Walsall man wins Bus Driver of the Year

A Walsall man has been crowned National Express West Midlands’ Bus Driver of the Year. Stephen Bate from Brownhills now goes through to the 50th anniversary National Bus Driver of the Year Competition in Blackpool in September.

Also going to Blackpool are:

2nd place - Paul Jarvis, who works out of National Express’ Birmingham Central depot in Digbeth

3rd place - Darren Dunbar from Perry Barr garage

4th place - Craig Lockyer, who drives buses in Wolverhampton

Hundreds of drivers competed in heats across National Express’ ten West Midlands bus depots - Yardley Wood, Acocks Green, Birmingham Central (Digbeth), Bordesley, Perry Barr, Coventry, Pensnett (Dudley), Walsall, Wolverhampton and West Bromwich.

The 25 best drivers were then put through their paces on Sunday (26 June) in a surprise set of practical driving tests which go further than the normal National Express professional driver training. These included:

  • West Midlands Police doing speed traps on drivers, who must maintain a speed below 10mph - with the speedometer covered up
  • Driving a route out on the roads with a glass of water “passenger” - the water level is measured before and after the test and the driver who has spilt the least wins
  • Manoeuvring through a chicane
  • Reversing the bus to line up on a tiny marker - winning distances can be measured in millimetres 
  • A mystery customer service element which tested the drivers’ expertise in dealing with a passenger using crutches, and another passenger presenting a dodgy daysaver
  • A written test

Walsall diver Stephen Bate finished the day on 1151 points - four points clear of Birmingham’s second-placed Paul Jarvis.

“I’m shocked!” said Stephen. “Wherever you come is an achievement. I was up against some very good drivers here. It’s very pressurised and very tiring.”

It will be Stephen’s fifth time at the national finals. Last year, he finished 9th, but in previous years, he has come second and third.

National Express HR Director, Madi Pilgrim, said: 

“Our priorities at National Express are safety and customer service. Everything about Bus Driver of the Year shows how seriously we take those two things. I’m very proud of everyone who competed today. Being a bus driver on the busy roads of the West Midlands is a hard job, but these drivers do it fantastically well.”

Sergeant Scott Howard from West Midlands Police was wielding the speed gun:

“I think this year has been the best year for the speed trap - most drivers are hitting 9mph. That’s quite impressive, considering we have covered up the speedometer.

“National Express gave us our PCV [passenger carrying vehicle] training. That means we can move a bus or a coach - after a road traffic collision, for instance, or during a large critical incident. It also improves police officers’ general driving ability. So I’m very happy to come here - on my day off - to help out with this event. It’s also a lot of fun.”

Published 1st July 2016