Back to school runs in lockdown

Another update in case you thought I had lost interest or succumbed to the dreaded Covid-19. No, I’ve gone back to working on school contracts.

I had been on furlough (the UK Government’s Job Retention Scheme paying 80% of my wages) since the beginning of May but about 6 weeks later was recalled by Bakers Dolphin to carry on driving a school contract.

I’m driving a minibus on a regular run to the Kings of Wessex School in Cheddar. My usual vehicle is this Mercedes Benz 515CDI with Mellor bodywork. It has an automatic gearbox and is quite smooth to drive, if a little high-revving when climbing. If there’s anything I would complain about, it’s the lazy electric door. It opens quite quickly but, after pressing the button to close it again, it waits for a second or two to have a think about it before it decides to move. You learn to live with it!

The route is different each day of the week because students go to school on a rota system and the most I’ve carried is 5, so it’s a relatively quiet life for me. Especially this morning, when neither of the two students on my list turned up. The only excitement at the moment is when I come across a road closure and have to follow a diversionary route!

Although some of the full size coaches are in use on other school contracts, these too are only carrying handfuls of students and the bulk of the coach fleet is still laid up in the garage. There are currently no holidays or excursions operating but the company has plans to start these again in August. Whether I will be allocated any day trips remains to be seen, as there are plenty of experienced tour drivers waiting in the wings, absolutely desperate to get back behind the wheel of a coach.

This week, in a change to the usual routine, I and a couple of the other school run drivers took 3 of the Mercedes Benz Tourismo coaches to Nailsea for their MOT tests and yesterday I drove one of the posh Gold coaches up to Bristol for some bodywork attention. These tri-axle Scanias are very smooth and comfortable but you can’t rush them! That suits me actually because I’m quite a sedate driver compared to some others.

That’s it for now, folks. Bus rallies and running days have mostly been cancelled this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic so, in the absence of any heritage driving, I may be forced to put on my own virtual vintage bus rally so look out for the next post from Busman John.

Covid-19: all change at Bakers Dolphin

In case you are getting super bored under enforced lockdown conditions in the UK and elsewhere, here’s a bit of an update to help pass the time!

As soon as the new deadly coronavirus ‘Covid-19’ began to raise its ugly head in the UK, Bakers Dolphin’s private hire work started to dry up and tour customers started cancelling. Sales staff promptly worked with them and our holiday venue partners to postpone, rather than cancel bookings to retain as much custom as possible for the future. Even so, morale among the normally jovial drivers began to drop with people beginning to wonder if their jobs would last much longer.

In the meantime, schools work continued. It’s the bread-and-butter of the business but soon that came to an end as well and it began to look like we were in serious trouble.

During the week before the government closed the schools, my regular bus was a Scania Omnidekka service bus (XJI5457, ex-Nottingham, pictured here before Bakers Dolphin branding was applied). Many of the other coach drivers are reluctant to drive it but you know me, I’ll drive anything! OK, the ride is not as refined as a coach, it’s noisy, rattly and takes ages to warm up in cold weather but it has one redeeming feature. Like several other Scanias in the fleet (the Gold coaches), it has a clever switch on the dash which sets the lights going in sequence. This makes my early morning walk round check easy because I just walk around the vehicle and watch as it turns all the exterior lights on and off by itself!

At a staff meeting in the yard, we were asked by the MD if we would voluntarily reduce our contracted hours to help protect the future of the company and many of us put our hands up. This was before the government’s job retention scheme – where 80% of a furloughed worker’s wage would be covered – was announced. However, on the bright side, management were in talks with other employers in the region to see if a deal could be done which would further safeguard our future. As a result of this, 20 of my colleagues have re-trained as ambulance drivers and now operate, partnered with paramedics, for Bristol Ambulance Emergency Medical Services.

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