PCV bus driving practical test passed

Finally. After many delays, false starts and one failure, I am the proud owner of a PCV Practical Driving Test Pass Certificate.

If you’re on the top of your game in the world of Showjumping, you can do a ‘clear round’ if you and your horse go round the course without picking up any faults. Well, I’m not that good. I passed my practical test but picked up a handful of driving faults on the way round. None of them merited any comment from the examiner afterwards so they were all minor.

The test route included town driving (through Exeter city centre), country lanes and motorway. There was also a 10 minute period of independent driving, when I was told to follow signs for a certain destination and then left to my own devices. It was such a huge relief to arrive back at the Test Centre and be told that I’d passed. It’s been such a long time since I passed my theory modules that my Theory Pass Certificate was due to expire at the end of the week! So here’s a blow by blow account of my training and test, including the one I failed last week:

Training Day 1. My second attempt at gaining my PCV driver’s licence began with a 2-hour session in Exeter on a cold, bright day 2 weeks ago. This time I did a 3-day course with Carmel Coaches, whose Exeter depot just happens to be right across the road from the Test Centre. Very handy!

I was the only one doing the course (last time there were two of us) but I think on balance that I was happier with a smaller audience! The vehicle we used is much easier to handle than the coach I had last May. They hired a 12-metre coach from Tally Ho! Coaches near Plymouth then, which seemed absolutely huge! I did master it eventually, of course, but the Carmel training bus is only 10 metres long and feels much less bulky.

The Dennis Javelin bus (N205OAE) was originally supplied to the Royal Navy in 1994 and for some reason is very low geared. There are 6 forward gears but I’ve never used 1st. Even starting away in 2nd feels like 1st did on the other coach! In 6th gear with my foot to the floor we just about managed to get 62mph out of it.

To begin with Tony (my instructor) drove out to the A30 towards Okehampton and parked in a layby, where I took over. He was understandably wary of me driving out of the depot and all through the Marsh Barton industrial estate without some idea of my driving skills but I was glad to be able to get acquainted with the old Dennis Javelin on a relatively straight and quiet piece of road. I was pleased to go up through the box to 6th gear without any glitches although I was to miss a few downchanges later on!

Bizarrely, this bus seemed to like being driven as if it had a crash box. In other words, the gears went in nice and smoothly when a suitable pause had been taken to allow the engine revs to drop when changing up. After I’d been advised to slow right down on the brakes before changing down I decided to vary that technique by doing a proper double de-clutch change (revving the engine between gears) and found it even easier.

We trundled out as far as Tedburn St Mary on the west side of Exeter and out the other side as far as Rockbeare to the east, before returning to Marsh Barton via the bypass. This session served the dual purpose of allowing me to become familiar with driving the vehicle and also allowed Tony to assess my skills so that he could focus on certain areas which needed improvement in the following sessions. I was reasonably happy with my progress but I think I realised that the pace would quicken the next day!

Training Day 2 was dull and wet, in contrast to the weather on my first session. We began at 10am in the yard at Carmel Coaches. I drove out of the trading estate and on to the M5, via the A30. For the next 4 hours, with an hour’s break for lunch, we tightened up on approaches to junctions and roundabouts, practised hill starts, stopping and starting away from bus stops, negotiated speed humps and traffic calming chicanes before arriving back at the garage soon after 3pm. I found I was still having trouble with shaping up for junctions and roundabouts. I’m supposed to keep the back wheels within the lane markings but I’m not always successful! More practice required, I think.

Some of my down-changes went pearshaped today, sometimes because I pointed the porridge-stirrer in the wrong place and at other times because I hadn’t slowed down enough first. More practice required here, too.

I was glad to note that Tony wasn’t commenting too much (if at all) on my mirror technique or use of indicators. That’s a legacy of last year’s sessions where my instructor was very hot on these areas. Observance of speed restrictions was good too, although I did miss one 30mph sign early in the session on the approach to a roundabout. I assumed I was still in a 40mph zone (I’m sure it WAS 40mph years ago…) and Tony pulled me up for speeding! On another occasion, however, he was pleased to see me wait until I had passed a 40mph sign before accelerating from the 30mph zone we’d just left.

I was asked at one point what I thought an amber traffic light meant. I immediately said “stop”, which pleased Tony because apparently several of his pupils (like many car drivers) assume that amber means ‘get ready to stop’.

