At long last my PCV practical training has begun. After several false starts, I’ve spent the last 2 days training to pass my PCV driving test.
The vehicle I’m using is a Bova FLC12.280, if that means anything to you. I’m not sure what engine it has but it’s more powerful than any heritage bus I’ve driven! More importantly, it’s 8′ 2″ wide and about 40′ long, quite a beast.
My test will be taken in Plymouth so all of my training will take place there. I met my instructor, a cheerful chap called Martin, at a small coach depot on the outskirts of Plymouth. It turns out that he passed his PSV test on exactly the same ex-Hants & Dorset Bristol Lodekka that I drove in Exeter all those years ago, with Devon General’s instructor Bill Porter too! What a small world.
I’m not training alone, there are two of us. David is also learning and is hoping to drive a community bus in the South Hams. He doesn’t have the advantage of having driven buses before, which I do. Even though I’ve only driven heritage buses (apart from my assessment sessions), those experiences have taught me a great deal and I’ve made good progress as a result.
As you’d expect, we started gently. I drove away from the coach depot along the A38 towards Exeter and every so often we’d peel off and drive through a small town or village. Some country roads were added in too, all to help me become accustomed to driving the coach and mastering the gearbox. It’s manual, with 6 forward gears. Learning the position of each of these took me some time and I missed quite a few yesterday!
After the other candidate had a turn in the relative peace of the countryside, we headed for Plymouth. Following directions given by our instructor, we drove to the VOSA Test Centre, where the reversing exercise would take place before the test proper. We only had a quick look on Monday, as we were due to come here again on Tuesday to actually practice the reversing manoever.
Driving through Plymouth was probably the most daunting part of all for me. For a start, I don’t know my way around Plymouth at all well but that didn’t really matter as I only had to follow directions given by my instructor. Local knowledge would have helped, though! Worse than that was the high-intensity city environment. As well as concentrating on driving the coach and making progress, I had to watch out for road signs, traffic lights, heavy traffic and other hazards such as roadworks, pedestrians and cyclists. Thankfully I didn’t come to grief, although I did mount a kerb once and nudge a couple of others. Doing that in the test is an instant fail, so today I really concentrated on approaching junctions, roundabouts and traffic-calming chicanes slowly.
Today I felt really nervous as I waited for my turn to drive. I don’t know whether it was the approaching date with the examiner or having to endure the other driver’s struggle to avoid kerbs, handle the gears appropriately and make normal progress. Anyway, as soon as I settled into the driving seat at the test centre, I was fine.
We walked around the large tarmac area which was marked out for the reversing exercise and the instructor showed us how to position the coach between the cones and then reverse it in a loose ‘S’ shape into another coned parking bay. I had about 4 goes at it and I was pleasantly surprised at how well I did. I’m sure that my previous experiences with shunting buses at the Quantock depot helped enormously!
After leaving the test centre I drove through a nearby housing estate which was littered with speed humps, traffic calming islands and chicanes. I had to go quite slowly at times in order to shape up for the hazard. I still struggle with the concept of having the front wheels behind me. As you can see from the photograph, the driving position is above a large overhang at the front. I’m used to sitting above the front wheels!
We also did some dual carriageway stuff, which saw me bowling along the A38 at 60mph. Having to overtake a slightly slower lorry (they’re limited to 56mph) was rather scary.
The net result of all this activity is that I’m extremely tired! I suppose there’s a lot of mental and nervous energy being consumed during the day so I think an early night is called for! I will post again on Friday when hopefully Busman John will have passed his test.