A First Devon & Cornwall bus driver, who earned plaudits earlier this year for transporting passengers in horrendous high winds on the Tamar Bridge back to Cornwall during the Dawlish rail blockade, has been crowned the best bus driver in England.
Phil McAvoy (44) who lives in Falmouth, south Cornwall and is based at Firsts depot in the town, finished third behind drivers from Scotland and Wales at a national event considered the "Top Gun" in bus industry circles - the UK Bus Driver of the Year finals.
He was competing against 118 bus drivers from a range of companies across the UK, all of whom had won local competitions for a chance to compete in the final, which was held in Blackpool earlier this month. Drivers were tested on all aspects of the profession from practical driving skills to customer care and a 30 question theory test.
Phil became one of Cornwalls unsung heroes during the bad weather last winter. He brought back to Cornwall dozens of passengers whose journeys were seriously affected by the closure of the main railway line at Dawlish in Devon, which was badly damaged and rendered impassable during the winter storms.
Phil, who has eight years' experience as a First driver in Devon and Cornwall, said: "I am absolutely delighted to have been crowned Englands top bus driver. Much of this is down to the industry-leading training First offers all its drivers. The training is intensive and focuses on our customer service skills as well as our driving ability. I think one of the reasons why First drivers have done so well in this competition is because of our brilliant training."
Commenting on his experiences last winter, Phil added: "Conditions last winter were extreme, but my colleagues and I were determined to do our bit and help people home safely. That is always our first priority as responsible drivers. However, the pressure of competing in the UK Bus Driver of the Year finals was far more intense!
"The competition this year was very stiff but coming third is a new personal best for me. I am pleased too that the two drivers in first and second places overall also work for First at its Aberdeen and Bridgend depots."
Commenting on his achievement, Alex Carter, First South Wests Managing Director, said: "Phils success in the competition is richly deserved. His passion for driving buses is reflected in his skill as a driver and his enthusiasm for the job. His professionalism and dedication were certainly put to the test transporting passengers in horrendous weather conditions last winter. He is one of the bus industrys unsung heroes and were all immensely proud to work with the best bus driver in England."
A third place finish earned Phil £800 in prize money as well as a trophy and a shield. Phils third placing is one higher than last year when he finished fourth overall.
It was a successful event for First Bus in general. The UKs leading bus operator enjoyed a clean sweep " First Bus drivers finished first, second and third- the first time in the competitions 48 year history that drivers from a single operator scooped the top three positions.
A total of 23 First drivers from across the UK, including Phil, made it through to the finals in Blackpool with seven of the drivers finishing in the top 12.