A view from behind the wheel - Kanwar Brar

We have a new bus driver in our fleet. The Go-Ahead Group’s Chief Information Officer, Kanwar Brar, recently completed his training to qualify as a bus driver.

 Kanwar explains how driving a London bus helps him shape decisions on innovations and technology across the business.

Next time you get on a bus in London, it’s just possible you might just find The Go-Ahead Group’s CIO behind the wheel. I’m a novice – so please be patient with me!

It’s been a gruelling process and it’s taken me … months to qualify, but I’m proud to be able to get out and about, working alongside colleagues who drive full-time.

You may ask why a Technologist in head office would want to learn the ins and outs of driving a bus? As an IT leader in the business where my role is to introduce and maintain new technology, I need to recognise the impact of changes we make on the people who deliver to passengers – our drivers.

I grew up in Punjab, India, in a small farming community and saw first-hand how rapidly technology can impact people’s daily lives and have believed throughout my career that without technology, innovation and collaboration we are not able to make progress and improve outcomes. Aside from a brief stint in teaching in India, my career steps have always revolved around customer service whether that has been in back-office roles developing and delivering solutions or implementing business change to transform employee and customer experiences.

People assume that driving a bus is straightforward. But there’s much more to it than people may claim. Driving a bus is not simply driving from A to B - drivers are a role model on the road, they are managing passenger safety, the safety of other road users and pedestrians, and then operating everything within the drivers’ cab including the destination blind, payment methods and security.

When drivers begin their shifts, they must sign in at the depots and carry out inspections of their vehicles. To me, the challenge is how to streamline this process, remove duplication and friction, and improve efficiency through technology. Where it makes sense to change processes to adopt digitalisation– we should do it.

In our depots, at the end of their shifts, I see drivers having to cash in the change they have received from passengers. Although cash is gradually declining in usage, we know that some of our customers rely on it. How can we simplify processes and provide easy-to-use alternatives, while keeping cash an option for those who need it? Simple technical changes could make the work of a bus driver easier, speed up the process of passengers getting on-board and improve the performance of services. I am always open-minded to change, small alterations can and will continue make a big difference. The recent advancements in AI-related technology will no doubt be a game changer in this space.

For me – it’s not just about driving the bus, it’s about recruitment and training too. I believe that if as an industry we are to improve retention and fix the issue of driver shortages technology has a significant role to play. We need to remove friction from application processes for drivers – if the first ‘touchpoint’ of contact with the company is too complicated, why would any candidate want to apply? Together we can introduce technology and innovative to make the job safer, more efficient, and more rewarding and deliver change that will make a positive difference for our end users – our drivers. First-hand experience is vital, and helpful, for anybody making changes within a business. We can all learn from our colleagues. And it’s been well worth the time and effort to get behind the wheel. When time allows I’m hoping to support Go-Ahead London with my new found career on one of their many routes across the capital!