Practical Bus Operation
Page last updated 3 March 2013
A.N. Inspector, Stuart Perry and
Ian Hogben describe some of the
tricks of the trade (and how to deal with them).
[Contributed by A.N. Inspector]
Scratching is deliberately driving more slowly than the normal
service speed to lose time, sometimes called ‘dragging the road’,
in an effort to get the bus behind to overtake and then take the
The bus behind has the incentive to go around,
rather than leave the bus in front to take the two loads,
if the following crew are finished on the way or the way
The Official(s) running the route know the crews and it becomes
important to let the crew doing their job properly know that the
scratching crew will suffer by action not words. My solution was to
leave the scratching crew get on with it, turn the following crew
one point short and tell them to come out 5 early and maintain that
back but not to go around the bus in front and stay one stop behind
all the way to the turn and then show the garage on the way
Once the scratching crew see that they are on their own and
going through they generally get the message, the agreement with
the T&G was that whilst we, the Officials, would try and get
crews off on time we can insist that all crews do their scheduled
mileage and the scratching crew will do just that whether they like
it or not!
Whilst this will mean a complaint from the Union (I used to get
a lot of these), it quickly gets around the garage that this crew
got stitched up and probably finished late which lets the majority
of crews that do their job properly know that you, the Official,
are playing the game with the crews and expect the crews do
likewise, which the vast majority do.
[Contributed by A.N. Inspector]
Punching is following close (well in sight) behind the bus in front
but not arriving at the stop its on until most, if not all, the
intending passengers have already boarded it.
This is a different kettle of fish. You
often get buses of different routes along the same stretch of road
and these buses may be within minutes of their correct times so the
crews may not be committing the usual offences but there is a
requirement to keep a suitable headway between buses of all routes
over the same stretch of road where possible. Sometimes this
is not possible and others you may not want to do anything for
You have to take into account the possible
loadings before taking action, e.g. it could be at the Angel on a
busy Saturday where a 73, 38, 277 and a
19 all turn up together with enough people waiting to fill two of
the 4 buses. Now LT often have two stops to divide the routes
and create two queues at busy points for buses going in different
directions so in this case we can discount the 73 and 277 as one
will go towards Kings Cross and the other towards Smithfield.
However the 38 and 19 will follow the same route to Hyde Park and
none of the buses will want to wait to see what you’re going to
do because they’re on time and no chance of a turn, so you
have to decide as you see them arriving and ‘go for it’. The
worst possible thing, all things being equal, is to do
Two buses different routes but same section
of road for a reasonable length of journey. Lets say you’re
at Hackney Station (Graham Road) and a 277 comes around from Well
Street and a 38 comes from Clapton Pond, the opposite
direction. They both follow the same road to the Angel but
the 38 has to go to Victoria and the 277 is finished just past the
Angel at Smithfield. The 277 will want the 38 to go around
him but the 38 won’t want to, now the 38 knows that the 277 is
finished after the Angel so whilst the 277 will go slow to
encourage the 38 to go around the 38 won’t want to but if he hangs
back he’ll finish up late at the Angel and the following 38 will
either be with him or not far away. So as the 38 has just
started his journey common sense would tell him to get on with it
and hope he catches a 22 at Holborn rather than piss-about with the
277 at the part on the route that normally gives the chance to get
his foot down and narrow the gap between him and the 38 in front of
him which will make life easier all the way rather than just for
part of the journey. Again holding the bus is an option but
only with the 277 because the 38 has only just started and has
a long way to go.
The easiest way to slow/hold the bus
without alienating the crew (unless you what to and sometimes you
do!) is to question the driver's timekeeping in the nicest possible
way and look confused, ask for the driver's running card (time
board), look at your watch, etc, and as soon as the other bus is
out of sight say something like ‘Oh I see, sorry driver, go when
you get the bell’ then walk back along the bus and call to the
conductor, ‘Ring off when you’re ready conductor’ - job done
Stuart Perry adds: In the days of crew
working, you were always paired with the same conductor (except for
overtime and rest day working), so you always tried to protect him
I imagine that all crews at whatever garage took the same view
as we did at MH that you drove very differently on your local
routes (210, 212 and 244) from
how you did on the Central London routes 43 and 134.
We ran the three local routes exclusively with no other garages
involved, apart from T and AR on the 210 on Sundays. I think in all
honesty we tried to run these routes with the public in mind.
Usually the spacings on the road were maintained but if you caught
the bus in front you would always go round him and help out to try
to keep the service as even as possible. I would even pass a T or
an AR on the 210 if they were struggling or didn't know our end of
the route very well.
The 43 and 134 was a completely different style of driving.
You never passed any bus from another garage on any other
route. You might occasionally pass another 43 if he was in
trouble, as he was obviously also an MH as we were the only garage
operating that route, but you would not pass him if he was already
punching up other buses. This applied especially up and down
the Holloway Road where convoys were common.
The 134 was dog eat dog. Not only were there other routes
duplicating various parts of the service, there were also two other
garages J and PB on the 134. Coming up behind another 134 you
could not see the running number or RT number so it was vital you
learnt the registration numbers of our own buses from MH so you
knew if you were going to help or not.
Punching up other buses was all about split second decisions.
For example you are on a northbound 134 journey from Pimlico.
