Asleep on the job

London bus passengers lives are being put at risk, because Transport for London had refused to change its “punishing” shift and working practices in the wake of the Croydon tram disaster, according to concerned insiders.

Since the crash in November 2016, Transport for London(TfL)has repeatedly failed to recognise that bad working practices led to the driver fatigue which caused the fatal derailment in November 2016. Seven passengers died and 62 were injured when the FirstGroup tram hit a 12mph-bend at 45mph, after the driver suffered what was subsequently found to be a ‘microsleep’.

In the wake of the disaster, Tfl commissioned an internal report about fatigue and FirstGroup’s driver practices which found numerous faults, including a failure to properly ensure sufficient rest days on rosters and shift patterns;  a failure to encourage drivers to report fatigue; and a failure to provide drivers with adequate guidance on fatigue management.

Strangely, none of this appeared in the subsequent Rail Accident Investigation Board (RAIB) report published in December 2017, which barely mentioned the issue of fatigue. Could that be because thanks to an “administrative error”, the internal report was not forwarded to the investigators – despite instructions from chair of the Safety, Sustainability and Human Resources Committee at TfL, Michael Leibreich, that it should be?

Even more spookily in June 2017, Leon Daniels, at the time the head of Surface Transport at TfL responsible for buses and trams, told a meeting of the safety committee: ‘An audit of FirstGroup’s fatigue management processes had taken place. These were found to be satisfactory and did not give rise to any concerns’.  Er….not what the report said.  Daniels, who used to work for FirstGroup before joining TfL, left the transport governing body at the end of 2017 with a whopping £445,000 pay-off, which London mayor Sadiq Khan justified as redundancy payment for tfl restructuring.

Conservative Assembly member Keith Prince has now raised the issue of why the audit report was not originally sent to the RAIB and it is due to be discussed by the Transport Committee in September. Prince remains concerned that fatigue issues are not being dealt with by TfL putting the public at risk.

Drivers too insist that it is the shift patterns with some drivers having to make frequent changes between   changes between early and late working, that are the cause of the problem. One told Private Eye, ‘In order to get a  job with some of the bus operating companies, you have to agree to sign out of the European Working Time Directive’. Bus drivers believe TfL is reluctant to change because of the extra costs involved.

Instead, drivers say they are now being used as guinea pigs for performance-monitoring devices. In response to the disaster, TfL and one of its bus operators, Go Ahead, have been experimenting with an infra-red device that shines into drivers’ eyes in order to detect prolonged closure which might suggest a ‘microsleep’. Several drivers have complained of sore eyes after a shift on a bus fitted with the device.  They also complain about one highly controversial use of the  “ibus system” which tracks the location of all 8000 buses and is used to regulate the  service. Sometimes controllers inform drivers that they need to speed up in order to catch up on the timetable. As one safety expert told Private Eye: “It is fine to ensure drivers are not ahead of schedule but I am convinced ibus should never be used to pressure drivers into going faster to catch up”.

Asked about the claims that its policies were endangering lives, TfL said fatigue was a complex issue and it was ‘keen to identify all causes of fatigue (as it is possible that it isn’t just one) to ensure that we and bus operators can respond properly and in an evidence-led way’. To this end, it said it had commissioned a ‘world first study into bus driver fatigue’ – no doubt hoping it comes up with different results to its first inquiry’.



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