Negotiating narrow streets, steering sharp corners and navigating heavy traffic to timetable has always seemed like a formidable task to me.
Not least because barely scraping 5ft, I didn’t think it was feasible that I’d be able to control the beastly mass of a 14ft double decker.
But the inaugural female recruitment day at the First Bus depot in Livingston – aimed at boosting the number of female drivers – gave me the chance to face my fears and preconceptions.
Approaching the daunting double decker glinting in the winter sun, I jumped into the cab and was put instantly at ease by instructor Lynden Welsh, who has been driving buses for 11 years.
Imaginings of having to throw my body weight into the steering and crunching 3ft high gear sticks quickly evaporated.
Fully automatic with power steering, all I had to worry about was speed checking and an overactive redundant left leg.
And the crowd of women who turned up eager, but nervous, to put their driving skills to the test agreed that driving a bus wasn’t as intimidating as it may seem.
Recently made redundant Sacha Young, from Livingston, said the recruitment day was the perfect opportunity to try something new.
She said: “I was very nervous. The main thing was the thought of a double decker bus as they look quite big and tall. It’s a man’s world. How do you get them through those gaps in the traffic?
“But we’ve had an opportunity to drive one and it’s actually alleviated a lot of the fears because you’ve been in and sat there and it’s not as scary as I thought.”
Potential recruits burled around a circuit of the depot’s training ground, including negotiating a roundabout and rows of parked cars.
“You don’t feel like you’re out of control,” Sacha said. “It’s very easy to control the braking and the accelerating – it just felt a lot easier than I perceived it to be. It is not heavy because you’ve got all the power steering. It has really boosted my confidence and I am definitely considering applying.
“After my redundancy I thought ‘let’s have a new challenge’ and I see this as a great new challenge and I am all about women in service as well. We are becoming more empowered and it’s not a man’s world – you can do it. It’s really exciting. Even just getting in behind that wheel and giving it a go just changes your whole outlook, like ‘I can do it’.”
Amanda Jenkinson, 35, who after two months’ training has now completed her first shift solo, said becoming a driver was a dream come true.
“I enjoy it, it was good getting out yourself,” she said. “The nerves were jangling, but we got there in the end.
“I’ve wanted to be a bus driver since I was a little girl. I’ve done various jobs, such as working at Ladbrokes and TSB and I thought, you’re 35, go and chase the career you want and now I’m here. A dream come true.”
Branka Petrovic, 22, from Armadale has been driving since May last year.
She said the multi-tasking of taking passengers on and driving can be a lot at first, but quickly becomes second nature.
“I was looking for something different,” she said. “My dad has been a bus driver for years, so I thought ‘why not give it a shot’. I absolutely love this job. I didn’t think I would like it as much, but I’ve always loved driving so kind of made sense. I personally love it.
“When you first start it is a lot for your brain to do a lot of the tasks at once but you get into the swing of things really quickly. It’s like anything new really. Time pressures can be the stress, but when you get your confidence things run much smoother,” former support worker Donna Jardine said.
“I’ve also done my nursing degree and this has been a big career change. It’s also a really secure job. In this day and age there’s so many places closing and folk are cutting back because it’s expensive to run cars.
“People are using more public transport and we’re encouraged to, people will always need buses.”
All three women said they have nothing but encouraging experiences being a female driver with the public, often commenting positively on the increased visibility of women bus drivers. Potential recruits already holding a Passenger Carrying Vehicle licence will also be offered a £1,000 sign-on bonus.
For more information, call 01506 424 124.