Short season for Exmoor Explorer

It looks like I will get some conducting turns on the Exmoor route this summer after all.

Although Somerset County Council has withdrawn its financial support from the service 400 “Exmoor Explorer”, the operator of the route has agreed to run the service as a commercial route, i.e. without any subsidy from the Council (see the Bus Service Changes page on the Council website). Quantock Motor Services will run the 400 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from July 23rd until September 4th and also on the remaining Sundays of September.

I’m not sure that timetable and fare details have been confirmed yet but they will probably be similar to last year. Bus passes are unlikely to be accepted though.

Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ may not run in 2011

Impending cuts to Council-funded services are in the news at the moment and Somerset County Council (SCC) is not exempt. Fears about the future of many rural bus routes in Somerset may be about to be confirmed. The Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ route, which has given me most of my conducting turns in the last 6 years, is one of the services likely to be cut.

For those that don’t know, the 400 is a circular tourist route which starts on Minehead seafront and takes passengers on a vintage Bristol Lodekka open top bus through the picturesque West Somerset countryside. We pass through Dunster, Timberscombe, Wheddon Cross, Exford and Porlock before returning to Minehead. We cross part of Exmoor, after a lot of hill-climbing (slowly!) and then descend the formidable Porlock Hill (also slowly!) which is reputed to be one of the steepest A-roads in Britain.

It has been reported that up to 50% of rural routes will be affected (i.e. cut) but confirmation will come later in February after the Council announces the list of routes that they can no longer fund.

The 400 is wholly funded by SCC and Quantock Motor Services has been operating the route on their behalf for nearly a decade. The only glimmer of hope is that QMS might run a limited version of the 400 in July and August on a purely commercial basis. This would probably mean that the adult round-trip fare would rise from last year’s £7.00 and almost certainly that no bus passes of any sort would be valid. If I hear or read any further news, I will post it here.

With the demise of the 400 (and hopefully armed with a PCV Driver’s Licence) I will be available to conduct or drive for other operators of heritage vehicles but I may still appear at QMS events such as the Running Day in May and private hire jobs such as weddings and WSR shuttles.

In other news, I’m pencilled in to take a PCV Bus Driver Course in Exeter. This will probably be in March.

2010 in review

Best wishes to all my readers for 2011!

I hope you all had a marvellous Christmas and New Year holiday. Mine was busy, with a fair amount of travelling, lots of good food, many family members to catch up with, lots of gifts to share and all this with Jesus Christ at the centre.

Mercifully, we were relatively unaffected by the snow and ice that caused chaos in other parts of the country. In fact, Torbay only had about 2 inches of snow and we only suffered travelling difficulties on one day.

So, what will 2011 hold? Will the higher VAT rate and rising fuel costs affect heritage bus operations? They will certainly affect private bus-owning individuals who may cut back on the number of events they attend. Numbers of people attending events around the country may also be adversely affected. As I write, the well-known Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB) running day in Winchester should be in full swing but will it be the last in the current format? There are plans to develop the centre of Winchester which include pedestrian areas and the demolition of the bus station, both of which will affect the future operation of the running day.

My plans for 2011 include passing my PCV Practical Test before May, so that I can begin driving heritage buses during the summer season. Regular readers will remember that I have already passed my PCV Theory Test and CPC Case Studies modules, with only the practical test and practical demonstration left to do. I will of course post news of my progress.

I look forward to meeting some of you again at various events during the year, or on the Service 400 “Exmoor Explorer”. Keep checking back for updates or sign up for email notifications or RSS feeds.

Here’s a summary of my blog’s performance during last year. All the activity shown below helps with my online visibility and ratings in Google searches. I’m happy to say that it’s done pretty well for a blog with fairly sporadic posts!

Many thanks to you all.

John.

