On Wednesday, August 16, I was invited by Realise, a Sheffield-based training company, to drive a bus. Anyone who knows me will know I’m quite a confident driver, although having only been driving for 18 months, I’ve still got a bit to learn.
In fact, the first time (and only time) I took out the work pool car, a hearse-like Vauxhall Astra, I scraped it against a pillar while trying to park in an indoor car park. This experience hadn’t filled me with much hope in driving another larger vehicle.
However, as journalists, we take the view that if an opportunity comes our way, we have to take it - and I had always been curious about how hard it was to drive a bus.
After meeting Gregg Scott, chief executive of Realise, I learned that the day had been put on to tackle nationwide bus driver shortages, and they were especially keen to address their ageing and male-dominated workforce with younger drivers, and more women.
Realise’s ‘Route to Success’ scheme, backed by South Yorkshire Combined Authority, is offering training to wannabe bus drivers, and will see 200 new drivers find jobs.
The starting salary is between £25,000-£27,000, and certain bus firms can offer flexibility to suit the needs of staff. And so, I decided to test out whether it was a career for me.
I arrived at Utilita Sheffield Arena and thankfully, I successfully reversed into a space in front of an audience of eagerly-awaiting bus drivers.
After watching some other members of the public driving in a large rectangle around the car park, I felt ready. I was grateful to have only two passengers - Andy the trainer, and James, who had invited me along - to reduce the likelihood of a casualty. Andy showed me the controls - only two pedals as it was an automatic, and before I knew it I was in the driver’s seat.
I hadn’t felt nervous until I realised I could potentially fatally injure my two unsecured passengers. I had never driven an automatic before, but Andy told me: 'Keep your foot on the brake pedal. Take the bus out of neutral and into ‘drive’. Lift the handbrake. Check your mirrors and your blind spots. And finally, release the brake pedal.'
The bus immediately started moving. I waved at the onlookers as I zoomed past, reaching top speeds of around 5mph.
Andy told me to keep an eye on the ‘tail swing’ in the left hand mirror each time I turned right. I kept looking in the right hand mirror instead before he corrected me. I had to ease the speed to turn each corner, resulting each time in me jolting the bus to an abrupt halt. At one point he told me I had ‘curbed’ the pavement, and that if there had been any pedestrians in my path, it was safe to say they no longer were.
And then, after approximately three minutes, my experience came to an end when I reached the end of the course.
Has the experience seen a shift in my dream career? I wouldn’t rule it out in the future. It was fun, and the team was extremely nice. But it’s probably safe to say that I would need some more training before any lives are put in my hands again.