Freewheeling on the south coast

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Alan Payling meets a freelance driver who gets a variety of work by providing his services to operators who need a professional that not only holds a DCPC but thinks periodic training is a sound idea

If anyone was looking for an appropriate motto for coach drivers, perhaps varietas delectat should be considered for their coat of arms. In plainer terms, it means variety is the spice of life. When it comes to the varied life the average coach driver leads, that motto would be more than accurate. Looking at the places coach drivers go and the people they meet, perhaps other contenders like iam non obscure (never a dull moment) or ut raeda coegi ire longam viam (you can go a long way as a coach driver) should be considered. Not sure the last one is exactly right as they didn’t have many coaches in ancient Rome, so it might refer to chariot drivers. So, hold your horses on that one. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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Looking at the range of work on offer in the industry though, some PSV drivers prefer touring work. That is what they want to spend their time doing and so offer their services on a freelance basis to do such work to the exclusion of any other type of job. However, that is not always a good fit for some operators. Using a bit more Latin, they take the view that a quid pro quo should apply and is more helpful. In respect of the coach trade, this translates as: “You help me out driver, and I’ll look after you when I can.”

While there is a shortage of good tour drivers, there is also sometimes a shortage of good drivers to cover rail replacement or school work. So for the freelancer who is prepared to be flexible about doing bread and butter work, then operators are more likely to give them a ring first when there is a bit of cream going. One such freelance driver is Paul Green from Brighton who I met up with in Torquay while he was running a five-day Turkey & Tinsel tour for Crawley Luxury Coaches.

A permanent job would not suit Paul because he has another industry-related string to his bow that keeps him busy part of the time. And it’s a job that should make operators feel very confident that Paul is going to do their job in a professional manner. For any operator thinking about booking Paul but who is concerned about how he will record his driver’s hours, for example, then they need not worry about that for a minute. In fact, and this Paul would say very diplomatically and politely in his very modest manner, he could probably teach the average operator and driver a thing or two about not only driver’s hours, but other aspects of the job. Because that’s the other interesting string to his bow: when Paul’s not freelancing and, hopefully, off somewhere nice on tour, he’s in a classroom teaching. Teaching operators and drivers. Teaching them their DCPC modules.

From buses to coaches

Paul originates from Tring in Hertfordshire, living now in Brighton. His first job was as a bus driver in Oxford for Thames Transit. This was one of Harry Blundred’s minibus companies which kept Paul busy for two years.

During that period Paul took a management training course in Exeter. This was also where he passed what was then known as his Class 1 PSV licence in a 1960 Bristol Lodekka having passed his Class 4 to drive minibuses at an earlier stage. Paul then moved to Brighton and while driving for Brighton Blue Bus, he had the opportunity, paid for by the company, to take his Transport Manager’s CPC Passenger National with Friendberry of Taunton.

Paul first worked for Mortons in 2012 on rail replacement and tours for Americans. Seen here on Dartmoor. Paul Green

For personal reasons Paul then moved to Hastings in 1994. This was when he started driving coaches having realised that coaching would be much more interesting work. His first taste of life on the open road was with local company, Rambler Coaches. After 25 years, Paul still thinks this was a great move. There was a lot to learn so Paul started doing school work and carrying language students. This was a very steep learning curve because by the end of the year, Paul was heading down through the Alps to Lido di Jesolo near Venice. Paul realised he was in his element. Now that he shares his knowledge with other drivers, he didn’t forget to pay tribute to the driver he went with on his first continental trip, Nigel Glover. Given that Paul had never driven on the wrong side of the road before, Paul was very grateful for the lessons he learned from Nigel. They say coaching is a small world, and Nigel popped up on one of Paul’s DCPC courses a couple of years ago not having seen him for 20 years. Paul travelled round a lot of Europe over the next three years with Rambler Coaches. However, the curse of the tour driver was affecting his home life. So for nine years he did some service bus work, helped operators out with school runs, rail replacement work and the occasional tour to the mountains of Europe.

