Transport company’s right turn as ULSTERBUS says ‘yes’ to women

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‘Clear the roads,’ ‘I think I’ll have a lie in’ and ‘You’ll be just like Edie McCredie.’

These are just some of the statements I heard from my friends and work colleagues when I told them I’d be learning to drive a bus this week.

She's one 'L' of a driver. Erin Hutcheon gets her L plates before driving the bus. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography

She's one 'L' of a driver. Erin Hutcheon gets her L plates before driving the bus. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography

I’ve never had a mad ambition to be a bus driver or anything. But Translink are trying to encourage more women to consider a career in bus driving and invited 70 women to their ‘Have a Go’ day in Belfast last week.

I was one of those women.

I mean statistically women still are the safest drivers around - aren’t they?

Why shouldn’t I be put in charge of a double decker?

Journal news editor Erin Hutcheon and Wilfie Ward Lead Instructor with Translink. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography.

Journal news editor Erin Hutcheon and Wilfie Ward Lead Instructor with Translink. Photo by Simon Graham/Harrison Photography.

So throwing caution to the wind I made my way to the big race track at Transport Training Services at Nutt’s Corner to give it a whirl.

When I was told that less than 10% of Translink’s drivers are in fact women, I was a little surprised.

But when I actually thought about it, I realised that this is in fact progress.

As a schoolgirl going to Thornhill some 20 years ago, I can’t remember ever once having a female driver at the wheel of one of the famous banana buses.

While we still don’t make the quota when it comes to female drivers, it isn’t so rare these days to see a woman driving a bus.

And why wouldn’t they want to do it? The women drivers we met at the Have a Go sessions told us Translink drivers are the best paid bus drivers in Europe and have great working conditions.

Not only that, they added, the social life is good.

“I love my job,” bus driver Cathy McGeough told me.

Cathy is a driver on the Metro buses in the busy streets of Belfast.

“The bus is my office, every day is different,” she said. “When I came into this job I promised myself that I wouldn’t become a grumpy bus driver and after ten years I will love coming to my work every day.”

Cathy revealed she got into bus driving after attending a Have a Go session ten years ago.

“As I soon as I sat in this bus I said, this is me, and when I heard the women talking on the day I was determined I was going to be one of them. And here I am.”

But Cathy says it’s important to keep your wits about you when driving a bus.

“Our most precious cargo is our passengers,” she said. “Girls go for, it’s a fabulous job, you will love it.

“I love driving the bus, my only problem is that when I’m out in my car now, I drive it like I’m in my bus.”

Every woman at the ‘Have a Go’ session got a chance to drive a bus.

I thought I might be lucky enough to get away with driving one of the smaller vehicles so you can imagine my shock when I was escorted to a double decker.

My life was then in the hands of Wilfie Ward, lead instructor with Translink.

“You’ll be fine,” he assured me, “just enjoy it.”

It took me a few minutes to get my head round the fact that buses don’t have a clutch but once I had the bus in the right gear there was no stopping me.

It’s quite a buzz to drive a double decker and after a while you forget you’re actually pulling forty feet of cargo behind you.

The power steering takes a bit of getting used to as well.

But Wilfie gave me the thumbs up at the end so I guess I didn’t too badly. Nobody died, and I managed to get away without putting a dent in the bus.

More than 70 women attended the event on Wednesday, and I was told that most of them had put in an application form to train as a driver.

Demand for places was extremely high, and Translink plan to hold a second day on November 5.

Booking is essential to secure a Translink Have A Go Day session. Call 028 9066 6630 ext. 2322 or email deborah.bell@translink.co.uk.

As for me, as much as I liked having a go, you can breathe a sigh of relief as I’ve decided to stick to the day job..

But you never know what’s around the corner...