London bus drivers are facing abuse, including being spat at, from passengers who refuse to wear masks when asked.
Two bus drivers from opposite ends of the capital have spoken of the increasing levels of stress their colleagues suffer, and of the heartbreak of losing friends who have been killed by the virus.
A 38-year-old whose route runs between Stratford and Leytonstone said: “Passengers have become more abusive since the rules about face masks and changes to capacity were brought in.
“There have been cases of people spitting at the glass of drivers cabins.
“We’re not police officers. We cannot enforce the rules. We just play an announcement from the system. But a lot of people aren’t willing to listen.
“In the morning I pick up a lot of builders who never wear masks. Some people put their mask on when they get on the bus and just take it off again.”
He asked not to be named, but said he has been driving London buses since 2002.
Since the pandemic, he has lost three colleagues to the virus, who are among the 29 bus drivers confirmed to have died from Covid-19. There are 22,000 bus drivers employed by TfL’s contracted bus operators.
“Three of my colleagues passed away from my garage,” he said. “I miss being able to mess around with them and have a laugh. It’s been really tough and the thought of it stays in the back of your mind.”
Meanwhile, Joanne Harris, a Unite trade union rep who drives on a route in South West London, said: “We have lost a lot of friends, including two people from my local garages.
“When this all started, the local companies were shrugging their shoulders. No hand gel was available and not much sanitising was going on. But it later improved. And we fought to get our driver cabins sealed.”
On face masks, she said: “It’s so difficult because the government’s approach to the whole thing was that they didn’t want to make people wear them. Now they do.
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“If they [a passenger] doesn’t wear one you leave it at that, because our drivers don’t want to get involved.
“A lot of our drivers don’t want to be spat at. It’s vile.
“There’s more abuse now, but bus driving has never been a job where you’re loved by the general public anyway.”
She added: “Some people complain, ‘why should I have to wear a mask when the driver isn’t’. But the driver is in a sealed cabin with ventilation. And you can’t wear a mask while driving for hours on end. It’s uncomfortable and it could be distracting.”
Ms Harris said many colleagues are also fearful of losing their jobs, and worry that TfL may have to cut services or routes due to the organisation’s precarious financial situation.
Claire Mann, TfL’s director of bus operations, said: “We are all absolutely devastated by the deaths of bus drivers from coronavirus, and our heartfelt condolences go out to their friends and families. The safety of our staff and customers has always been our top priority. The spitting incidents that have occurred in recent months are disgusting crimes that are deeply distressing for our staff and will not be tolerated.
“We have followed the advice from Public Health England at all times and worked with bus operators to act swiftly to address concerns.
“The wide range of vital safety measures that have been put in place on buses were introduced at the earliest opportunity, and in many cases well in advance of other bus networks across the country.”
TfL said 20,000 people have been stopped from boarding buses by operational officers, and that since July 9 officers have been issuing fines.
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