Busman John in a modern coach? Surely not.

This post might seem out of place on a blog that’s almost exclusively devoted to buses which are more than 40 years old. It’s here because it is part of my bus driving story.

F17CMS-at-depot

I’ve been job hunting recently and the good folk at Crosville Motor Services kindly offered me a few extra duties to help me out. One of these was a modern coach duty and I agreed to take it because I knew it would broaden my experience, apart from anything else. As it happens, what I learned on this day would come in very handy just a few days later.

I arrived at the depot to find three coaches, in Crosville’s white coaching livery, lined up in the sunshine. We were to provide these three coaches as part of a 16-coach hire to Millfield School, Street, Somerset. I had been allocated a ‘mentor’ to help me through my first duty with a modern coach and we worked through the walkaround checks together because there are more items to check than on a heritage bus. Seat belts, for instance.

Soon it was time to set off and initially I regretted saying that I knew the route into the school as I had done a ‘dry run’ at home with Google Maps. The other drivers saw this as their chance to get an easy drive and said “OK then, you can lead!” I’d had a guided tour of my new ‘office’, with all its dials and switches so I gingerly led the way out of the depot. The coach allocated to me was a Scania L94IB with 53-seat Van Hool bodywork. It has an automatic gearbox which is controlled by a series of push buttons located in a panel on the driver’s right, along with the air-operated parking brake. The journey out of Weston-super-Mare and along to the motorway junction at Brent Knoll was a bit hairy, as I hadn’t driven a coach of this size since the day I passed my test. In fact this one was larger than the one in which I took my test and I had to work hard to adapt my driving technique to cope with the longer wheelbase. I did nudge one curb on the way out of Weston but I think that, under the circumstances, that’s allowed!

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Assessment Day

Well I survived my assessment day and so, I’m pleased to say, did the coach I was driving. In fact I can safely say that the only thing that I hit was the brake pedal!

The day dawned grey and showery, but thankfully the rain stayed away during my one-and-a-half-hour driving assessment. To be honest, the weather was the least of my worries!

After my driving licence was checked and copied, I was led out to the training vehicle. I don’t remember much about it except that it was white and VERY big. I found out during our jaunt around the Somerset countryside that it was a Scania coach with an 11 litre engine and 10 forward gears. Yes, ten! This awesome gearbox was the first thing to rear up and bite me once we were on our way. The gear stick travels quite a long way but, due to the many linkages on the way to the gearbox at the back, it feels a bit like stirring treacle. I have to admit that I missed the gears quite often and, in hindsight, should have spent some time exploring the gearbox before starting the engine. There are actually only 5 gears + reverse but the forward gears are multiplied by a 2-speed rear axle (I think). There’s a neat little switch near the top of the gear stick which lets you select high or low ratio. You merely dip the clutch shortly after flipping the switch to implement the change. A bit like the old-fashioned pre-select change I imagine.

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