Annoyingly, the Test Centre in Exeter doesn’t allow candidates to practice the reversing manoever at the Centre. The Plymouth Test Centre allowed one practice session per test, which I found very useful last year. After a weekend’s rest I was to come back for another day’s training, during which the Carmel storage compound would be marked out for my practice session.

Training Day 3 started with chaotic scenes in the Carmel storage compound. Tony had left instructions with the other drivers to leave a certain part of the yard clear over the weekend but evidently his request had gone unheeded and quite a few buses, coaches and minibuses needed to be moved around. Tony then marked out the areas for the reversing manoever with cones and other markers while I started up the training bus and read through the ‘show and tell’ questions I was likely to be asked at the beginning of the test.

To begin with I had trouble lining the bus up correctly in the starting box in the reversing manoever. After several abortive attempts, I managed to get the bus lined up parallel with the edge of the box and far enough to the left to allow me room to make a sharp turn of the front wheels at the start of the manoever. Most of the morning sessions (what was left of it, anyway) was taken up by brushing up my reversing skills. The actual positioning of the bus in the reversing box wasn’t a problem, I just needed to improve my observation skills and the starting position.

To finish the morning session, we took the bus out around the trading estate so that Tony could go and buy a hot pasty for his lunch!

The afternoon session took us out on the A38 up Telegraph Hill, across the top to the A380 and down the other side. I used the exhaust retarder in addition to 5th gear and occasional brake applications to control our descent. Back in Exeter, we went down Cowick Street, under the GWR main line by St Thomas Station, across Exe Bridges and along the Inner Bypass. I had to pay special attention to my position within the marked lanes, shaping up the bus so that my rear wheels didn’t stray over the white lines. I was successful most of the time!

Continuing through Pinhoe and Whipton, we ended up in the country lanes where I had to negotiate some narrow bits very carefully. This really tested my awareness of warning signs and visual clues, such as looking out for approaching vehicles over the tops of hedges. We re-joined the old Honiton road and came back towards Exeter, bouncing off the outskirts and heading out towards Exmouth on the A376 – a very familiar road! I grew up in Exmouth so the road down to Clyst St George and back through Topsham was familiar territory. I nearly came unstuck in Topsham, where there were roadworks on the sharp bend before the level crossing. I think I approached with too much speed and came very close to some of the road cones!

After discussing the merits of dealing with narrow streets, looking for reflections in windows and the paintwork of parked cars for instance, we returned to the storage compound for a final chat and pep talk.

Test Day 1.  I arrived early so that I could have an hour to warm up and go round the block.

The training bus looked relatively smart, having had a wash before I arrived. Feeling rather nervous, we pulled into the Test Centre yard and walked over to the office. I had to wear a hi-vis jacket while walking round the yard. I was introduced to my examiner, a well-spoken, precise sort of fellow. After checking my licence documents (both photo card and paper counterpart) we walked over to the bus, where the compulsory questions began. The very first question caught me on the back foot. “After starting the engine, what would you check before moving off?” I answered “I’d check that the air pressure came up correctly.” “And what else would you look for?” the examiner continued. Umm, that had me stumped. My mind went blank. Only afterwards did I remember oil pressure and other warning lights.

The reversing exercise went without a hitch and we headed out for a “tootle round Exeter”. I followed the examiner’s directions. To his credit, they were very clear. As we negotiated the first roundabout I knew I’d made my first mistake. I failed to spot a car entering the roundabout and signalling to pass from my right. I saw the car but it’s indicator didn’t register with me and I pulled out regardless. Apparently the driver braked and gave me “the evils”, as the examiner told me later.

Near the end of the test I shaped up to drive round a Stagecoach bus that was stopped at a bus stop. What I didn’t see in time was that, as I checked my mirrors to pass beside a set of bollards, the bus had started indicating to pull away. I aborted my move sharply as the other bus pulled away. I should have seen it coming, as service buses rarely stop for long.

Apparently I’d also approached another roundabout in the wrong lane earlier in the test and these three faults cost me a pass. Very dejected, I met my wife for lunch. It was, after all, Valentines Day but it was quite a while before I stopped being annoyed with myself and enjoyed a romantic lunch.

Test Day 2. I was persuaded by several people that I should book a re-test as soon as possible. So I managed to book a test before my Theory Pass Certificate expired at the end of the week. I passed the theory part of the test two years ago when the folks at Quantock Motor Services offered to train me and put me in for my practical test. But when it came to delivering on that promise, their driving instructor was always busy. When it became obvious that, despite lots of pestering, they weren’t going to train me I booked a training course in Exeter last year. Then, due to illness, the course was switched at the last moment to Plymouth and the rest is history. You can read about it here. I had used up all my holiday allowance at my day job so I had to wait until 2012 before booking more time off to do the training and test.

