Fewer passengers but Covid-19 brings new challenges for bus drivers

Bus Éireann driver Vincent Morrissey has been putting his medical training to good use during the Covid crisis.
Fewer passengers but Covid-19 brings new challenges for bus drivers
Vincent Morrissey drives the 206 bus to Grange in Cork. He says that although passenger numbers have fallen sharply since the lockdown began, ‘a lot of people are in supermarket uniforms and there are some nurses’. Pictures: Denis Minihane.
Vincent Morrissey drives the 206 bus to Grange in Cork. He says that although passenger numbers have fallen sharply since the lockdown began, ‘a lot of people are in supermarket uniforms and there are some nurses’. Pictures: Denis Minihane.

Bus Éireann driver Vincent Morrissey has been putting his medical training to good use during the Covid crisis.

Known to colleagues as ‘The Doc’ after more than 20 years with the Red Cross and with a degree in health and safety, when he’s not driving the 206 bus from Cork City to Grange, he’s helping fellow drivers with advice on staying safe throughout the pandemic.

“It’s an unusual time,” he said. “Some drivers are very frightened. You might feel safe in your cab, but you don’t know when someone is going to get aggressive and spit at you. At the end of the day, if you’re not at home isolating, then you’re at risk.”

Passenger numbers are 90% down, he said, but drivers still need to bring essential service staff to work.

“A working transport system is a pillar of any society,” he said.

“My route, the 206 to Grange, is very quiet but you know that those who are on the bus need to be there. A lot of people are in supermarket uniforms and there are some nurses. So I do feel like we’re making a difference.”

But despite Bus Éireann’s efforts to keep operating in these challenging times, drivers are experiencing public aggression.

“One of my colleagues was verbally assaulted by a jogger the other day who crossed the road to tell him that he ‘should be at home like everyone else and not be paid to do nothing’.

“We’ve definitely seen a slight rise in hostility. More people are stressed and there’s tension in the air.

“But other people will stop and say: ‘Thanks for keeping the service going.’

“A woman out in Fermoy flagged down the bus the other day just to give the driver a box of chocolates.

“So people are appreciative too, and that cancels out the negativity,” he said with a good-natured laugh.

He said that pedestrians stepping out onto the road to avoid other pavement users during the shutdown has become a concern for bus drivers.

“People step out onto the road without looking — often wearing headphones or deep in conversation. It’s a testament to the professionalism of bus drivers that there have not been any accidents.” he said.

John Sexton has been working for Bus Éireann for 27 years. His 53-seat coach can now carry only nine passengers as most seats have been disabled to enforce two- metre social distancing on his two-hour round trips from Cork to Kinsale.

“I’ve worked through quiet times, boom times, but this is like nothing else,” said Mr Sexton. “It feels completely unnatural.

“The passenger numbers are way down and some people say we should stop buses running. But on my route there are two nursing homes, people get the bus to work there every day. And people in the countryside need the bus to get out and get food. So it’s important to keep going.”

He said that Bus Éireann has been doing what it can to keep staff and passengers safe from the virus, deep cleaning buses every night and wiping down the hand rails and other surfaces between each trip.

“The city buses have a shield over the driver, but the coaches don’t, so they sent me a plastic face shield today to wear when customers are getting on the bus,” he said.

“My wife is in an at-risk category so I would be concerned about what I’m bringing home, so I try to be very careful.

“But I’m happy to go to work. We’re providing a class service, and I love the job that I do.”

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