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Although Somerset County Council has withdrawn its financial support from the service 400 “Exmoor Explorer”, the operator of the route has agreed to run the service as a commercial route, i.e. without any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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
OK, so it’s been a bit quiet around here. Not because I’ve lost interest, far from it. I’ve been away to warmer climes for a holiday.
It wasn’t a busman’s holiday either, before some smart-alec asks. Having said that, Lanzarote does have buses. Here’s one trying to squeeze onto the car ferry.
They’re nearly all single deckers and about half a mile long. The 3-axle air-conditioned Irizar monstrosities seem to weave around the narrow streets of the resorts with very little bother at all. The drivers, both male and female, are expert at judging distances and negotiating tight corners. Some buses even have anti-grounding devices (for want of a better phrase) which are strong metal extensions to the chassis mounted under the front of the body. These serve to protect the hugely overhanging bodywork from striking the pavements.
Then there’s the stunning coach fleet of AmandaBus. Sleek, modern …and pink. And yellow. In fact every colour under the (extremely hot) sun.
Now I’m back in the UK it’s back to normality and a weekend of heritage buses. I’m conducting on the Exmoor Explorer both days (with another new trainee) and a number of our fleet will be out running the shuttle service into Taunton for the WSR Steam Fayre and Vintage Vehicle Rally at Norton Fitzwarren. If you come for a ride on the Service 400 from Minehead, introduce yourself!