With the school summer holidays having kicked off, now is a good time to review the Sightseeing Bus season so far.
This my main occupation during the summer months and, with two buses in operation now, I’m doing tours Monday to Friday. The operating season started in May, with the majority of passengers at the senior end of the age spectrum.
Weather is always a major factor in passenger numbers and indeed whether we run at all. There was one day in May when foul weather – wall to wall heavy rain – was forecast so we elected to leave the open top Leyland PD2 covered up until the next day. June was much better, with improving loads as the month progressed. The last week in July brought the best day of the year so far, with 52 people on one tour. The bus has seating for 56 so we were virtually full. I’ll come back to that particular run later.
One very pleasing development this year has been the decision of the operator to invest in some more busman’s dust jackets. Normally uniform is optional, with some crews opting to wear the more informal printed sweatshirts. Ever since I started, I’ve worn a traditional bus crew uniform and last year bought myself a burgundy and tan dust jacket that matches the bus livery. I’m glad to say that my regular tour guide has decided to wear a jacket and cap so we both look as if we belong! People do appreciate it and I’m sure it helps to draw in some of our older clientele, with whom the tradtitional style of uniform resonates.
In the main photo above, the open topper has just stopped on Babbacombe Downs with a full load of primary school pupils. The bus had been hired as a Year 6 ‘Prom’ treat and we paused here to allow the children on the lower deck to swap places with those on top.
You may have noticed that the bus now wears two front corner adverts. These promote two of our local attractions and have been produced in the same style as those which adorned our local Devon General buses years ago.
As you would expect, driving the PD2 over its hilly sightseeing tour route with a heavy load brings a new set of challenges in addition to the usual plethora of traffic lights, crazy parking and inconsiderate drivers.
The steering gets very heavy with a full load, especially on sharp corners when speed is slow. But the most noticeable difference for me as driver is the need to use first gear more often. Within a few hundred yards of the start of the tour is a set of traffic lights halfway up a steep hill. Invariably they change to red as we approach, which means a first gear hill start. The gradient continues for another half mile which can comfortably be done in second gear so I tend to change up as soon as I can after leaving the lights. This is where synchromesh on 2nd comes in handy because, although I have to haul quite hard on the stick to slow the spinning shafts in the ‘box, I can be in 2nd and be lifting the clutch before the bus has rolled to a complete stop!
With our full load last week there were a couple of other places where the stiff gradient knocked the stuffing out of the poor old bus. Once the revs fall below a certain level you know for sure that they will never pick up and a change into 1st is inevitable. With no synchro on 1st I tend to let the revs die and, just before the bus rolls to a stop I whack the stick into 1st and pull away again. In effect it’s a hill start without using the handbrake. Torquay is notorious for its hills so by the end of that tour I was glad to park the bus at the railway station and take a well-earned rest.
Since then our loads have been more manageable, with between 30 and 45 on board for most tours.
Coming up – a trip over to Dorchester with a Bristol RE for the WHOTT Running Day on Sunday August 14th.