HGV crisis ‘lured bus drivers away’

Salisbury Reds has now revealed some of the issues impacting the company’s ability to provide a reliable service. During the national HGV recruitment campaign, a number of drivers were lured away with the prospect of substantially increased salaries, the company’s general manager has said.   There were also opportunities locally, through logistic companies on the A303 for example, and Salisbury Reds was unable to match the types of salaries offered.

Sickness is another factor. About 50 per cent of absences are caused by Covid-19 but also cancer.

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General manager, Alex Chutter, said: “We are seeing unprecedented levels of absence and these absences have stretched our resources. “Tuesday last week at 4.55am, every service throughout the day was fully covered.

By 7.05am, we had five drivers call in sick. The drivers that are in work cannot cover those other services.” Mr Chutter’s comments follow weeks of delays and cancellations across the Salisbury Reds network, causing passengers to be late for work, school or hospital appointments.

The timetable for certain routes has also been reduced as the company struggles to cope with absences. “I physically hate that people might be waiting at bus stops. I have at times driven a bus myself to help when there are issues,” he said.

Retaining staff is on the company’s agenda, Mr Chutter says, and every employee who is still with the company at the end of October will receive a GBP500 bonus in their Christmas pay packet. Schemes asking people to refer a friend are also in place. Mr Shutter also believes the pandemic has altered the way people feel about their work lives, ultimately resulting in some employees leaving the firm.

Some of those who were furloughed, he said, have realised they can manage on a reduced income while some people who were not planning to retire have now opted to do so early. Frustrated passengers have expressed the desire for updates to be displayed more quickly to allow time to plan alternative means of travel. The app does enable quicker updates but there are often delays.

The latest information can be found in the highlighted amber bar at the top of the app. But there is confusion as to what some of the data means. Mr Chutter said: “Bus times showing in green on the app is where a ticket machine on a bus is communicating its location and there is an expected countdown to that bus stop.

“Where the bus time is in black, it means the technology is unable to pick up the signal from the ticket machine – this might be from a poor GPS signal. However, it would also show in black if the journey has been cancelled.” Tensions can run high when customers have to wait, sometimes in all weathers, and the drivers often bear the brunt of any frustration.

“We are a good employer, but we are just going through a tough patch, and we don’t necessarily want to make it tougher for those who are here.” Salisbury Reds is actively recruiting. It takes approximately eight weeks for training to be completed and the job includes shift work.

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