EU rules risk aggravating bus-driver shortage
Europe is running out of drivers.
By 2026, if no further action is taken, the shortage is expected to triple. And EU Commission plans risk making matters worse.
Over 2 million more drivers will be needed within EU frontiers and demand for bus and coach drivers will grow by 20 percent in the coming years, according to a recent report by the International Road Transport Union (IRU).
"If we wait any longer, the driver shortage will become a driver crisis and disrupt mobility and supply chains and the economy of the European Union," IRU president Radu Dinescu also said in November.
We are already seeing it.
France is missing 7,000 school bus drivers due to workers leaving the profession.
Spain has launched a programme to recruit Moroccan truck drivers, in a related sector.
And Ireland has given permits to workers from third countries to address the shortage of these professionals, to give a few examples.
But with this in mind, some EU Commission ideas on how to reform things have met with dismay.
The commission is currently reviewing a 2006 regulation, updated in 2020, which includes a number of measures concerning coach tourism services.
But two of its ideas are causing concern to the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) .
The first modification would seek to give more flexibility in the daily breaks of occasional passenger transport workers — such as those who conduct guided tours.
What would this mean in reality? Instead of a 45-minute rest stop every four and a half hours or so, there would be three 15-minute breaks, or one 15-minute break and one half-hour break.
The second is to make it easier for firms to force drivers to work 12 days in a row without a day off.
But "a 15-minute break is practically a non-break for bus and coach drivers," the ETF pointed out.
Drivers would not even have enough time to go to the toilet or have a snack, it said.
"I already have an extremely difficult time with the current driving and rest period regulations," a female driver who has been working for 25 years primarily in coach tourism told EUobserver.
When asked if she would accept these new conditions, she didn’t hesitate. "I will quit", she said.
According to an ETF survey seen by EUobserver, 80 percent of drivers would consider leaving the industry if the commission moved forward with this proposal.
Some 85 percent of drivers also indicated that the possibility of 12 consecutive days of driving with no day off would increase fatigue, work pressure, and stress.
Over 70 percent said there would be no time to have a snack or even use the sanitary facilities in the short-break model.
ETF represents 5 million transport workers from more than 200 European trade unions, and earlier this year surveyed around 1,300 professionals from different EU member states and Norway to find out their position.
The federation sums up its position as: better enforcement, no further flexibility.
’Nail in coffin’
But reform aside, existing working conditions are not appealing either.
A 63-year old coach driver told EUobserver he struggles to see his wife, children, and grandchildren on a regular basis. With the current driver shortage, he considers the outlook to be even worse.
"What awaits my colleagues and me is less sleep, more work and even less family life," he said.
In addition, bus driving licences are expensive — €9,000 on average in Germany.
Seasonality and long working hours are a turn off to potential new drivers.
The minimum age to obtain a licence is between 21 and 24 —not 18, as proposed by the industry—, with very few young people going into the profession and a wave of retirements on the horizon.
Only 3 percent of bus and coach drivers are below 25 years old in Europe today, the IRU said.
"The proposed revision of driving and rest time rules in coach tourism could be a nail in the coffin for road passenger transport and road safety," the ETF said.
It called on the EU to improve working conditions and invest in new technologies to keep the sector going, and to maintain the current conditions for rest and driving times.