Back to bus work for a while

Most of my driving work for Bakers Dolphin involves coaches of various sorts but I’m sometimes rostered on one of the two registered bus routes as well.

Bakers Dolphin operates two bus routes on behalf of Somerset County Council, both of which serve the Bridgwater campus of Bridgwater & Taunton College. The No 62 runs from Weston-super-Mare town centre to Bridgwater College via Locking, Banwell, Churchill, Highbridge and Pawlett. It runs twice a day to serve the beginning and end of the college day.

The No 66 starts in Axbridge and passes through Cheddar, Wedmore, Mark, East Huntspill, Woolavington and Puriton before calling at Bridgwater College and terminating at Bridgwater Bus Station. It’s this route that I’ve driven most often although I sometimes get the 62 when its regular driver is off.

Now, I’m no stranger to bus service work but I’ve discovered since starting work at Bakers Dolphin that there’s a heirarchy in PCV driving work. Local bus service work is definitely near the bottom of the heap as far as coach drivers are concerned! Apart from the one regular No 62 route driver, I’ve yet to meet another driver who actually likes driving the bus routes!

Perhaps because I’m an easy-going guy who rarely complains, I often find that I’m allocated to the 66 route… sometimes for several days in a row. So what’s it like?

The duty starts at 06:30 and after 15 minutes or so of walkaround checks and preparation, I set off out of town towards Bridgwater before joining the A38 northwards. Usually I have a few minutes in hand so, in order to time my arrival in the narrow streets of Axbridge, I wait time in a layby beside the Bristol-bound A38 road.

My usual vehicle is No 97 (MX12DYS), a 2012 Wrightbus ‘StreetLite’ midibus. It’s very similar to its competitor, the Optare Solo. The rear-mounted Cummins diesel engine drives through a Voith fully automatic gearbox. Compared to most of the coaches at Bakers, the StreetLite is not a very sophisticated or comfortable bus. Braking in particular is very harsh and difficult to do smoothly. The retarder kicks in with an unexpected thump and the downward gearchanges only make it worse. Although it has air suspension, it is very hard and, together with the aforementioned deficiencies in the braking department, the ride is unpleasant and jerky. Not my usual style at all!

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Town tours for Bridgwater College Rag Day

My final bus driving duty of 2016 involved a road cone, a Bristol Lodekka and a witch. Yes, you’ve guessed correctly, it was Bridgwater College Rag Day.

My conductor and I brought ex-Bath Services 1959 Bristol LG6G 969EHW down to Bridgwater College on the last day of term when traditionally the sixth form college students and staff dress up and do all sorts of wacky stuff in the name of charity. ‘Rag’ stands for Raise and Give, I learned today.

We had been given a route to follow, which was very similar to the one taken by the famous Bridgwater Carnival procession. As soon as I had parked the bus in one of the departure bays at the college we knew we were in the right place as almost every person that passed by was wearing a fancy dress costume of some sort. Pirates, road cones, bananas, clowns… and of course the aforementioned witch.

bridgwater-college-rag-witchThe lady in question (pictured above) actually organised the bus tours we were about to provide and her costume was, as you can see, a work of art. Well done Sue!

She had planned for us to take groups of students and staff on a 20-minute circuit of Bridgwater town centre. As part of the trip each team had to take part in a quiz based on notable buildings that we passed on our way around. There were also a couple of questions relating to the bus and the teams had to listen carefully to my little welcome speech to pick up clues.

The bus was never full and the route was free of gradients so driving the Lodekka was certainly not arduous. My conductor Richard and I were happy to be involved in the frivolities and I must admit that I felt right at home, dressed in my 1960s busman’s uniform, when I ventured inside the college building during a break in proceedings. In fact my outfit looked quite tame compared to some of the others!

Sadly the weather turned dull and wet as the day went on and by the time we ran the last trip we had all the lights on. If it wasn’t for the rain I would have taken more photos so, for now, you’ll have to make do with a set of photos and a YouTube video made by the college. This is made up from outtakes so presumably a fully edited version will appear in the new year.

All that remains is for me to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas. I hope your 2017 will bring good health and happiness. I look forward to sharing more bus adventures with you next year. Ding-Ding merrily on high…!