Meet the womxn bus driver baddies of TikTok
These young stereotype-smashing frontline workers are highlighting the sexism, secrets and seriously annoying passengers of a life behind the wheel.
Ell Whitter is probably not who you expect to see when the bus rolls up to your stop and the door slides open. The 26-year-old, sitting behind perspex with a yellow reflective vest and a bright green buzzcut, is used to greeting bemused passengers. But as one of the 7% of women bus drivers in the UK -- and the only one in her Worcestershire depot -- Ell has made a name for herself far beyond her sleepy, small-town bus routes, through the reach of Tiktok. “I walked into the garage on my first day and all the drivers recognised me,” she says, having just switched bus companies and come to terms with her TikTok-famous status. Charismatic, deadpan funny and absolutely forthright, she’s built a fanbase of 10k and rising on the platform, where she documents the challenges and joys of being a bus driver.
Ell is one of the more prominent young drivers on TikTok, but she’s part of a growing coterie upending stereotypes and providing a spotlight for an often under-appreciated job. Nearly a year into the pandemic, their key worker status is something that bus drivers like Ell have taken in their stride, and even incorporated into their TikToks. Accounts feature day-in-the-life clips, in which they grapple with passengers who refuse to social distance, and detail the additional safety measures they’re taking, reminding us of the daily risks involved in their jobs. Using TikTok as an outlet has proved to be a certified stress-buster for these drivers, whose affable personalities and funny, albeit very niche, skits -- such as "when the bus driver gives you the nod" and “when you’re finally given a bus with a cup holder” -- are a hit with viewers. For many, these TikToks provide an insight into a role that, although integral to many of our public transport-taking lives, we simply weren’t privy to the details of.
For 19-year-old Liv Rayment, becoming a bus driver was a childhood dream. “I had a friend who owned a few buses, which got me very interested because I’d always liked the idea of driving larger vehicles,” she says. “So since I was about 14, I was determined to get my licence. As soon as I turned 18, I took my medical exam and went for all the training!” She began posting on TikTok soon after, and one year later she’s amassed nearly 90k followers with whom she shares glimpses into her life: everything from casual sexism at the auto parts store (“Let me double check you’ve got the right one,”) to bus model reviews (“The Mercedes Tourismo has got a lovely heated seat which keeps me toasty!”).
In a lonely industry where 93% of all bus drivers are male, camaraderie and solidarity among womxn is essential. It’s through TikTok that these bus drivers have connected with each other via the #femalebusdriver tag (which has 4.4m views), where they often duet to popular dances. The connections made here also extend beyond TikTok — Liv has befriended Ell and 26-year-old Charmane, who runs the popular @charsbusbanter, with over 337k followers -- and they keep in touch via a group chat Liv created for womxn bus drivers across the UK.
For fans like Stella, 19, who is on the verge of completing her bus driver’s license, these fun, outspoken personalities on TikTok have proven to be enormously reassuring. “I heard all these horror stories from women drivers my mother’s age about being unappreciated and lonely,” she says. “But the relatability of these TikToks remind me that I won’t be alone in being a woman bus driver, even if I’m the only one in my depot.”
Indeed, for womxn bus drivers, harassment from passengers and even other drivers is still a daily occurrence. In many of their TikToks, creators share the encounters that come with being part of a sexist industry. Ell, for instance, recalls a time where her old boss told her that “period pain wasn’t real” and that “women use it as an excuse for a day off”, in front of other drivers. He was later fired. Liv points out that some people on TikTok can be just as bad, noting that “you get ignorant people commenting that women shouldn’t even be allowed to drive buses”. But negative comments aside, TikTok provides a cathartic release, an outlet for womxn drivers to both vent and make fun of such behaviour. Charmane, for instance, uses the app’s Big Nose filter in her skits that parody male passengers who refuse to acknowledge her or question her capability.
The youth of these drivers also provokes negativity from some conservative passengers. “Comments about just being a girl, people looking uncertain about boarding the bus, and people in their cars or walking past giving me funny looks,” says Liv, are all common occurrences. Yet it’s a two way street on TikTok, as for Liv, posting to the platform is a highly communal experience that’s both tongue-in-cheek and something of a PSA. “The problems I joke about are relatable to the bus drivers that follow me,” says Liv, as well as hopefully enlightening to “the passengers who find out that the things they do can be irritating!”
It wouldn’t be out of the question to assume that secretly bashing your colleagues and customers on social media might just get you in trouble with HR. But while Ell admits that she was close to being fired when her boss discovered her TikTok account -- she has since moved on to a new company -- for Liv, her stardom on the app has been warmly welcomed. “Work does know about my TikTok, and they’re all for it,” she says. “It’s great PR for the company and I help run their social media pages on the side too.”
That the bus drivers of TikTok have managed to retain a sense of humour in 2021 — a particularly nerve-wracking time to be working in a public-facing role — follows a now-heralded trend of other key workers on TikTok. Nurses and teachers have gone viral for their choreographed dances and amusing, diary-like videos that liven the mood. Likewise, bus drivers have taken to posting TikToks of themselves dancing around their empty buses -- giving them a spotlight they deserve during a pandemic through which they’re risking their lives to get you where you need to go. The cultural touchstone of thanking your bus drivers has never been more important.