You have picked up a 24 and he doesn't like it and starts
dragging the road. What do you do? Well he will take most of the
passengers but you will lose him at Camden Town and you have a lot
further to go after that than he does. I would try to stick with
him as far as Mornington Crescent and then speed round him hoping
you might find a 27 or 137 to take you to Archway. If you did then
just before the stop at Camden Town there was a heavily used
pedestrian crossing, so you could be the world's politest driver
and sit at the crossing and let the 27 or 137 clear the queue. It
all made for taking any boredom out of the duty.
Whilst the main object of punching up other buses was to avoid
heavy loadings, the whole badge of honour thing (see Ian Hogben's
note, next) was always a factor. As an example on the 43, if
you were punching up an FY on the 104, any 43 drivers coming in the
opposite direction would always give you the thumbs up. Much
of the garage banter involved tales of any driver who had been seen
getting slaughtered with a three bell load on the Holloway
To sum up I think the public got a far better service from local
routes than those through central London where from a drivers point
of view your priority was not to allow other buses to mess with
Ian Hogben (see Memories on route 216)
Punching up wasn’t always done to avoid heavy
loadings. It was sometimes a badge of honour – a way in
which you could demonstrate (and later boast) to other colleagues
that you had had the guile to pull one over on drivers who were
otherwise your best mates.
One such example:
RF route 218 (to
Staines) had three duties leaving Kingston garage first thing in
the morning, with a bare one minute between each. The three buses
went respectively to Staines, Laleham and Shepperton. Each of these
destinations was ten minutes running time apart, so that on the
return (Kingston bound) journeys, there would then be a twenty
minute gap between each.
Before the outbound journey from Kingston the
banter would go something like: “Once I leave the garage, you won’t
see me again,” to which the reply was normally: “I’m going to punch
you all the way to . . . ” etc. etc. On those
first journeys there were never more than three or four passengers
IN TOTAL. But it was a matter of honour that YOU didn’t
pick them up, but that someone else did. And it went like this:
Bus 1 left the garage and, at the
junction of Eden Street, went straight on instead of left.
Bus 2 left a minute behind and the driver, unaware
of where the first bus had gone took his normal line of route (Eden
Street – Portsmouth Road), with Bus 3 a minute behind
that. Meanwhile Bus 1 went round the one way system and
was now the third in line.
Now on a straight bit of road, Bus 2s
driver realised he had been had, and swung into the service road
behind ‘Banana’ island, a grassy reservation at the left side of
Portsmouth Road which had several large trees on it. He switched
the lights off and watched as Bus 3 trundled past,
followed by Bus 1.
Similar tricks were pulled at Scilly Isles and
Esher ‘one-way’ system. I myself once backed into West End Lane,
Esher and watched a bus that had circled Esher rush past the end of
the road, only to find him behind me again at Hersham, where he had
turned left (instead of right) and circled The Green before
emerging on my tail. And all this before we’d even got to the
Barley Mow, where the first regular punter was always waiting.
Spice was added if Gold Badge Lenny Britton
and his mate were on the prowl and we always had to be ready with
an excuse. The running times at that hour of the morning were
always more than generous (sixty eight minutes, when you could have
done it in forty) though the public never suffered by our
high-jinks, but by gum, it didn’t half break the tedium.
But despite this, during the peaks, if a driver was really
struggling (and he’d have to be if you managed to catch him up with
the headways we had), with few exceptions we’d always go
round and help him out.
[Contributed by Stuart Perry] Hopping
was less frequent than scratching and punching up, but basically by
signal you agreed with another driver you would work the road
together. To do this you passed alternate request stops and
pulled round each other at alternate compulsories. So leaving
aside any bells for unloading you caught up a lot of time by
missing out on half the stops. You had to know and trust the
other driver but working well together usually paid dividends later
on that particular journey.
I remember a good example on the 134. I
was pulling out of Victoria Station forecourt and at the same time
one of my best mates was coming up Wilton Road from Pimlico.
I had RT378 and he had RT2621 so we both had good buses
and nodded to each other we would hop the road.
By the time we reached Goodge Street tube
station we had caught a J and a PB messing with each other in the
heavy traffic up Tottenham Court Rd. That was of course the time to
tuck in behind and we punched them up all the way to the crew
change stop at Colney Hatch Lane. All 4 buses arrived in convoy,
all late because it was the evening peak. The checker gave us
a wry smile. He knew what we had been up to but chose to turn
a blind eye because he had at least two buses less behind time than
they might have been.
[Contributed by Stuart Perry] There
were two different species. Checkers were allocated to a fixed
location. It was their job to sort out late running and turn you
short on the next journey so you could regain your correct running
time and if they could eliminate service gaps. Jumpers were mobile
and their job was to check up on conductors to make sure that all
the passengers had a valid ticket. One of the biggest fiddles for
conductors was to take the cash and conveniently forget to issue a
ticket particularly to rabbits who were using the upper deck for a
short hop and paid on the staircase when leaving.
The rodside checkers had a difficult job
dealing with late running. For example, on the 134, any bus
leaving Pimlico or Victoria between say 16.30 and 18.00 had no
chance of reaching Friern Barnet on time. The three main
bottlenecks were Tottenham Court Road northbound, Camden Town
junction and Archway. If you were running into MH garage, you
simply logged arrival time and were paid overtime. If however
you had another southbound journey scheduled, you would be given a
short to Charing Cross, or if very late to Warren Street Post
Office Tower using the 269 waiting stop. The problem of course
was that in the early evening there was then hardly any
service to Victoria or Pimlico. To try and correct this, the
checker at Camden Town would sometimes tell you to run short
on the northbound journey to Archway and the checker there
would then send you back to Pimlico.