I turned up 1 hour before the test, as before, to have a bit of a drive first. My instructor from last week was on holiday so Martin, the instructor I had last May, took me out. Arriving at the Test Centre a few minutes before 2pm, we met with the examiner, a pleasant chap with a Northern accent. He hummed to himself as we walked to the bus. Obviously far more relaxed than I was! We did the safety questions first, all of which I could answer. Engine cut-off, emergency door, fire extinguisher are the compulsory 3, followed by several optional ones which for me were engine coolant filler location, demister, full beam and fog light switches, and a question about checking the condition of front and rear lights.

The reversing exercise went perfectly so we headed out of town. I was particularly careful at roundabouts, knowing that these had been my ‘Achilles heel’ in the past. Passing under the A30 dual carriageway, we headed out on the road to Ide, a route I’d never done in my training. After a stop and start by the roadside, this brought us back into Exeter at the top of a steep hill, which allowed me to use the exhaust retarder in addition to the brakes. Using 100% concentration and constant observations, we carried on across the Exe Bridges roundabout and along the Inner Bypass. Several times I was asked to stop at a bus stop as if to set down and pick up passengers. This involved bringing the bus to rest gently beside the raised part of the pavement. Close enough to allow passengers to step aboard comfortably but without touching the kerb. I opened the door for the examiner to check. No faults here, I’m glad to say.

Then there was a 10 minute section of independent driving, when I was told to follow signs to the M5. This tested my ability to follow road signs without any direction from the examiner. Again, no problems here. Familiarity with Exeter helped a lot, I’m sure. This was one of the things that unsettled me when training in Plymouth.

Out on the motorway, I had the opportunity to pass a few lorries. I had to plan this well in advance though. With a top speed of 62mph I only had about 6mph advantage over the lorries! Turning round at Kennford on the A38, we returned to the Test Centre. I knew I’d done a better job this time but was anxious not to let my concentration lapse on the last leg!

So, at long last, I’ve passed. To those who’ve read this far, congratulations! I admire your stamina. I’ve deliberately written a detailed account for the benefit of the many people who come to this site through Google, searching for advice on taking the PCV driving test and the CPC modules. In the next few weeks I will take the last of the initial CPC modules, the CPC Practical Demonstration Test. Then I’ll be all set to drive professionally, ideally in a heritage bus with a full load!

Little did he know, when my Dad lifted me up into the cab of a Bristol Lodekka when I was 3 years old, that he had started my life-long ambition to become a bus driver!

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28 comments on “PCV bus driving practical test passed

  1. Mike Dan says:

    Oh so well done! Congratulations! You deserve that ! Nothing can stop you now!
    Best wishes
    Mike.

  2. Congratulations John,
    When you get the rest of your training out of the way, you will then learn what Bus and Coach Driving is all about.
    Remember that they handle differently when FULL – 50 or 70 people all adding to the weight pushing you along.
    All the best
    Stephen

  3. Ken Jones says:

    With your knowledge as a conductor and your progress as a driver I expect to see you in charge of OMO buses in the near future

    welll done
    Ken

    • busmanjohn says:

      Thanks to everyone for your comments!
      No Ken, I’m a half-cab man personally. Even though OMO has been with us for years, we can’t run heritage buses properly unless they’ve got drivers AND conductors!

  4. Graeme says:

    Very many congratulations John. I’m pleased that you gave it another go.

    The ten minutes of driving on your own wasn’t in the test when I did it. Must be something new in the last few years!

    I’ve never driven a Javelin but I’m told they’re generally geared differently to other makes and you need to start in first. The Volvos I’ve driven, I’ve always been told to start in second unless you’re loaded and on an uphill incline.

    Anyway, well done.

  5. Brian Boyd says:

    John,

    Very well done! Hope to see you up front in a half cab soon..

    Many congratulations.

