Back to bus work for a while

Most of my driving work for Bakers Dolphin involves coaches of various sorts but I’m sometimes rostered on one of the two registered bus routes as well.

Bakers Dolphin operates two bus routes on behalf of Somerset County Council, both of which serve the Bridgwater campus of Bridgwater & Taunton College. The No 62 runs from Weston-super-Mare town centre to Bridgwater College via Locking, Banwell, Churchill, Highbridge and Pawlett. It runs twice a day to serve the beginning and end of the college day.

The No 66 starts in Axbridge and passes through Cheddar, Wedmore, Mark, East Huntspill, Woolavington and Puriton before calling at Bridgwater College and terminating at Bridgwater Bus Station. It’s this route that I’ve driven most often although I sometimes get the 62 when its regular driver is off.

Now, I’m no stranger to bus service work but I’ve discovered since starting work at Bakers Dolphin that there’s a heirarchy in PCV driving work. Local bus service work is definitely near the bottom of the heap as far as coach drivers are concerned! Apart from the one regular No 62 route driver, I’ve yet to meet another driver who actually likes driving the bus routes!

Perhaps because I’m an easy-going guy who rarely complains, I often find that I’m allocated to the 66 route… sometimes for several days in a row. So what’s it like?

The duty starts at 06:30 and after 15 minutes or so of walkaround checks and preparation, I set off out of town towards Bridgwater before joining the A38 northwards. Usually I have a few minutes in hand so, in order to time my arrival in the narrow streets of Axbridge, I wait time in a layby beside the Bristol-bound A38 road.

My usual vehicle is No 97 (MX12DYS), a 2012 Wrightbus ‘StreetLite’ midibus. It’s very similar to its competitor, the Optare Solo. The rear-mounted Cummins diesel engine drives through a Voith fully automatic gearbox. Compared to most of the coaches at Bakers, the StreetLite is not a very sophisticated or comfortable bus. Braking in particular is very harsh and difficult to do smoothly. The retarder kicks in with an unexpected thump and the downward gearchanges only make it worse. Although it has air suspension, it is very hard and, together with the aforementioned deficiencies in the braking department, the ride is unpleasant and jerky. Not my usual style at all!

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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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A visit to Eastern Coach Works, Lowestoft

I’ve done a couple of delivery jobs for Crosville Motor Services recently and one of them took me to the Far East (of England). To Lowestoft, in fact.

Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of any vehicle built by Bristol Commercial Vehicles. Due mostly to Government ownership, the majority of these were bodied by Eastern Coach Works and it was to the coastal town of Lowestoft, where the ECW factory was located, that each newly-built chassis had to be taken years ago.

site-of-eastern-coach-works

Crosville has sold a Volvo B10M coach to a new owner who lives near Lowestoft and I was asked to drive the coach there from Weston-super-Mare. I knew that the 280-mile journey would take most of the day so I arranged to stay the night in Lowestoft and return the next day by train.

VanHool-bodied K7CJT has carried the number CRZ9825 while in service with Crosville but, by the time I arrived to take it to its new home, it had regained its original mark. The workshop staff had given it a once over the previous day and, not having driven this vehicle before, I spent some time checking it over before venturing out onto the road. Locating the side and headlight switch seemed to take me the longest time and I tried a good number of the rocking switches on the dash before finding the correct (rotary) switch near the steering column. That’s what happens when all the switch labels have worn off after years of use! A colleague at the depot, who is keen on the heritage side of the business, came over to see where I was going and asked me if I was going anywhere near the site of the ECW factory. I said I didn’t know where it was, not having time to research it the day before when planning my route. Lowestoft is quite a big town and I thought it would be unlikely that I’d be passing the site, even if I knew where it had been.

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Rail Replacement: Busman John does his bit

Most regular readers will know that I prefer to drive half cab buses but last week I was offered some duties driving modern coaches. As I am still looking for full time work as a Graphic Designer or a Copywriter, any offer of work will be considered!

CRZ9851

Crosville Motor Services, along with many other coach firms, have been providing a rail replacement service to bridge the gap between Taunton and Bristol. This followed the devastating storms in early 2014 which led to extensive flooding of the Somerset Levels. Part of the Great Western trackbed had been washed away or inundated by floodwater so the coaches were required to maintain a connection for the passengers who would otherwise be stranded.

My first day’s duty started at 17:00 so I collected all the info I would need for the evening’s runs and boarded the firm’s van. In case you were wondering how I was going to transport a load of weary rail passengers in an Vauxhall Astra panel van, I’d better explain that I was using this to position myself down to Taunton railway station where I was to relieve another driver.

I had checked out the route in and out of the station the day before but it was useful to do a ‘dry run’ in the van just to be sure. The rail replacement coaches were using the Down (south) side of the station to set down and pick up passengers so I waited in a nearby shelter out of the biting wind. Once the other driver had arrived, I got him to give me a quick guided tour of the coach so that I knew where all the switches and controls were. The only modern coaches I’d previously driven were the ones I’d trained on before taking my PCV test and the one I drove last year to Millfield School.

After the other driver had disappeared in the van back up to Weston I settled myself into the driver’s seat. Soon a First Great Western despatcher called me forward to the platform entrance for the 19:00 departure and I picked up a solitary passenger. This suited me quite well as I knew that the first few miles would be a bit of a learning curve for me. I was driving CRZ9851 (originally P153FUJ), a Dennis Javelin/Plaxton Premiere with a 6-speed manual gearbox. It took me a while to find a gearchange technique that would give the smoothest ride as, even though it obviously has synchromesh, quicker or slower changes made a difference.

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