Jonathan Byers was inspired to become a bus driver by his grandad but he never had to deal with working during a pandemic.
The 33-year-old from Carlisle switched from working at Center Parcs to training as a driver for Stagecoach in 2017, following the example of his grandfather Robert.
“My grandad, who passed away a few years ago, enjoyed it and always had good things to say about the company so I thought why not follow in his footsteps and become a bus driver?” said Jonathan.
He was on his way to becoming a mentor and training other drivers when the world changed last March. Unsure of how the virus would spread and concerned for his partner Charlie and their young daughter, he took a three-week furlough at the start of the first lockdown but has since worked throughout, mostly on country routes from Carlisle to Dumfries, Silloth and Annan.
“I took three weeks off and then I asked to come back and there were no quibbles about coming back to work. The safety of my family was more important than anything else. But I’ve never felt unsafe at work during this at all.”
Jonathan added: “Health and safety for staff was done pretty quickly. We’ve got the assault shields in the cabs which are used for night-time driving and what they did was cover the holes people speak through to prevent the spread; it gives you that barrier. They also gave us cleaning equipment, sanitizer and spray to make sure the cab area is clean for the next driver.”
When Jonathan, who lives on Boundary Road, Currock, returned to work, buses were operating at Sunday service levels but have reacted to demand according to fluctuating lockdown restrictions.
He said passengers have mostly understood and appreciated the safety measures put in place.
“I’ve spoken to a few regulars who do feel safe being on the bus. There are guidelines of the maximum capacity we can take, social distancing, wearing masks, we even keep windows open to allow air to ventilate.
“Stagecoach has got these exemption cards so if someone does have a medical issue and can’t wear a face mask they can go to the bus station and get one which they show the bus driver.”
With the vaccination programme offering some “light at the end of the tunnel”, Jonathan feels he and his fellow drivers will be able to look back and say they did a good job during the pandemic.
“I take pride in my job and I believe a lot of my colleagues would agree that we do provide an essential service. There’s always got to be buses regardless of what’s going on out there. People still need to get from A to B, whether it’s shop workers, NHS staff, school kids, people who need to go to the shops to get their essentials. We’re the ones who, if people haven’t got their own transport, they rely on.”