    Brian

  6. Adam Cole says:

    Oooh Belated well done…

    But also this has made me realise there is a shed load I’m gonna have to learn when i get behind the wheel of a bus for the first time in a few weeks time. Nervous as hell! lol

  7. Dave Moore says:

    Congratulations, John. Well done! I passed my pcv test at Camborne on June 10th last year. (I live near St. Blazey in Cornwall.) It was at the first attempt but more by luck than judgement! I have written an account of that week on The Isle of Wight Bus Museum’s website (www.iowbusmuseum.org.uk) Look for PCV traing. My Experience. I started on Monday 6th with the test booked for 11:45 on the Friday. By 13:30 on the Thursday afternoon, my instructor is saying to me there’s no point in taking your test tomorrow. It’ll be a complete waste of time and diesel. Up to then, I was useless, a liability to everyone on the road. Now I don’t know what my wife put in my sandwiches for that day but after a half hour break, suddenly everything clicked into place! 14:30 and my instructor is asking if my twin brother was driving the coach in the morning and when did the handover take place? He’d missed it.

    Having got a PCV licence, and CPC4, I then had to master Bristol FLFs with crash gear boxes, and no power-steering. That took another day but I have to say I get great enjoyment driving the museum’s buses. We have entered FDL 927D, our 1966 Bristol MW for The HCVS’s London to Brighton run on May 6th which I am looking forward very much to, provided our mechanics can fix the clutch which currently lies on the museum floor in several pieces!

    Look forward to reading more of your blogs soon, and perhaps we’ll see you over on The Isle of Wight sometime.

    Kind regards

    Dave Moore

    • busmanjohn says:

      Wow [shudders] that brings it all back, Dave! That’s an excellent write-up of your PCV Test experience. I’d be prepared to bet, based on my own experience, that it is worth all the stress and tension when you settle down in the cab of a heritage bus at the beginning of a driving turn!

      • Dave Moore says:

        Sorry for delay in getting back, John. Glad you enjoyed my short article. Was it only 11 months ago? Seems like a lifetime! You are right, though. Nothing compares with the feeling of climbing into the cab, pressing the starter button and hearing the engine burst into life.
        I haven’t done much driving during the winter so I’m really looking forward to the coming season and getting some more (much needed!) experience.

      • busmanjohn says:

        Yes, the long winter abstinence – I know it well! I suppose I’m fortunate in that we started doing weddings in early April. My third driving turn is coming up in about 3 weeks, this time with a Bristol L.

  8. […] had some interesting blog comments from Dave Moore, from the Isle of Wight Bus Museum (scroll to the bottom of the post). He has […]

  9. Adam Cole says:

    Hi there again! Well just an update from me really – I did my PCV Practical on Monday and failed 😦 It was all going well until going round a very odd shaped roundabout – a car was on my left, and i let him push me over a bit turning early, and the back wheels went over the roundabout kerb. Instant fail. Other than that, I got 2 minors – Further luckily the company have agreed to pay for a second test for me – But i’m now in last chance saloon and somewhat terrified of kerbs! Annoying fault really, i’d done all the ‘difficult’ tight roads where you have to use the bus overhang to its full advantage – I’m not sure if I left myself relax or what. But I am so envious of that blue certificate – I want one! I already have every other part required having passed the mod 4 and such – which makes it all the more annoying. 9 days off from training too which is unfortunate – but 3 more training days before my test…so fingers crossed!

    • Dave Moore says:

      Adam, my commiserations. Two minor faults and you failed! You must be devastated. I had 11 and passed.
      Go back and retake the test. If you can go round with that score, you’re a better driver than me
      Don’t get paranoid about kerbs, or anything else. Come back and tell us how you passed.

      Dave

      • Adam Cole says:

        Hi there – yes I was a bit – you should have heard the expletives that left my mouth as I saw the back wheels about to hit the kerb, and subsequently did! The examiner had to say ‘Okay, try and calm down and carry on for me’ whoops!

        I’ve just read your own experiences of PCV driving training – and I completely understand the eureka moment when it all clicks into place! Mine was on Day 3 of my 10 day training – 10 days sounds a lot – but you’re in the bus with 3 people – so it’s about 2 hours per day, each behind the wheel. I absolutely love driving a bus now – and feel (at least felt 8 days ago when i failed my test!) completely comfortable. I now have 3 days of extra training – so i’m hoping my brain hasn’t been like a colander. Then I have my test again! Fingers crossed as this is my last attempt! The company won’t pay for another – and I don’t have the money to do so!

    • busmanjohn says:

      Don’t give up hope, Adam. I’ve been where you are now! Strangely enough it was a roundabout that proved my undoing too, on my first test. Take it again – if an old geezer like me can do it I’m sure you can!

