Stagecoach East offers chance to drive a bus at Milton Park & Ride
Have you ever fancied driving a bus? That was the question Stagecoach East were asking when they held two driver open days to let members of the general public test out their skills.
As part of a ‘new career for a new year’ initiative, the transport firm held two driver open days, on Friday, February 2 and Saturday, February 3, offering anyone with a valid UK driving licence the chance to handle a 12-tonne 40-seater – no double-deckers for learners, sadly.
Stagecoach managers and supervisors were present on both days to discuss the training process, as well as what a bus driver’s job entails, whether it be full-time, part-time or just at weekends.
Hoping to go to London on the Saturday to attend a concert by The Mavericks, I popped along on the Friday.
Taking my place behind the wheel in one of the two Stagecoach training coaches, I was shown the basics by Kevin Turpin, an experienced driving instructor, who has been with Stagecoach for about six years. He also works as a weekend driver.
It was an automatic and the options – drive, neutral, etc. – were in the form of buttons to the right of the driver’s seat.
Before negotiating my way around the closed-off area, Kevin explained that one of the most difficult things to calculate for learners is when to start turning, as the driver is seated two or three feet ahead of the front wheels.
“You’re three times longer than a car,” he said, “approximately one and half times the width, obviously taller, and it takes a lot more to actually stop the vehicle and get it moving.”
It therefore often seems, for example, as though you’re going over onto the grass, when it fact you’re perfectly fine. As I made my way around the course, this was something I kept in the forefront of my mind and I don’t know what would have happened had Kevin not been there to tell me when to start turning.
Kevin also informed me that there’s a very large area at the back of the vehicle behind the rear wheels and that the wing mirrors stick out another foot forward and to the side, meaning that quite a lot of training is required to ensure drivers don’t hit road signs – which tend to be around the same height as the mirrors.
Though there was quite a lot to remember, it was an experience I very much enjoyed and, apart from a few sudden jerking movements when it came to applying the brake, I felt I hadn’t done too badly for a first attempt.
Afterwards I asked Kevin for his honest opinion on my driving. “You did very well. We’d usually take you in the yard, get you used to the vehicle a lot more. This course here is quite a complicated course, sharp turns, sharp double turns, you did very well indeed.”
On what he looks for in a driver, Kevin continued: “Someone who is safe, competent, someone who’s not going to take risks... We go through quite a rigourous process and they have to be good at maths, English, they have to have a good knowledge of the Highway Code.
“Then we check how they can actually drive, with a van first of all because obviously they’re only allowed to drive up to three and a half tonnes. If they pass all that, they then go through for an interview and medicals. From there we go to the training process.”
It seems I may have potential, though I’d probably need to brush up on my Highway Code...