What Does a Bus Conductor Do?
Updated: Jan 27, 2019
Clients ask us this question all the time when we are out working on Wedding Hire all over the North West and North Wales, so we asked Conductor Mike to explain the crucial role bus conductors carry out on every vintage bus hire...
Allow me to introduce myself, my name is Mike and I have been a bus conductor with Routemaster4Hire since the summer of 2014.
Since the age of 6 way back in 1981 I have had an interest in buses and railways ever since I grew up in Wimbledon deep in the outer suburbs of south-west London and I remember seeing and travelling on Routemasters when they ran in Wimbledon on routes 77A, 93 and 155 in the early 1980s. There was something magical about the Routemaster bus which drew me to them with their distinctive curved 1960s bodywork along with that iconic sound of the AEC engine, the rasping sound of the conductor’s Gibson ticket machine and the clear sound of the driver’s bell and that has never left me. In fact every time my mum, dad and I visited central London in the 1980s a ride on a Routemaster had to feature upon my insistence, where my all-time favourite seat was on the top deck at the very front of the bus in order to watch the world go by from our unique mobile vantage point whilst waiting for the conductor/clippie to print out the distinctive paper ticket from the Gibson machine half-way along Oxford Street.
Ironically during the 1990s I became a bus conductor in London and it was such a great feeling to work with my hobby as a 20-something where every day was a different adventure but most of the time it was a great experience, more so when you were part of a well-groomed team that enjoyed their usual banter out on the road and in the bus garage. If there was such a thing as a time machine I would go back to the 1980s and 1990s again just to sample the fun one more time. Not many people get a chance to work with their hobby but I did and it also led to me becoming part of the London Transport Museum in 2004, where I trained to be an accredited Guide at the main LT Museum site in Covent Garden and at the LT Museum Depot complex in Acton, which I still do with pride to this day.
Fast-forward to the spring of 2014 and I only heard about Routemaster4Hire through a friend of mine from Bolton who is also a bus enthusiast. He told me about this small bus hire company based in North Wales which was starting out with two former London Transport Routemaster buses for weddings in the North Wales and Cheshire areas and being the inquisitive person that I am I decided to find out more and pay a visit to this company. I visited the Routemaster4Hire premises near Wrexham with my friend in May 2014 where I was introduced to the managing director (David Lee) and we connected instantly as David and I have a mutual love and interest in the Routemaster as well as in railways. I was impressed by the quality of the restoration work done on both vehicles as well as the organisation of the base and I just knew there and then that I would fit in with the operation of the company as a bus conductor for wedding hires and other special events. I was also pleased that Routemaster4Hire also have a former London Transport Gibson ticket machine in their ownership as I had already learned how to use a Gibson ticket machine a few years previously with the London Transport Museum, so everything all clicked nicely into place. My first hire duty with Routemaster4Hire was in August 2014 and I have never looked back.
My duties as a bus conductor are not as easy as some people think of someone just casually leaning on the platform of a bus and watching the world go by like you see in ‘On The Buses’ – that does happen but only after everyone on the bus is accounted for! When I arrive at the Routemaster4Hire base I always make sure that the bus we take out is tidy so when David is in his office attending to his paperwork I like to get my hands dirty! I clear out the two Used Tickets bins on the platform of the bus of any litter and rubbish from a previous wedding hire and any other rubbish, leaves or dust found on the bus I sweep out. Once the bins are emptied then I apply the special blind inserts to the front of the vehicles as some weddings and events like to personalise their event which is a great idea plus it gives the event a bit of individuality. These blind inserts can be tricky to place but I have a special way of inserting them into place and once they are all held in securely and neatly aligned with the apertures of the front blind box I then lock the access door to the blind box. I have a habit of making sure all the blinds are neatly aligned as in this business first impressions are everything and a tidy presentation makes for a good company.
Once all the blinds are done I make sure the interior lighting on the bus works, along with the bell. This may sound like a mundane task but it is an important one and part of making sure that the bus is legally safe to operate out on the public roads. Another important item to do with legality on the road is checking that the direction indicators are in safe working order along with the rear brake light. Once everything is safe and in working order then the bus is ready to undertake the task in hand. I also make sure the First Aid box is in the conductor’s locker as accidents happen but thankfully these are very rare. We can gladly apply the white ribbon to the bonnet for photos of the bus taken outside the church or the wedding venue but as a general rule we do not use the white ribbon whilst on the road as it does cause a distraction when the bus is being driven along. I also help out with loading up any drinks and other heavy wedding presents and other items beneath the staircase on the bus and once the wedding guests or school prom guests are all safely on the bus (and all accounted for) then we are good to go! I do not allow passengers to stand upstairs or on the platform of the bus as that is dangerous – however I don’t object to passengers drinking small amounts of alcohol on the bus as that is what we are all about; making it a happy experience for the people who have booked the bus. I also enjoy issuing a souvenir ticket from the Gibson machine to all the wedding guests plus the bride & groom whilst they travel onboard the bus, a gesture which always goes down a treat and when the guests eventually get off the bus and thank me and compliment the company then as far as I am concerned our job is done.
I also have my own genuine London Buses uniform (plus a formal London Buses cap) which I am proud to wear on wedding hires and other special events as it adds to the ‘retro’ ambience of the vehicle and the hire itself. I have known some Routemaster hire agencies out there whereupon if you are lucky they might supply a ‘conductor’ (who will sit on the nearside seat with his/her face staring into their Smartphone whilst blowing bubblegum) or at worst a rope or a chain across the platform. That’s not how I work. I enjoy chatting and interacting with people as that was what I did when I was a bus conductor in London over 20 years ago and I enjoyed it.
Routemaster4Hire also owns open-top Routemaster bus RM 1783 and I have worked on this vehicle as a seasonal conductor on the circular service around the North Wales seaside town of Prestatyn which takes place during the long school holidays in August since the service began in 2014. It is one of the jobs I love as Prestatyn is a lovely little seaside town and in the warm summer weather it is always great to see so many families and children enjoying a ride on a genuine London Routemaster bus, with the top deck seats always being popular! And as this bus service is free many of the families stay onboard the bus for a second ride around the town at no extra cost so it’s a win-win situation all round. Open-top RM 1783 is also used for various special events such as Birmingham Pride and London Pride plus the odd bit of sightseeing, TV and film work so the bus has returned back to its former stamping ground in central London where back in the 1980s the bus operated in its then new life as an open-topper.
I also love standing on the platform of all three of our Routemaster buses out on the road and wherever we travel we always get greeted with a smile and a wave from the public as well as the odd beep and wave from passing cars and lorries! Sometimes I even sing when I am on the platform. But one thing is for sure; no two days are ever the same on our hires as one day I may be doing a wedding hire in a remote corner of North Wales where the roads are extremely narrow and tight while the next day I could be supervising the platform of RM 1783 at the Birmingham Pride festival in the heart of Birmingham’s bustling city centre. The variation in the duties always fascinates me and most of the time we encounter some lovely people who just love the bus and its iconic design inside and out. And if we are parked up somewhere on a wedding hire or other special event I am always happy to showcase the bus to people, especially to families and children who have only probably seen a picture of a Routemaster bus in a book or on TV. I like educating people because who knows, that young child with his mother who had a look around RM 765 in Chester may one day become tomorrow’s bus enthusiast.
I hope this blog informs people of the job I do where presentation, dedication and teamwork all play their part with Routemaster4Hire and that we always try to go that extra mile for the people and companies who book our iconic big red buses.