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.

RoSPA Occupational Advanced Driving Test

So I’ve decided to postpone Part 2 of my round-up of 2019 day trips with Bakers Dolphin to bring you something more recent instead. I’ve had a rather testing time of late, but in the best possible sense!

I was asked a couple of months ago whether I’d be interested in doing some driver assessments at work, as part of an ongoing programme to improve the standard of driving. I really wasn’t sure whether I wanted an extra role so I beat around the bush a little before saying that I didn’t feel qualified. In response, some rather nice things were said about the standard of my driving and reference was made to some feedback that had been received over recent months from customers. I was also told that I would be enrolled in a week’s training to equip me for the proposed role which would culminate in an Advanced Driving Test.

After thinking about it for a few days I reckoned that, if my own standard of driving had been recognised and the company was willing to invest in me by putting me through a course, I should take the opportunity to improve my situation. So I said yes, I would go ahead. I had decided that, if I failed any part of the test, I would drop out and continue as a coach driver as before.

Just after the Christmas/New Year break, I sat down with two of my colleagues and prepared for a week of intensive training with Steve, a very experienced driving instructor and examiner from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). The week alternated between classroom-based study and practical sessions out on the road in our training coach.

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Out and about with Bakers Dolphin

It’s about time I posted something new so here’s Part One of a brief look at some of the outings I had last year with Bakers Dolphin.

I always look forward to the summer months because this is when most of the work is private hire jobs or Bakers Dolphin ‘Great Days Out’. Writing in February about summer outings reminds me how little I’ve posted about my current full time work with what is now Weston-super-Mare’s only remaining coach operator, so I apologise for that!

I try to take photos at most of the destinations to remind me where I’ve been and, of course, for your benefit dear reader. So, in roughly chronological order, here are some photos from some of my more memorable trips. I’ll aim to post some more later.

I’ve taken school groups to Cadbury World twice so far but have yet to go around the factory on the official tour. Maybe next time. Anyway, outside the complex in Bourneville looking rather forlorn, is Cadbury No.14 – a Hudswell-Clarke diesel locomotive which formerly hauled chocolatey goodness around the Cadbury factory at Moreton.

Back in June I had the pleasure of taking a coach load of primary school children from Cheddar to the West Somerset Railway. I’ve been there often with Bakers Dolphin – I’m sure that somebody in the Operations Department knows that I like heritage railways! Anyway, I delivered the children to Bishops Lydeard station where they caught the first steam-hauled train of the day to Minehead. While the train steamed 20 miles down the line to Minehead, I drove to meet them and donned a period bus conductor’s uniform in which to welcome them back on the coach. This, as you might guess, went down very well!

If you have ever been to The Making of Harry Potter you will know how popular the tour is, and with good reason too. Based around the film sets at Warner Bros’ Elstree Studios, the tour takes you on a magical journey through many scenes from the films featuring the actual sets and props created for the films. One of the more recent additions has been the Gringotts Bank set which is breathtakingly elaborate.

Standing outside is The Knight Bus, which appeared in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. This bizarre triple-deck vehicle was created by Warner Bros using the chassis of a Dennis Javelin bus and body parts from three AEC Regent III RT buses. I feel rather sad that these were sacrificed for the film but I have to admit that it looks convincing!

If I play my cards right, I might get the chance to drive a proper RT later in the year on a local private hire job for Crosville Vintage.

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Coach driving for Bakers Dolphin

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.

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