Kenny Beckers driver 1

UK’s longest serving bus driver’s 'two return trips to the moon’

A bus driver, thought to be the UK’s longest serving, has vowed to stay behind the wheel at the age of 76 after travelling the equivalent of almost two return trips to the moon.

Kenny Beckers from Sandfields in Swansea has been named First Bus’ longest serving member of staff, having transported an estimated seven million customers and travelling about 800,000 miles in his nearly six decades as a driver.

The Swansea-born grandfather started his bus career at the age of 18, after leaving Llamsamlet Secondary Modern School, when he became a bus conductor after just two days training for what was then called South Wales Transport. Fast forward three years, to November 1969, when he was legally allowed to drive a bus at the age of 21.

The former printer and tyre fitter fondly remembers his early years as a driver when he started at the Brunswick Street depot in Swansea before moving to the city’s Ravenhill depot, saying: “It was great being a driver in 1969. We had so many routes and carried so many passengers, including lots from all the factories, the collieries and British Steel at Port Talbot, but, of course, all that declined in the 1980s.   

“I also remember we had double deckers back then, but passengers were only allowed to smoke on the top deck. Upstairs was like a mist. All the factory girls and everybody else was up there smoking, it was unbelievable.”

Kenny Beckers behind the wheel in the mid 1980s
Kenny Beckers (on the bus) testing new buses for South Wales Transport in the 1990s

While Kenny, who is married with four children and eight grandchildren, has worked for five different companies over his transport career, mainly because of takeovers and management buy-outs, he is proud to have continued working in the same place and in the same role.

Now in semi-retirement, Kenny’s two days a week driving is a far cry from when he started in the 1960s, working six days a week on the equivalent of £38 per month. And he puts his long career in the bus industry down to his supportive wife, Linda, whom he says “played an important part in me being able to work on the buses for so long, as she was often left to look after our four children alone for long periods of time.”

He has seen many changes in his time, but recognises that now offering more services while trying to encourage more customers is a tough balancing act.

Kenny Beckers (left) with colleagues at the Llanelli 10K in the 1970s
Kenny Beckers receiving his 40 years service award in the early 2000s

He said: “The loss of commuters has been the biggest change. The reduction in office workers and shop workers, and more people buying cars, means we’ve seen a decline in bus travel.

“However, we are doing a lot more for disabled people now. Back in the day, buses had steps so if you had a pram or a buggy you just had to fold it up and get on with it. We now have buses that lower, pavements that are higher and ramps.

“It’s great to see services increasing again in Swansea, as the key to getting people back on the bus is by putting on more services, but I completely understand that it’s a fine line. But, things are definitely picking up, and that’s great news.”

While Kenny says 99% of his passengers are great, and he has seen three or four generations travelling with him, some of his fondest memories are from the 1960s and 1970s when he would regularly pick up the Swansea Football Team en-route to their training ground, at a time when he describes the bus industry as reminiscent of the hit ITV sitcom ‘On The Buses’.

He said: “We could do and say things that you can’t do now. We had about 300 drivers and 300 conductors, and we could really wind each other up like the antics in that comedy show.”

Despite his six decades working and now entering his 77th year, Kenny says he has no plans to give up driving: “Once my body feels like enough is enough then I’ll give up, but I don’t like putting a time on things. I’ve seen people put times on stuff, and then everything goes haywire for a time. I don’t want to put a date on it.

“In all my years working I’ve never really thought about giving up the job, and I can honestly say I’ve never had that moment of ‘I’ve had enough, I’m off’. So long as I feel good and my health’s good, then I’ll keep going.”

Kenny Beckers Cymru 1
Kenny Beckers driver