Unlike the Scania Truck Driver competition which was dominated by West Australians the bus driving section of the Scania Comp saw mostly Queensland drivers prevail at the National Final in Melbourne last week.
However unlike the Truck Driver comp, the actual finishing order of the top three is yet to be revealed with the actual winner to be announced in Perth at the Bus Industry Confederation Conference on 8th November.
The top three in the bus comp included two banana benders and a Victorian at this the third time the Bus Competition has been held in Australia since its inception six years ago.
Queenslanders Damien Christensen from Greyhound Australia and Tim Krekt from Sunstate Charter along with Leah Hahn from Mees Bus Lines in Victoria headed the group of closely-matched finalists across a day of varied tests of skills and knowledge.
Finalists were challenged across seven manoeuvring activities behind the wheel of a Scania K 310 UB 4×2 bus with identical vehicles used for a road drive with each of the finalists also facing a 30-question road rule test along with a simulated media interview to gauge their views on the passenger transport industry.
“Scania put 11 talented finalists through a tough series of tests on the road and behind a desk in order to determine who would win the coveted Champion Driver status,” said Ron Szulc, Brand & Communication Manager for Scania Australia.
“This unique competition puts the spotlight on safe, skilful and efficient driving, underscoring the high levels of professionalism among today’s bus and coach drivers. It is interesting that all three of the top finishers are coach drivers.
“Day-to-day, Australia’s bus and coach drivers are largely unappreciated for the hard work they do against tough timetables, battling congested roads and all manner of other road users,” Ron said.
“The competition highlights driving skills that contribute to reducing driver stress and improving the customer experience.
“By putting these finalists to the test we expose their high levels of ability, but also importantly give them a chance to meet with other like-minded, passionate and committed bus and coach drivers who can impact the industry with their professionalism, courtesy and leadership.
“As a company, we put a lot of effort into supporting drivers and enhancing their standing within their communities locally and globally via the Scania Driver Competitions. We congratulate not only the winners but all the finalists for their efforts today and everyday.”
Tim and Leah said the toughest test was aiming their test bus through two barrels they had set as close together as possible, while Damien said the slalom test was his toughest challenge.
“I felt really good in the bus. It felt like second nature,” Leah said of the unfamiliar environment of a route bus, compared with her usual coach.
“Driving the Scania was like driving a car, it was so smooth and comfortable,” she said.
“If the tool for the job is right then the job is half done,” Tim said of the Scania bus.
“This competition is a good way to bring young blood into the industry. I am the youngest coach driver where I work,” said Leah, 32.
Damien, who is the North Queensland Driver Supervisor of Greyhound Australia based in Townsville, said he started driving buses and coaches at 24. Tim started aged 23 and Leah at 30, after previously driving trucks for a living.
Tim entered the industry in his native Holland when studying international tour management. He worked as a dishwasher to help pay for his studies and his boss offered to pay for his coach licence training as they needed drivers. When Tim migrated to Australia he saw it as a great way to see the country. “The best thing about my job is the freedom it brings,” he said.
“I got sick of driving trucks, the hours weren’t great and I wanted a change,” Leah said. “You get to see more, meet all sorts of people, and that was the change I wanted. I went from driving by myself all day to driving with a bunch of people I can talk to. The best thing about my job is its diversity.”
“In 1996 I started as a bus-washer,” said Damien. “I went into the cooking industry, then decided after a while I had had enough of that, and returned to driving coaches and that’s where I am now. The best thing about my job is there’s something different everyday,” he said.