When I grow up I want to drive a bus

It’s great when you can sometimes take the opportunity of exploring someone else’s world. This week we have had the amazing Java Dance Company touring Pennine Lancashire with their show Back of the Bus. This couldn’t have been possible without the support of Transdev who gave us a double decker bus and drivers for a whole week.

I have to confess, I don’t use the bus. I can’t remember the last time I got on one in Blackburn, (In my defence I live right next door to the office). There is still a childlike thrill of going upstairs on a bus. The stairs themselves on a moving vehicle; the chance to sit at the front; the elevated views, the thwack of a leaf laden branch.

It has been the greatest of pleasures working with Transdev in Lancashire. Not only have they been really helpful and accommodating, I’ve got to spend time messing around on a double decker bus.

Organising a tour of six Lancashire towns with four stops in each has been a bit of a logistical challenge. If we’d thought long and hard about it before we embarked on the journey we might never have started. Once we’d found our stops we needed to work out how the bus would get there. We also needed to work out routes that lasted a set time between stops.

To do this I spent two mornings driving round, with a driver, on a double decker bus to work out just what would be possible. I spent a morning with the fabulous John (@twostoreyvolvo) in Burnley, Nelson and Colne working out the long way round to places, evaluating bridges, cursing low hanging trees and avoiding badly parked cars. On this trip we used one of the rather smart large Which Way busses, plush with leather seats and WiFi. We got some strange looks, off it’s normal route, round the back lanes of Pendle. It is amazing just how maneuverable these beasts are. Lancashire’s tight little industrial streets weren’t built for such things but they’ve been designed to cope. It’s a challenging job sometimes that involves a lot of training and skill. John deftly demonstrated a 360 degree turn at a junction that I would never have thought possible and described how the driver needs to aim the front wide to get round tight corners.

I think we'll use the big one

I think we’ll use the big one

Our driver for Blackburn will be Anna, As we drove around town, I asked how she coped with other drivers “You have to be a bit Zen about it or you’d spend all day shouting at people” she told me. I could see why. A lot of people seem to do everything they can to get their car in front of the bus. Most of it not strictly legal and a lot of it very unsafe. From our elevated position we saw people on phones, reading maps and generally causing havoc.

We left Blackburn for a reccy of Darwen and Accrington with Mick. Darwen proved our biggest challenge. It is a steep valley with a busy main road running north to south. Not a lot of places the bus can turn around or take a shortcut back to the centre. Accrington was more interesting and neither Mick nor I were geographical experts out of the town centre but we were really happy once we realised how quiet Manchester Road can be allowing us a straight flat run for the longest part of the show.

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Our Darwen & Accy driver Mick

We spent Sunday morning at the bus depot in Blackburn with the dancers. Each bus is slightly different and they need to re-choreograph the whole piece each time. Transdev had taken our bus off the road a couple of days earlier for a through clean and buff up. I think we’ve fallen in love with her over the week.

The whole team has been out with the show at some point covering thirteen shows in all. Chatting to the drivers and the staff back at the depot, we’ve learned a lot about a world we’d never really ventured into before. I can safely say we’re all converted to the joy of riding on a bus. It’s given us lots more ideas – Watch out Transdev – we may well be back.