If you’re visiting London and taking a tour around the city in the iconic Red Double Decker bus. Say ‘Hello’ when you bump into this female bus driver from Assam. Sheetal Lama Rai, originally from Mahur village, Dima Hasao district, in Assam, a north-eastern state of India, has been working for Metroline West company under Transport for London for the past nine years driving on the 83 route.
“When I first came to the UK, I was fascinated and always amazed by this iconic Red Double Decker buses as it is the most striking feature of London and that very same day I’ve decided what I wanted to do – become a Bus driver driving the big red bus.”
She said: ‘It was a weird career choice to have in this male dominated industry but I was not ready to give up that easily. So a few years later, I decided to try my luck and went for an open day at the recruitment centre only to find myself surrounded by 20 men applying there at the same time as me. Honestly, felt a little odd as I was the only lady standing in the queue’.
“Luckily for me, it paid off. I got selected and after weeks of undergoing through many tests and training, I’d passed and got my bus driver’s license. It was one of the happiest days of my life, the feeling of achieving what I had always wanted was simply overwhelming. I was then allocated to a garage nearby to my home,” she added.
Sheetal Lama Rai, the mom of two, starts her day by waking up at 3:00 am and leaves for work 30 minutes later. She works on the early roster shift and finishes her duty at mid-day. Occasionally, she would work longer hours for an overtime.
“I, then collect my duty board (card) from the station supervisor which tells the timings and where I need to be. Then I’d carry out all the safety checks on the bus and report any defects (if necessary) before setting off from the deport in an allocated bus to get to the start point. I drive the 83 route which connects Golders Green and Ealing Hospital. The journey time from each point differs depending on the time of the day with a maximum of 2 hours between two points,” while she disclosing about her daily work schedules.
She is one of the only five females among the 400 male drivers employed with Metroline in West London Garage.
“The best part of my job is the people I meet everyday. Many of them are regular passengers and I get to know their daily routine. A big smile and good customer service go a long way and I am one of those people who believe in the principle – ‘You get what you give/sow’. Sometimes the passengers would offer me chocolates, coffee, gums etc. My male colleagues think that it is because I am a female driver, but it is said in good jest,” she laughed with a glee.
But driving a bus in London can be very stressful at times with passenger’s arguments, mostly on tickets issue but the introduction of smart pay has made things much easier to deal with since there’s no cash handling on board.
“There was one time when my bus was smashed up by two young boys for which police had to be called and I was totally shaken up. But these are work hazards, for which we have been trained to handle. I would like to mention that the bus is under surveillance and so are the streets of London, which creates a safer work environment and the police respond promptly to distress calls.”
Mrs. Rai added: ‘The only downside of the job is the traffic which is definitely much worse than it used to be. I don’t enjoy rainy or snowy days in heavy traffic when driving conditions are tougher. There are many more cyclists to look out for and I have to concentrate and be focused at all times. I’d take almost 600 passengers to and from each point on daily basis’.
Commenting on her job satisfaction so far, “I am proud to have achieved this in my life and even today after 9 years of being in the transport industry, I can still wake up and look forward to going to work. Besides, I must admit that the remuneration is commensurate with the nature of work, and there is dignity of labour here. I was honoured with 6 years of safe driving awards in a row and our garage has once won the best garage of the year award too.”
During her leisure time, she loves spending time in the gym, cycling and also likes to learn new things through her iPad. She is planning to go back to college and complete her education from where she had quit many years ago.
She visits her native place in Assam at least twice a year to spend time with family and friends. Also, to recover her lost appetite for the ethnic Northeastern food especially in Mahur and Haflong in Dima Hasao district, where she is also actively associated with a Not-For-Profit organisation called AROH (A Ray of Hope) that works for the underprivileged children, students, and elderly destitutes.
The daughter of Shiela Lyngdoh, studied at St. Agnes School Haflong till class eight, and later joined Mahur Higher Secondary School to complete her study there. She also runs a private school at Patharkuchi, Assam.