LONDON – London bus drivers mourning the loss of five colleagues are “scared to death” of catching coronavirus and still do not have full hygiene measures in place, their union warned. Drivers still do not have access to sanitizing wipes and many driver cabins have yet to be fitted with protective Perspex boxes, the Unite union said on Sunday, The Guardian reported.
After the deaths of three bus drivers and two bus controllers in the capital, a public health expert has also called for all staff driving buses across the UK to be given face masks. Unite’s regional officer for London bus workers, John Murphy, stated that the deaths of his colleagues had “terrorized” his 24,000-strong membership, particularly those driving buses.
“What has happened has scared them to death and terrorized the drivers. I have been a driver on London buses for 24 years and I can tell you that we are a family. What has happened to our colleagues hits us all,” he added.
Murphy noted that as of last Wednesday, all of London’s 80 bus garages had procured hand gel for drivers and other staff. The problem, Murphy said, was that there was a lack of sanitizing wipes that drivers could use both in the garage and out on journeys with the public.
“Unite, working with Transport for London and the bus companies, have managed to secure plenty of hand gel – but what we are waiting for are the sanitizing wipes,” he continued.
“There appears to be a big shortage of wipes and they are needed. I understand that because production is dramatically down and factories are closing there is a real shortage, but we are calling on Transport for London to seek a new source for them as soon as possible,” he added.
The former bus driver stressed that every bus on London’s streets and roads was now deep cleaned overnight before it left the garage, but said he was calling on both TfL and the bus companies to allow Unite shop stewards access to any deep clean that took place, if members requested it, to reassure bus workers that the vehicles had been properly cleaned.
Murphy noted the installation of protective Perspex booths was “still on a rolling basis” and not all buses on the road were fitted with them.
“Given that the fleet is running on reduced services, perhaps Transport for London could fit the buses not in use with the booths so that drivers on every route still operating will be behind Perspex as soon as possible,” he added.
Dr. John Ashton, a public health expert who is currently advising the Bahraini government on its response to the COVID-19 crisis, stated it was essential that bus drivers wear masks as well as working behind protective screens.
The former regional director of public health in Northwest England said, “Really the bus drivers and indeed public transport workers should be afforded the same protection as NHS staff. That means they should be given face masks and all should be tested for the virus. This is so obvious. They are public servants working day in day out with the public and they need everything at their disposal to protect themselves and those they come into contact with.”
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said he was “absolutely devastated” by the news of the bus workers’ deaths. He promised to bring in further measures to ensure higher levels of protection across the London transport system.
“I have been clear that our incredible public transport staff, on the buses, tubes, trams and trains, are critical workers, making a heroic effort to allow our NHS staff to save more lives. But we all need to play our part too, and that means fewer Londoners using the public transport network,” Khan added.