Express & Star

Meet the 19-year-old bus driver who loves his job and wants to make people happy

When passengers step onto their bus between Wolverhampton and Dudley, they may be forgiven if they need to do a double take.

Keenan Johnson became a fully-qualified bus driver in January

Because staring back at them from behind the wheel, with a friendly smile and cheerful 'hi, are you OK?', is a driver who some say looks too young to be ferrying people around the Black Country.

But although Keenan Johnson is indeed young, he is not too young to be a bus driver.

The 19-year-old is Diamond Bus' youngest driver, having passed his passenger-carrying vehicle test in Bolton in January, just eight months after shedding the L plates from his car.

It's a career that not many people associate with someone at his age, however seven weeks into his job, Keenan is loving his new environment.

"It's a lot better than any of the jobs that I've had. I used to work in the hospitality sector. There were no hours for me to have and I needed to keep payments up. I just wanted to do well for myself, I wanted a career instead of something temporary. So I'm happy," he said.

Keenan learned to drive a car without even going out with an official instructor. He gained all his knowledge by studying YouTube videos and by taking to the road with his sister-in-law in the passenger seat. After passing in May last year, it was his dad, Nathan, who suggested the new career path.

"He knew that I could drive so he said 'why don't you do this? You love your driving, they'll give you good hours and it's guaranteed as well, you won't have any zero-hour contracts'. So I went for it."

Dad, Nathan, recalled: "He loves driving. He wanted to work in travel and tourism. He's a people person, he likes to mix with people.

At first Keenan applied to join National Express West Midlands. Unfortunately, he failed their tests, but said everyone in the company "had belief in me that I could do it".

Those setbacks didn't put Keenan off, and he joined Diamond, passing his test on January 20 with no minors.

The bus company's driver training programme has managed to retrain more than 100 Midlands residents over the past 12 months, with trainees either sent to the company's residential training school in Bolton or to local driving schools if they can't stay away from home. The company pays for £3,000 worth of training for a full PCV qualification, with a trainee pay-rate and expenses covered during the court.

Keenan has been working in the Black Country for Diamond Bus over the last six weeks

Once graduated, drivers can work full-time or part-time flexible shift patterns, with an average wage of £28,000.

Since passing his PCV test, Keenan has been learning Diamond's routes in the area routes, getting through tight spaces on some of the Black Country's busiest roads, and learning how to deal with the various customers that come a bus driver's way.

Asked about some of the toughest aspects of being a driver, Keenan explained: "Sometimes you feel you've got a space you can get through, but you're mistaken, so you've got to wait. And it crosses your mind 'what do I do, what do I do', but somehow you figure it out. But I've got buses through really thin spaces before because cars have double parked, parked incorrectly at a school, so I've had to really use my brain, as do all the other drivers that we have. But, it's definitely difficult."

Nigel Gorman, operations manager at Diamond's Tividale depot, said Keenan is a very competent driver and passed his theory in just two weeks compared to the usual three. He also explained that Keenan has to take on routes that even more experienced drivers struggle with due to the way people park.

"There's been no bad feedback at all," he said. "For someone to be at work at 4.30am is hard going but he up and he's there."

4.30am is the earliest start for the Tividale-based driver, while the latest finish is around 8am.

The youngster, who enjoys his driving and describes himself as a people person, can often be found on the number 27 route between Wolverhampton and Dudley, however Keenan has had to learn up to eight routes since passing his test.

"A lot of passengers have been very surprised," he said.

Keenan's main route is the 27 from Dudley to Wolverhampton

"I can quote actually, 'you look far too young to be a bus driver', but sometimes I feel like saying 'I've stolen it'. But I do get a lot of compliments from passengers.

"They say 'we hope to see you on this route again', so they're very happy. Some passengers may be a bit hesitant at first, but after that they're perfectly fine with me.

"I'm a people person, 100 per cent. I'm always smiling when people come onto the bus, because that's what I'd expect from a driver if I was on their bus. I don't have a miserable face, I say 'hi, are you OK?, just to talk to somebody. Some people may not have someone to talk to, so being the first port of call would be nice.

"I always, when I do the number 18, which comes to Merry Hill, I have this one lady, she comes onto the bus, asks me how I am, and when she gets on she always speaks me. She says 'oh he's so polite'. It makes me smile so much when people come onto the bus and they're just really kind and polite to me because there's nothing worse than someone being really hostile to you."

Keenan loves his new environment, adding that everyone at Diamond has been very welcoming.

"It's a lot better than any of the jobs that I've had. I used to work in the hospitality sector. There were no hours for me to have and I needed to keep payments up. I just wanted to do well for myself, I wanted a career instead of something temporary. So I'm happy," he continued.

Keenan Johnson passed his car driving test in May last year, eight months before becoming a qualified bus driver

He also recommended it to anyone else who is getting to the end of their full-time education and trying to work out what to do next in life.

"I honestly think that they should go and do something they're good and they enjoy. If they enjoy driving, become a bus driver. A lot of companies need the extra pair of hands.

"It's rewarding, you get different people come on the bus every single day from all walks of life. Sometimes they'll even talk to you, tell you what their day has been like. I've had that quite a lot sometimes on my regular route and it makes my day a lot better."

Keenan's parents are also very proud of his achievements.

"He's probably one of the youngest drivers in the West Midlands," added Nathan. "We're very proud of him."