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Transport / Supply and demand ‘not aligning’: bus drivers in short supply

Photo: R. Robertson & Son Ltd

THE BUS and coach industry’s struggle with the availability of drivers has “now come to a head”, according to one local operator.

R. Robertson & Son Ltd managing director Sonia Robertson suggested discussions are needed to explore a different approach to how services can be delivered.

It comes as councillors were told about a “scarcity of drivers” in Shetland at the moment.

The issue was brought up at a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s (SIC) environment and transport committee on Monday – with the message being that less people were thinking about bus driving these days as a career.

Shetland West member Mark Robinson, who has driven buses himself, said the issue was finding enough full-time drivers.

When asked by committee chair Moraig Lyall if there was capacity in the local bus sector to meet current needs, transport planning manager Michael Craigie said there was enough right now – but illness among the workforce, for example, can cause “blips”.

He suggested the issue could limit the potential for any expansion of the bus network.

One company which holds a number of public bus contracts across Shetland, as well as running coaches, is R. Robertson & Son Ltd.

Sonia Robertson said the bus and coach industry has been struggling for a “considerable time” when it comes to resources.

“Beyond spending huge amounts on training drivers ourselves on mainland Scotland, we have also rented accommodation to house drivers from outside Shetland,” she told Shetland News.

“The supply and demand are simply not aligning – how we address this when everyone is struggling for staff is the big question.

“We have invested heavily in young blood and new blood to the local industry, but with increasing demands too from a very buoyant tourist industry it’s an ongoing challenge to service all sectors and keep the wheels turning.”

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Robertson advocated exploring a “different approach to how services can be delivered”. “There isn’t an immediate fix and we do need to be having constructive narratives on this now,” she said.

At Monday’s meeting, Craigie did say that transport officials will meet with bus companies to talk about current and future challenges – with the feedback expected to inform future contract planning.

Meanwhile environment and transport committee chair Councillor Moraig Lyall also asked if more could be done to attract older people who may want a less active job into bus driving.

Lerwick councillor Arwed Wenger also questioned if bus companies were losing drivers to commercial truck jobs.

Shetland South member Alex Armitage also suggested there have been instances of bus drivers leaving the profession due to the pressure that that is involved, particularly from some members of the public.

He said that not only can driving large buses on some of Shetland’s roads be difficult, “but when you’re having to deal with people who are being rude or unruly, then that just makes it an incredibly difficult job.”

“I just wanted to make an appeal for everyone to thank our bus drivers, they do such an important job – they keep Shetland running,” Armitage said.

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