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Meet London’s most-loved bus drivers

We caught up with three of the capital’s favourite drivers ahead of Catch the Bus week

Written by Time Out. Paid for by TfL.
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Every day, around 9,000 TfL buses travel close to 700 routes in and around London, with each taking passengers to their destinations for just £1.50 (on an adult pay as you go fare). But while our bus journeys can be as short as a stop, an army of people are responsible for driving us and our fellow passengers from the start to the finish of every route – helping to keep the city moving in the process.

Ahead of Catch the Bus week (July 1-7), we chatted with three of the capital’s most-loved drivers. Each has been shortlisted for the London Bus Awards, so we thought it would be great to find out what it’s like being at the centre of one of the city’s most important institutions, their favourite part of the job and any secret spots they’ve discovered over the years...

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Kahing Mak, route W19

Age: 38
Lives in: Chingford

How long have you been a bus driver for?
I've been driving for 10 years now. For about eight years I was doing night buses – the N73 – and enjoyed that the most. Now I do the W19 route, which goes from Walthamstow to Ilford. The people you pick up are completely different types of characters!

What’s the favourite part of your job?
Every day is different, due to the fact that you pick up different people. No matter who they are, what culture they are, every person has a different character.

What are some lesser-known gems you’ve discovered while driving the bus?
I would probably say the Gherkin because, although you can see it from afar, I never knew how to get there! At one point, I was on diversion so went straight outside it and it was an unexpected journey.

What is the nicest thing you’ve seen someone else do on a bus?
The nicest thing I’ve seen is when passengers asked and helped a wheelchair user come onto the bus – my ramp had stopped working and they helped the person on and off the bus.

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Denis McMahon, route K1

Age: 54
Lives in: Molesey, near Hampton Court

How long have you been a bus driver for?
I’ve been driving buses for five years and I love interacting with the passengers. That’s the key to the bus job. Anyone can drive a route, but the most important part is the interaction with the customer. What you give out is what you get.

What’s your favourite part of the job?
The whole of the 969 route on a Tuesday and Friday is a little gem. It’s provided by TfL to pick up people with mobility issues – anyone who needs a bit of extra time or help to get on it. I’ve been doing that route for a while and it’s nice because some of these people have difficulty moving and we take their shopping to their door.

Do you have any recommendations of secret spots in London?
My favourite place to head for some peace and quiet is the water gardens in Bushy Park. There’s a bus stop right outside Hampton Hill gate and I love to take my little Westie, Arthur, there, and we head across the road to Thyme at the Park.

And what’s your favourite place to access by bus?
In my spare time I love singing, and my two open mics – the Swan at Hampton Wick on a Thursday evening and the Hogarth in Teddington on a Sunday evening – both have bus stops right outside their door.

Finally Denis, your favourite moment as a driver?
Every year at Christmas time, I dress up as Santa and greet the customers on the bus. One young passenger came on with his mother and whispered through the screen to me, ‘did you get my letter?’ I said, ‘young man, I did,’ and that kept me smiling. I think about that all the time.

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Christine Watkins, route 466

Age: 57
Lives in: South Norwood 

How long have you been a bus driver for?
I’ve been driving a bus for 21 years. Being a bus driver is all about meeting new people and seeing my customers. I love people, especially children – they make your day all of the time.

What’s your favourite spot on your route?
I’ve done different types of routes over the years, and each has a different place that I like most. But on the 466, it’s really lovely driving around the countryside – in Caterham and all around there.

Is there anywhere in particular you go to relax when you’re on a break?
Caterham on the Hill is such a peaceful place. If I have time and customers are there and know me, I go outside and walk around and we talk and laugh. Everybody tells me about their day until it’s time to go and then we get on the bus.

What’s your favourite part of the job?
My colleagues – they’re like my first family. I love it when we all meet in the morning. I feel like the mother – they say ‘Christine, we haven’t seen you all week!’. We start teasing each other and joke around. It’s a really nice way to start your day. Drivers are always there to cheer you up.

95% of bus stops are wheelchair accessible, and all bus routes are served by low-floor, wheelchair accessible buses. For more information on accessible travel with TfL check https://tfl.gov.uk/transport-accessibility/

TfL’s Hopper fare lets you make unlimited pay as you go bus and tram journeys within one hour of first touching in, for just £1.50.

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