to run that the fares would be too high for most of the passengers to afford.
By this time most households owned at least one car so the buses carried less passengers and journeys were cut and the wait at the bus stops became longer and longer as the timetables were trimmed in an attempt to make the remaining vehicles pay their way. Local authorities began to cut back on the subsidies they had always paid to the bus company to cover the uneconomic early and late journeys that had never been profitable anyway - and the end result was a further cut in services. It became unusual for the buses to start before 6.30 a.m. and most were back in the garage by 10.30 p.m.
With the advent of television, video games and home computers more and more people stayed at home in the evenings and, even when the price of petrol started to rise, it was cheaper and far more convenient to use the car when the whole family went out together than to walk to a bus stop and sometimes wait for ages in all weathers for a bus which often left them with another walk at the other end of the journey and the prospect of having to return earlier than they wanted or face the prospect of losing the last bus and having to afford a taxi.
After a career in Public Transport spanning over thirty-five years you might think I would have some ideas that would bring the buses back to giving the public the service it took for granted for so long a time. I regret to day that I’ve no such easy answer. While it is such a simple task to chart the downward spiral to the situation as it stands today, the solutions to the problems besetting the present time bus services has baffled brains much cleverer than my own. It has been suggested that Public Transport should be paid for by the local authorities like the Ambulance and Fire Services, the waste disposal units and Public Libraries. But what would the local ratepayers have to say about financing a bus service that most of them never use? Get on a bus today and look around you. Most of the passengers are likely to be either elderly people paying half fares and using Pensioners Passes, children and students with free passes, or ex-conductors with a stickie - like me.
I had hoped to stay employed until I reached retiring age - sixty years old for a woman - but when I was in my fifty-ninth year in 1978 I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse - early retirement with redundancy pay and, due to my (almost) unblemished record, a free bus pass for the rest of my life.
I hope there will still be buses for just a few years longer even though I only ride once a week to go to the Post Office to collect my Old Age Pension. After all, people will always want buses - won’t they?
Previous Page | Feydra's Homepage
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13