Becoming a bus driver…100 years ago!

bus driver training

Everyone at London Transport Museum is getting excited about the restoration of the B-type bus. It will be some sight to see it driving the streets of London, and northern France and Belgium, to commemorate the beginning of the First World War. Bus drivers today require special licenses, but what was the situation over a century ago when B2737 was new in public service?

For ordinary vehicles, driving licences were introduced courtesy of the Motor Car Act in 1903. Initially issued by County authorities, it was not until 1930 that they were accompanied by competency tests. However, prospective bus drivers had to complete an extensive programme of training and testing before they were allowed on the road.

Predictably, if you wanted to drive a bus you had to fulfil the criteria for an ordinary driving licence. For example, any applicant had to be a minimum age of 21 years, have a certificate of good conduct for the preceding three years, and provide a medical certificate of personal fitness. It was down to the particular bus companies to enforce more stringent rules to assist with selection. London General Omnibus Company enforced a number of supplementary rules. It raised the minimum age, extended the good conduct requirements to five years, selected married men in preference to single men and selected men with previous driving experience in the streets of London.

Applications were made by letter and likely candidates were interviewed. If a candidate did not already possess an ordinary driving licence he was required to obtain one immediately. Subject to a successful medical, the applicant travelled down to Scotland Yard to apply for a Stage Carriage Licence (to supplement the ordinary driving licence).  The police, in turn, required the equivalent of a P45 and two references.

Once these requirements were successfully negotiated, the candidate would finally go to a garage for training. However, there was still no guarantee of a job afterwards and he did not get paid. Training was spread over about five weeks, with a combination of practical and theoretical teaching. Prospective drivers learned about mechanics, road rules and driving in different environments. Once trained, drivers took police tests and the Public Carriage Licence test. If successful, the driver was finally allotted to a garage for employment where he continued to train and learn.

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