Hail to the bus driver
It’s a chorus many of us are used to singing every day, on our way to and from work, school and social occasions, “Cheers driver.” A small token of thanks to the person behind the wheel of the bus who has driven us to our destination; allowing us to sit back and relax on our journey.
It’s a phrase that Roland Armbruszt, a driver with Stagecoach, never tires of hearing. A supervisor at Stagecoach’s Ballater depot, he has been driving buses for three and a half years, however sitting behind the wheel of a bus wasn’t always his dream.
He said: “Before I worked for Stagecoach, I was a bar and restaurant manager. But I decided that I needed a change of career, and to try something different. A friend was already driving a bus and said that it was a great career to get into. I love driving, so thought I would give it a go.”
Despite being a driving fanatic, Roland had never sat behind the wheel of any vehicle larger than a car so there was a steep learning curve. He explained: “When I started I didn’t have a bus license. Very quickly I had sat my theory and hazard perception tests and was thrust into basic training. From my first day, it only took five weeks until I was driving a bus. It’s quite intense, but very rewarding.
“A bus is five times bigger than a car, so driving something that large is really difficult for the first couple of hundred miles. But we drive thousands of miles a week, so it soon becomes second nature. In the three and a half years I have worked for Stagecoach, I’ve covered a greater distance in buses than I have in cars my whole life.”
A regular on the 201 and 202 routes on Royal Deeside, Roland was promoted to the role of supervisor a year and a half ago. Now looking after the Ballater depot, he is first on site in the morning to ensure that all buses are out when they should be and all paperwork is filled in correctly. But, most importantly for Roland, he is still able to get out and drive every day.
He said: “We’re lucky here on Royal Deeside that most of our passengers are regulars. We know them by name, and they always chat with us, so it makes driving an incredibly rewarding experience.
“But we still get our fair share of strange requests – especially on a Friday or Saturday night in town. Some passengers try to convince us to keep going past our route – even as far as Glasgow – while others just get on the bus and ask to be taken home. They must think we’re mind readers, but that’s not in the training that Stagecoach offers us as drivers, yet.”
While Roland enjoys driving, and always has, as the weather gets colder things become much trickier for him and his fellow road users. He warned: “Bad weather conditions can be a real challenge for all drivers and pedestrians alike. In Scotland you have to expect winter to be heavy and to properly prepare yourself.
“If you’re driving on ice, it doesn’t matter what sort of vehicle you’re in – the roads are going to be slippery. But there are situations where driving a bus is actually easier than driving a car. Buses are obviously much heavier and have bigger tyres than a car, and so there’s more contact with the road when driving through snow or deep puddles.
“Because of this, I believe it’s actually safer to be on a bus during bad weather. Not only do bus drivers have more control due to the size and weight of the vehicle, but if more people were on the bus there would be fewer other cars and hazards on the roads.”
Aberdeenshire Council commissioned roadshows to be held at five primary schools in November to promote sustainable travel options and to educate and engage with parents and carers.
Roland says: “It’s important to teach children from an early age that taking the bus is a better, environmentally-friendly way to travel to school. It makes far more sense to have 50 kids on a bus than to have an individual car taking each child in every day.
“Plus, on the bus they can chat to their friends on the way to school. It gives them time to socialise and just be kids before they have to get their heads down and study in class.”
Roland said: “It’s always difficult taking the plunge and switching career, but I’ve never regretted the decision to give up bar and restaurant work in order to join Stagecoach.
“I love driving and it’s great being out on the road, meeting passengers and getting people safely to their destinations, be it for work or leisure. You share a small part of people’s lives every day.”