      • Adam Cole says:

        Thank you, and thank you to the above for your encouragement. I can only do my best I suppose! I’ve got my fingers crossed, and i’ll put my all into the next 3 days – I want to ask my instructor to keep his mouth shut a bit – I know that sounds bad – but I need to use my own brain and make the mistakes to learn from them. With my instructor shouting at me before i hit any kerbs before, I guess I wasn’t becoming as aware of my own mistakes as I should have been – so I’ll try and work on that!

  10. Adam Cole says:

    Hello again!

    I am pleased to update you to tell you that I passed 🙂 Incredibly happy now, as it not only gives me the licence I want so badly, but also secures my job which was ‘Subject to passing a PCV driving test’ – I now have some more training then off to learn routes and type train at the garage – then out on the road!! Scary stuff, but hugely exciting too!

    I passed with 5 minors in the end – 2 of them because I chose to stick to my side of the road when passing parked cars on a road with speed humps, thus bumping us about a bit – rather than use the other clear side of the road to get it smoother – so got 2 for awareness and planning – 1 for undue hesitation – A junction where i needed t’other side of the road a bit as i turned in – i stopped for some approaching cars, but the examiner said I only needed a little bit of road and should have just taken it and educated the car drivers! lol – One was for moving off – on the angle start, there were cars behind me – and coming the other way – when the cars the other way cleared, I signaled, but didn’t move off immediately meaning the car behind started to come round me – as i moved – which meant a tricky situation, and the final one for appropriate speed – ’cause I was going a bit slow at one point – in honesty, i’d not noticed the speed limit change from 30 to 40, so until i saw the sign I didn’t speed up – just incase!

    Almost messed up the reverse too which i’d been doing flawlessly everytime. In practice i’d been getting within a couple of inches of the left ‘A’ cone, which was useful cause it gives lots of space on the right for turning – but I was paranoid i’d tap it, so i tried to stay right a bit – which turned into right a lot – This gave me hardly any space to put any steer on before the right wheels were on the line – As I moved backward I was looking for cone B to appear in my right mirror and it just wasn’t appearing – I began to think i’d hit it when it suddenly appeared – missing the back of the bus by no more than 1 inch, and right at the side of the bus! HORROR – I added lock as soon as my wheels were clear of the line and steered myself away from the cone and thus out of trouble – after that it was no trouble at all – bar the fact following that i was shaking like a leaf and hardly had control of the brake! I had to stop for a few minutes in the bay before moving off just to calm myself back down!

    But hey! that is past now, I have officially joined the elite PCV club 🙂

    • busmanjohn says:

      Congratulations, Adam! You must be feeling euphoric, I know I was when I passed a few months ago. It’s good to know that you have a bit more job security now. Actually, you never stop learning. Even though you have that covetted blue certificate you’ll be gaining experience every time you go out. Never forget all you’ve been told and you won’t go far wrong. Let us know how you get on. Better still, start your own blog!

    • Dave Moore says:

      Congratulations from me as well, Adam. Welcome to the Club!
      I’m on The Isle of Wight this morning, looking forward to driving the museum’s FLF on a running day.
      Last weekend, I took a party up to London for the HCVS’s London to Brighton run in a Bristol MW. Loved every minute of it. Not sure if my passengers did!

      Let us know how you get on at the noisy end.

      Regards

      Dave

  11. Shaun Smart says:

    Hi well done… I currently drive a Dennis Javelin for Herberts Travel and the box is very low geared and yes hardly use 1st… but have to say fuel economy is brilliant.

  12. […] my hobby I drive vintage buses. I started writing a blog to chart my progress as I trained to be a fully qualified bus driver. Until about 12 months ago my blog was called “Hold Tight Please!” and, even though […]

  13. Nick says:

    Congrats!! I have my test next week and don’t feel ready at all :/ still feel I’m getting used to the bus, and being rushed in a way… Well we’ll see!

  14. Mark says:

    Hi…. I’m glad I came across this blog today. I am about to enter my 4th days training after a day where I felt I had gone backwards. My faults are the same as yours were…approaching roundabouts and getting the gearing right. I also clip at least 1 kerb a day on mini roundabouts! arggh… From the comments above I feel more confident now that I know I’m not the only one who has had the same problems. My test is tomorrow…here’s hoping! Cheers Mark

    • busmanjohn says:

      Hello Mark, I’m glad you found this blog useful. All the best for your test. Stay calm and mutter under your breath “I can do this!”. Do let me know how you got on.

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