New routes: jobs fear for bus drivers

Changes ‘a kick in the teeth’ for workers hailed as pandemic heroes

Friday, 10th June — By

Bus Outside Whittington

The No 4 bus outside the Whittington

BUS drivers who were hailed as heroes during the Covid-19 pandemic are fearing for their jobs amid shock proposed route changes.

The jobs of dozens of frontline workers, many still grieving for lost colleagues, are on the line under Transport for London’s dramatic shake-up to the service.

Passengers have already warned they could be left stranded by the possible cuts that could see the No 4 bus route scrapped from the transport map, and many other key routes changed.

Meanwhile, political rows were opening up over who is to blame. TfL answers to Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, but the party’s campaigners cite a long-running funding row with the government.

Drivers are now uncertain about their futures and are calling for greater transparency from their bosses.

“The thing is we don’t know where we’re going with our jobs with these cuts. It would have been nice to know where we are standing, our position,” said Mozia Miah who drives the No 4 route.

Mr Miah said the buses facing changes still serve a vital purpose. “To be honest, some of the routes they’re cutting get really busy,” he said. “We were all surprised when we heard the 4 is being cut. We don’t know where we’re standing at the moment. We just come in as normal at the moment, but in the future God knows what’s going to happen.”

The No 4 also serves as a key route for people travelling to and from Whittington Hospital, Mr Miah said. “You get lots of people going to hospital – in fact, I had about four or five elderly people late at night yesterday coming to the hospital.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, the spread of infection was not understood and basic safety precautions, such as mandatory mask wearing, were not in place. Drivers were nevertheless forced to go to work.

No 4 bus driver Emeka Nyack Ihenacho, 36, was one of the many drivers to lose their lives after getting Covid. At the time, Mr Nyack Ihenacho’s mother Anne Nyack said it “took too many lives to be lost” before the government acted to protect transport workers from the virus.

Under the proposals, other “iconic” Islington routes face major changes. The 259, which runs between King’s Cross and Finsbury Park, will no longer pass through Islington, while the 214 will be rerouted out of the borough.

The 254 and the 476 also face being “severely cut back,” according to Islington Labour.

Labour councillor Paul Convery said: “Axing the 259 service up Caledonian Road is very bad news for our neighbourhood. These bus service withdrawals are triggered by the pandemic aftershocks and Government imposing swinging cuts to TfL’s budget.

“But there has to be a better way to cope with budget cuts than removing busy bus routes serving hard-pressed neighbourhoods like ours.”

The reduction in routes will hit drivers’ earnings as many rely on overtime and “rest day working” to top up their pay. The fewer shifts that remain, the fewer shifts are available. Cleaners, engineering and catering staff are also affected.

John Murphy from the union Unite added: “These proposals are a kick in the teeth for bus workers who were hailed as heroes for their service during the pandemic.

“Now they face job losses and pay cuts if routes are slashed. If these proposals go through, they will be bad news for bus workers and bad news for passengers. They will hit the poorest hardest and will dramatically increase overcrowding on buses that are already extremely busy.”

Under the plans, the No 4 bus would stop running altogether, while the 214 would be rerouted to terminate in Pimlico rather than Moorgate. TfL has said anyone looking to travel from Highgate Village to Moorgate would need to change bus twice in the future, interchanging between the 214, 205 and 43.

Meanwhile, the 259 would no longer run between King’s Cross and Nag’s Head. Anyone who uses this route will now need to change from the 259 to the 17 or 91 to complete their journey, according to TfL.

The 254 will no longer run between Finsbury Park and Nag’s Head, Holloway. To make this journey, TfL suggests catching the 253 instead.

A TfL spokesperson: “Bus drivers are key workers and play an enormous role in getting ­Londoners where they need to be.

“During the pandemic they ensured our health service staff and other essential workers could get to work safely. We don’t expect there to be any job losses as a result of these proposed changes.

“Once the consultation is complete we will discuss the changes with the bus operators who employ them, and staff unions, with a view to minimising any impact on drivers.”

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