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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 5,400 times in 2010. That’s about 13 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 50 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 58 posts. There were 54 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 4mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was April 27th with 61 views. The most popular post that day was Drive It Day in Exeter.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were quantockmotorservices.co.uk, bobbrimley.fotopic.net, skylineaviation.co.uk, mail.live.com, and wsr.org.uk.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for psv badges, cpc case study questions, cpc case study test, hold tight please, and cpc case study.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Drive It Day in Exeter April 2010

2

Driver CPC Case Study Test passed March 2010
2 comments

3

Obsolete badges November 2009
2 comments

4

A Day in the Life of a Bus Conductor November 2009
7 comments

5

Bus Conductor’s Winter Uniform March 2010
4 comments

Two for the price of one at Minehead

And so another seasons ends. The final weekend of services on the ‘Exmoor Explorer’ route was operated under clear skies and brilliant sunshine. A bonus for bus enthusiasts on Sunday was the addition of a Leyland PD3 parked behind our Bristol Lodekka during the lunchtime break between services.

XTF98D is a Leyland PD3, built in 1966 for the Haslingden (Lancashire) corporation as their Fleet No 1 but renumbered 45 when that company’s fleet merged with that of Rawtenstall to form ‘Rossendale’, whose livery it wears today. It had just dropped off a private party outside the railway station at Minehead.

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PCV driver training – a change of plan?

Those of you who follow this blog regularly will know that its prime purpose is to chart my progress towards becoming a fully trained and licensed PCV driver. I started that process earlier this year after my boss offered to have me trained on one of the company vehicles. I duly studied for and passed the theory modules and the CPC Case Studies module. Since passing those initial modules I have been patiently awaiting the call to start my practical training but so far it hasn’t come. It seems that, although the will is there, the resources aren’t. By that I mean the instructor is concentrating on more immediate, revenue-earning tasks.

Naturally, it’s disappointing and frustrating to have started the journey only to stall before reaching the destination. Despite dropping hints and hearing encouraging comments, I’m no nearer my goal of becoming a driver. I’m still sat in the garage and my batteries are going flat!
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Where have all the passengers gone?

Just a short post today, to ask the question: where have all the passengers gone? Last weekend on the Service 400 ‘Exmoor Explorer’ we enjoyed reasonable weather but very poor loadings on Saturday.

OK, so it drizzled a bit in the morning while the crew sat eating breakfast in the Lorna Doone Hotel, Porlock but by the time we reached Minehead it was dry, if a little cloudy. As we approached the seafront bus stop I could see a little knot of people waiting for us and, as we waited for departure time, a few more joined them. We left with about 20 on board, all of them on the top deck. Who could blame them? That’s where the best views are to be had! We picked up a couple more at Butlins and again at Bancks Street but that was it for the rest of the journey.

The journey itself was mostly uneventful. No horseboxes on Edgcott Hill, no sheep in the road, no coaches to pass on Porlock Hill, no punctures and no bolshie passengers to beat about the head with my ticket machine (only joking!). Arriving back at Minehead at lunchtime, the town seemed to be much busier, with plenty of people milling about on the seafront. During my lunchbreak I think I discovered the reason why we were so out of favour that day. Tornado was in town.

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Another trainee bus conductor

I’ve started training yet another young bus conductor to join the roster at Quantock. We were out on the Service 400 “Exmoor Explorer” on Saturday and, after shadowing me on the morning trip, he donned my Setright machine and cash bag and conducted on the afternoon trip.

He did quite well for his first outing so it won’t be long before he can go solo. In fact I was quite proud of him. And so I should be, he’s my youngest son!

Eventually, once I’ve passed my PCV practical test, we’ll make a good driver/conductor team.

I was out both days this weekend and the rostered drivers were both new to me as they’re both relative newcomers to the company and have only done the 400 route a few times. One of them really struggled with the crash gearbox, mostly due to the fact that he was still unfamiliar with the route and couldn’t judge the best places to change gear. Several times he tried to change up but the bus almost rolled to a standstill on the uphill gradient while the engine revs died away. The other driver seemed to have less trouble and we had a smoother ride.

We met and passed some unusual traffic this weekend. A 1950s motorbike (one lung, put-put-put), Quantock’s brand new Dart bus on the Service 39, two enormous green tractors hauling balers, an old Alvis car on it’s way back from the WSR Steam Fayre, several cyclists and two horses.

I’ve got an interesting trip coming up in a few weeks time. It involves a 1957 Bristol Lodekka, a seaside town and an old photograph. See my next post for more details!