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Trainee bus driver slams Keolis Downer for inadequate training amid Sydney shortage

ABC News (Sydney) logo ABC News (Sydney) 23/03/2023 By Rosemary Bolger and Lyndall Bell

A new bus driver has spoken out against inadequate training as Sydney commuters endure delays and service cancellations due to a staff shortage.

Daniel, whose name has been changed for privacy, said he started six weeks ago and did his training with five other new recruits.

The 51-year-old had responded to Northern Beaches bus operator Kelios Downer's recruitment drive earlier this month.

"What we were told in training is not what's happening in the field," Daniel told ABC Radio Sydney.

In a job advertisement on its website, Keolis Downer said recruits would be offered a $2,000 sign-on bonus and a full-time average salary of $70,000 to $90,000.

"The pay is actually $50,000 a year," Daniel said.

"I'm what's called an apprentice bus driver, but I do exactly the same as what every other bus driver veteran does."

The job advert also listed "extensive induction and on-the-job training" as one of the benefits of joining the company.

Daniel said his training was mostly classroom-based and only included two days practising on the road with a driving coach.

He said he was the only member of his group who had not left the job already — a claim his employer disputes.

Training 'dependent' on trainee

A spokesperson for Keolis Downer, which took over the service in the Northern Beaches and Lower North Shore during 2021, said 49 new drivers had started this year and seven trainees had left since completing training.

The spokesperson said training went for two weeks and four days on average, and included nine days on-road experience under supervision.

The exact length of training was "often dependent on the requirements of the trainee".

"If they require additional support and training, we provide this to ensure they are confident and safe bus operators," the spokesperson says.

Keolis Downer rates of pay depended on the hours of work, with new drivers undertaking a traineeship program for two years full-time.

"[The $70,000] pay band is typically reached within the first three months of employment," the spokesperson said.

"Average earnings for trainees for the last three months of 2022 reached $3,600 per fortnight. This equates to an annual salary of above $90,000."

Drivers memorising routes

Daniel said new drivers should spend more time travelling on buses studying the route and its stops before driving on their own.

He said drivers were required to memorise multiple routes.

"It's so taxing … because I didn't realise that you're constantly on the verge of looking for a bus stop, looking for passengers," Daniel said.

Drivers were advised the night before which route they would be driving so they could study it beforehand, but Daniel said there were last-minute changes.

"That might be acceptable for a veteran driver to have his shift changed, but for a new guy, to be honest, they should be driving one run up and back, up and back, until you're getting used to everything from the braking, loading prams, learning where the stops are," he said.

While Daniel said he did not have access to map apps, the Keolis Downer spokesperson said new recruits received a GPS Driver Companion tablet, which included all bus routes in the region, including school services.

The spokesperson said the device could be used in the driver's cabin and included audio guidance.

More than 500 drivers needed

A Transport for NSW spokesperson said it expected new bus drivers to be provided with an appropriate level of additional training above the mandatory minimum requirement.

"Operators will determine the level of any additional training that is required, based on a trainee's previous experience and qualifications," the spokesperson said.

There are more than 500 bus driver vacancies across Sydney for a workforce of about 7,000. This included 90 full-time vacancies at Keolis Downer.

In January, Transport for NSW announced a reduced bus timetable due to the driver shortage, with no date set for when services would return to normal levels.

"Australian unemployment is at decades-low levels of 3.5 per cent, and we are seeing labour shortages in many service delivery industries, including transport," the spokesperson said.

"Just like other states across Australia, and overseas, NSW is dealing with an unprecedented bus driver shortage with hundreds of vacancies in the industry resulting in the challenge of meeting service requirements."

Think about the drivers

Daniel said he felt for the community forced to deal with disruptions to services, but asked them to keep in mind it could be first-time drivers at the wheel.

"[They] wonder why they're missing stops, and they wonder why they're running late," he said.

"The community, you're probably out there thinking, 'Wow, these bus drivers are absolutely crazy'."

Transport for NSW figures show more than 18 million trips were taken on the bus network across Greater Sydney during February, an increase of 54 per cent from the same time last year.

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