WITH buses half empty and parents reluctant to let their loved ones return to the classrooms, one veteran school bus driver revealed how he navigates his daily duties during the Covid-19 pandemic.
It can be a difficult job keeping the wheels turning safely during lockdown but bus driver Paul Beard believes he is ‘making a difference in people’s lives’.
Mr Beard has worked for Oxfordshire County Council’s supported transport team for more than eight years.
He is one of 90 members of staff who clock up the miles operating 62 vehicles to ensure that around 300 students with special educational needs get to school.
People with learning disabilities who are eligible for transport to residential care homes, day centres and adult training centres in the county also use the special service.
Mr Beard and his colleagues operate around 45 routes.
They provide the ‘essential’ door-to-door transport across Oxfordshire with depots located in Abingdon, Banbury, Bicester, Oxford, Wallingford and Witney.
Their main clientele are people with mobility difficulties, although they can transport other passengers in need too.
The vehicles are all accessible either with tail lifts or ramps to account for passengers who are wheelchair users, or who may have other mobility difficulties.
Explaining why he chose this line of work Mr Beard commented: “I really enjoy meeting people and every day is different.
“I also believe the role helps to make a difference to the lives of the pupils I work with.”
Mr Beard’s daily duties were very different before the March lockdown happened and he and his colleagues have had to adapt to new Government restrictions.
The bus driver commented: “Before Covid-19 struck a normal day would involve picking up the vehicle and assistant before travelling on to pick up the pupils from home and take to school.
“I would then go back to the depot to be allocated for extra jobs such as helping to run the Comet service or taking clients out for trips.”
As school trips have now re-started Mr Beard and his colleagues have to be extra careful while Covid-19 is still a threat.
While all bus drivers wash their hands and maintain social distancing, they now also have to wear face coverings, to which children are getting more used to, Mr Beard said.
The driver added: “Since Covid-19 came along things have changed and we work first and foremost to keep people safe and stop the spread of the virus.
“That meant that during lockdown that we do not take on the extra jobs and stuck to school runs with a maximum of six pupils, although we are now able to carry more.
“I now devote time to carrying out extra cleaning on the bus and, of course, we have extra PPE to wear to keep everyone safe.
“All our younger clients seem to be ok with us wearing the extra PPE, which is new to many of them, and of course we made sure we explained clearly that it is for our safety and theirs too.
“To the children the masks and visors we wear are pretty much the norm nowadays.”
“At the other end of the age range the Comet service has only just restarted only carrying a maximum of six older clients and they too seem to appreciate the extra efforts we are making.”
A spokesperson for the county council praised the drivers’ efforts and added that the team have gone ‘over and above their normal duties’ since lockdown began.
The bus drivers helped distribute emergency food packages to residents in need and PPE to council hubs.
They also assisted the NHS in transporting clinicians, GPs and nurses to patient home visits.
In addition, they also went ‘the extra mile’ and delivered computer equipment to the many staff currently working from home due to building closures.
Their efforts during the pandemic have allowed many other departments across Oxfordshire to continue to operate.