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Arriva bus drivers in Medway strike over changes to 'unachievable and unsafe' timetables in the Towns

By Medway Messenger reporter

There were no Arriva buses in Medway on Friday - as drivers go on strike after failing to reach a compromise with the company.

Workers are picketing outside the firm's depot in Gillingham to protest against the introduction of what they regard as “unachievable and unsafe” timetables, according to their union, Unite.

In November around 210 Arriva drivers in Medway were balloted on whether to take industrial action.

Workers picketing at the Arriva bus depot in Gillingham

They were in talks with the company this week, but yesterday drivers confirmed they would go ahead with a strike, running from 5am today until 5am tomorrow, and 5am on Monday to 5am on Tuesday.

Heath Williams, managing director of Arriva southern counties, said: “I wholeheartedly apologise to our customers for the considerable inconvenience they will encounter during this strike. We remain willing to meet staff representatives at any time to try to resolve matters and to prevent this strike going ahead.

“Unfortunately time keeping issues were identified on some of the revised timetables and routes; the true impact of these did not come to light until schools returned in September.

“It takes 56 days from registration of the revised service before we can introduce the improvements, which in this case will come into effect from January 24, 2016.

An Arriva bus

“In the interim, we have offered to work with representatives to ease the current drivers’ duties in order to relieve some of the pressure they are under.

“Arriva believes the updated timetables and routes, with the proposed improvement in working conditions, should have a positive impact on the work our drivers carry out, and the quality of service we offer our customers.”

The strike action will result in no Arriva bus services across Medway including its Sapphire route 101 to Maidstone the 190 route to Gravesend and the 700 to Bluewater.

Arriva has also warned of further disruption on other routes across the Towns and have advised customers to check their Facebook page for updates throughout the day.

The 155 services which are run by Arriva's Maidstone depot into Medway will run as normal. For more information visit their Facebook page.

School buses between Higham and Gravesend will be provided by Arriva's Northfleet depot.

"I wholeheartedly apologise to our customers for the considerable inconvenience they will encounter during this strike" - Heath Williams - Arriva

School buses between Higham and Gravesend will be provided by Arriva’s Northfleet depot.

The 668 school service from Chalk to Rochester Grammar schools, the 694 bus from Higham to Rochester Grammar Schools and the 693 between Rochester Grammar Schools and Salter’s Cross will run as normal.

Arriva said it remains willing to meet staff representatives at any time to try and resolve the matters around timetabling and drivers' duties.

Anyone who has a valid ticket for the two days is entitled to an extra two days grace on their ticket, customers will not need to do anything except keep their ticket as the drivers will accept for two days after the expiry date.

Customers with M-Tickets will need to contact customer services to get two day tickets for the same zone pushed to them free of charge.

Unite claims drivers are being kept at the wheel for five-and-a-half hours at a time, with just four minutes' recovery time, and no chance to access to toilet facilities.

Around 800 people signed a petition against the changes, which came this summer, and saw a number of services in the Towns dropped or changed.

Drivers have walked out and are protesting in Gillingham
Workers strike in protest against timetable changes

These included all buses to and from the Medway City Estate with its 6,000 workers, and elderly people cut off from town centres.

Bus bosses also scrapped the 176 Saturday service which linked Walderslade to Chatham town centre but, after 200 people signed a petition, an hourly service was brought back last month.

Unite regional officer Dave Weeks said: “Arriva has continually moved the goal posts over these timetable changes which make it impossible for drivers to deliver a reliable and safe service.

“Strike action is not a step our members take lightly. They pride themselves on the service they provide to the travelling public, but it is a service which is being undermined by recent changes.

“The blame for any disruption lays fairly and squarely at Arriva management’s door. We have continually raised major concerns about the changes which are leading to drivers being behind the wheel for excessive periods without even the time for a ‘comfort’ break.

“We would urge Arriva to get back around the negotiating table and seriously address the concerns of Medway Arriva bus drivers.”

A Medway Council spokesperson said: “We are advising all bus users and in particular parents to make alternative arrangements if their children use an Arriva bus service to get to school.

"The My Bus service will not be affected and we understand that all schools will be open as usual on days when action is taken.”

The My bus service, previously called the Yellow bus service, is a group of pre-booked double decker buses, which take children from across the Towns to school. For more information visit Medway Council’s website.

Arriva is the only firm affected by the strike action. Companies including Chalkwell and ASD minibus and coach hire in Rochester are running services as normal.

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