Features & Interviews

Bridging the gap: New proposals to make professional driving more attractive to school leavers

02 May 2024 #Features & Interviews

Young people could soon find more careers in transport, after the government announced proposals to relax the minimum age requirements for bus and coach drivers and speed up training for bus, coach and lorry drivers.

Earlier this month, the Department for Transport (DfT) launched a consultation to remove a restriction that currently states that 18 to 20-year-old bus and coach drivers can only drive routes up to 50km.

While they can already drive an articulated truck with no distance limit, currently a fully trained 18 to 20-year-old driver is not permitted to operate a coach from London to Manchester, or the scenic Coastliner bus route across the Leeds-York-Yorkshire coast area, due to the restriction.

DfT points to data that the coach driver shortage currently stands at 13.6%, and is 6.6% for bus drivers, as a further reason for the proposed changes.

Meanwhile, there are further proposals for prospective bus, coach and heavy goods vehicle (HGV) drivers to start theory and off-road training straight away, rather than having to wait for their provisional licence, meaning they can get started on their training journey immediately.

This would mean taking new recruits through the off-road stages of Category D licence acquisition – theory and hazard perception tests, case studies, off-road manoeuvres and a ‘show me, tell me’ practical test – while the provisional licence is being processed.

This is envisioned to save time and to help ensure able candidates are not lost to other sectors that can offer them an immediate start.

Roads Minister, Guy Opperman, said: “Being a bus, coach or lorry driver can be an excellent career for young people and these proposals could help get younger talent into transport, encouraging diversity in the sector.

“This could be a win-win, not only improving job opportunities for those leaving school but also going some way to continue to ease driver shortages, delivering more reliable bus and coach services and a more resilient supply chain as part of our plan to grow the economy.”

Declan Pang, Road Haulage Association (RHA) Director of Public Affairs and Policy, England, added: “The age restrictions have constrained the sector’s ability to attract young people and, considering someone can drive an HGV from 18 years old, puts the coach sector at a disadvantage.

“These proposals could improve prospects for coach operators and we look forward to seeing them implemented.”

The consultation closes on 5 June 2024 and a government response is expected within 12 weeks of the closure date.

If support is received, the measures will be implemented as soon as parliamentary time permits.

The changes could ease driver shortages and provide more reliable bus and coach services across Great Britain, and with more drivers safely trained, bus operators could be able to run more services, especially in rural areas where routes tend to be longer.

In particular, the proposals could help businesses like family-run County Durham-based Stanley Travel recruit more drivers, providing more services and greater choice for travellers.

Andrew Scott, Director of Stanley Travel, said: “As a medium-sized, family-run coach company, we’re always looking to attract younger bus and coach drivers to our sector.

“We fully welcome these proposals which would remove the entry barriers to the industry, help us run more services to provide customers with greater choice, and open up fantastic careers as a coach driver for young people.”

The Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), the trade body that represents the bus and coach industry, says the current age restrictions for the PCV licence make no sense to its members, given that an 18-year-old can drive an oil tanker, car transporter or a 44-tonne articulated truck across the length of the country and into a busy urban area, surrounded by pedestrians.

They also say the current situation makes it more difficult to attract young people into a career as a coach driver after education because of the lack of variety in the work on offer.

CPT considers the proposals a welcome step forward because it believes well-trained drivers in this age group will be able to safely drive a wider range of passenger carrying services, as well as longer services.

The organisation understands there may be some legal complexities in allowing 18- and 19-year-old coach and bus drivers to undertake trips that aren’t defined as ‘regular’ in legislation.

However, it says it will work with the government to try to resolve these and help the industry recruit mature and enthusiastic young people for the full range of passenger driving roles.

Graham Vidler, Chief Executive, Confederation of Passenger Transport, said: “We warmly welcome this consultation on two key proposals championed by CPT to address the challenge of driver shortages faced by the coach and bus sector.

“Allowing new recruits to get on with off-road training while awaiting their provisional licence will ensure more trainees complete the course and become safe, qualified bus or coach drivers.

“As 18-year-olds are allowed to drive an articulated lorry already, there is a clear case for allowing them also to drive all types of coach and bus services.”

Speaking about the DfT’s proposal to allow young people to undertake their theory tests to become an HGV driver before obtaining a provisional licence, Chris Yarsley, Senior Policy Manager for Road Freight Regulation at Logistics UK said:

“Allowing young people to start their driver theory training before obtaining their provisional licences will kickstart their route into becoming HGV drivers.

“However, it is worth remembering that driving a vehicle of this size is a technically challenging occupation, which is highly regulated for a reason, and we will be ensuring as part of the consultation that all the necessary training for qualification as a safe and compliant driver is still achieved before taking to the roads.”

These proposed changes should help the sector get more bus and coach drivers safely trained, and make the transport sector more attractive to younger people, increasing job opportunities and helping grow the economy while tackling driver shortages that can disrupt the provision of services.

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