As some of you already know, I now work full time for Bakers Dolphin coaches in Weston-super-Mare. There isn’t a heritage element sadly but I’m able to keep my hand in with the ex-Crosville vehicles occasionally.
Bakers Dolphin can trace its roots back to 1889 when Charles Baker first started trading commercially in Weston-super-Mare. It’s come a long way since then and currently has around 70 vehicles in its fleet. I joined in June and straight away found it hard work.
I spent the first three days on an induction course and then learned a school contract route with another driver. The next day I was out on my own! There has been a huge amount to learn – Bakers does things very differently from Crosville and learning the new routines and procedures was not easy. On the whole though I have enjoyed the experience so far, particularly as Bakers have the flexibility to offer me the kind of work that suits me best.
During term time this is mostly a school run in the morning, private hires in the middle of the day and a return school run to finish. Other work, particularly during the recent school holiday, has included day trips, feeder trips and day-long private hire duties. In another post I will write about a typical day trip just to give you a flavour.
The vehicles in the fleet range from cars and minibuses to luxury touring coaches. So far I’ve driven cars, minibuses and a midi service bus (Wrightbus Streetlite) at the small end and coaches of all sorts at the bigger end. Although I once had a luxury coach for a day trip that was only 2 years old, I haven’t yet risen to the dizzy heights of the ‘Gold’ service, which has a courier and all the latest bells and whistles.
Some of the school contract coaches are quite old (20 years or so) but in general they are well maintained and reasonably well presented. Most of these are manual box Volvo B10Ms with either Van Hool or Plaxton bodies. Even these have air con, which has been put to good use this summer!
The day trip and touring fleet is mostly Mercedes-Benz Tourismo coaches (main pic above), with auto boxes. They are quite smart and, although they don’t offer the same challenges and satisfaction that a Bristol Lodekka does, they are easy to drive smoothly and I’m often complimented by passengers for giving them a good ride. The trick is not to be in too much of a hurry!
The day trips have been my favourite duties so far. I enjoy establishing a rapport with the passengers, both via the PA and face to face. It’s part of the job to give a safety talk and useful information so that everyone knows exactly what to expect. Destinations have so far included Westonbirt Arboretum, Blenheim Palace, Longleat House & Safari Park (pictured), Bournemouth and Torquay. The latter was interesting and it felt quite strange to be in such a familiar place, yet it wasn’t home anymore! I was also able to give my passengers much more information about what we were passing than would normally be possible.
I usually get several hours at each destination so have plenty of time to explore. Some of the bigger venues such as Longleat and the theme parks offer coach drivers free entry and often a meal voucher as well.
This week the autumn term has begun in earnest. Yesterday I did yet another new school route, from Berrow to Highbridge, followed by a couple of primary school swimming trips in Street, which is near the famous Glastonbury Tor. Bakers Dolphin tends to leave me to my own devices when it comes to learning new routes. To their credit, the written instructions are very precise and the operations staff and other drivers are always willing to help if any of the details are obscure. On the down side, the standard practice is not to post the day’s duties in the crew room until the evening before which leaves very little time to do any route research. This applies even to lengthy day trips which can be complicated affairs, so I really have to rely on my knowledge of the area in question or (as a last resort in my case) refer to a sat nav.
Today I’m doing a very local school run to Churchill Academy with a 70-seater coach. I have no trouble with this – the route passes right through the estate where I live!