Customer care at the palace

His full time job was with the charity for blind ex-service personnel, St. Dunstan’s, now known as Blind Veterans UK. The charity has a residential/training centre in Brighton. In order to transport the charity’s beneficiaries to the centre, they had a couple of buses and some people carriers. Paul drove these the length and breadth of the UK to collect and then return home people visiting the centre. There were also outings to places like Boulogne. On one memorable occasion, he took two of the three oldest living survivors of the First World War to Buckingham Palace for a reception with the Queen to honour them and their generation. They were Henry Allingham and Bill Stone, aged 112 and 107 respectively when Paul looked after them.

One of Paul’s most popular courses is Walk Round Checks, so he practices what he preaches. Alan Payling

This work stays with Paul and gives him a certain perspective as while he enjoyed a laugh and a joke with his passengers from St. Dunstan’s, he was awed by their wartime experiences and the stoic way they accepted their lot in civvy street. They were after all, down to earth people. When he now hears his able-bodied passengers moaning, while he will attend to their concerns, the attitude of the people at St. Dunstan’s served as a humbling experience given what they had gone through and the nature of their lives. But having worked with the people at St. Dunstan’s, Paul’s customer care skills were honed to a very fine degree.

Taking the lead

While still at St. Dunstan’s, Paul started attending his DCPC modules for the first cycle ending in 2013. When he had to sit in a classroom and listen to another tutor lecture him and fellow drivers for a day, Paul wasn’t very happy. He wasn’t impressed at all with the quality of the teaching. And he said he wasn’t very happy with the performance of the tutor to his friend, Alec Horner, using those famous words: “I could do better myself.”

Challenged by Alec to live up to his assertion, Paul decided to go for it and become a DCPC Trainer. There was no specific training or qualification required to lead DCPC courses – the criteria required by JAUPT was to have ‘knowledge and experience.’ Given his TMCPC qualification and the knowledge gleaned in order to pass the OCR exam, plus his varied experience, he felt qualified to undertake this work. Paul then worked for Alec Horner of Minimise Your Risk training his clients based upon the courses that had been designed and then registered with JAUPT by Alec’s company. Initially, Paul spent a period observing Alec leading a wide range of modules until he, and Alec, felt he was ready to the lead the courses himself. Minimise Your Risk offers a range of services, among them health and safety courses, risk management training, and training for the DCPC for both PCV and LGV drivers and was the first centre registered to deliver driver CPC periodic training. In that respect, Paul could not have had a more professional and experienced mentor.

There are some 26 vocational driver courses on offer at Minimise Your Risk. Paul has delivered all of them at one time or another to meet the specific requirements of operators. The common modules he teaches are the Understanding Driver’s Hours and Working Time, Tachographs, Walk Round Checks and Driver Safety courses.

In leading such courses Paul feels that one big criticism that has been levelled at DCPC tutors does not apply to him: that is, having no practical, hands-on knowledge of what they actually teach. In the course of his travels he has come across drivers who have attended the courses he has led and so they are aware he knows what the job entails. As a result, he feels his fellow drivers respect him because of his varied experience. When it comes to PCV drivers, he is very much one of them. Because of his own wide experience of the industry, Paul is sensitive and aware of the specific needs of operators and drivers and tailors his courses accordingly.

Paul admires a landscape of the River Dart at Torre Abbey on a rainy rest day. Alan Payling

One thing that he did mention is that he had a sudden rush of drivers of a certain age needing five days of training this summer. In some cases, they had let their licence lapse but found that, having come off the road, sitting at home was not to their liking and they wanted to get behind a big wheel again. For a couple of hundred pounds, plus annual medicals, they can then contribute to the industry and help reduce the driver shortage for a period.

Freewheeling

Because of his part-time training work, and because Paul enjoyed it so much, he realised he could have the best of both worlds by also driving part-time. So rather than working for anyone on a full-time basis, and because of the demand for good drivers, he was not going to be short of work. Hence, Paul’s freelance career began. And because he knew so many people in the industry, as he had always done a bit of part-time work while at St Dunstan’s, he was pushing at an open locker when operators became aware of his flexible availability. This meant that, sadly, he had to leave St Dunstan’s having slowly reduced his hours there.

His catchment area is largely within Sussex and how far he travels is to some extent subject to the job. While he is happy to cover odd days to help local operators, he has for a number of years travelled as far as Basingstoke, some 90 miles from Brighton, to work for Mortons, now part of the Lucketts Group, usually to cover long term tour work. However, flexiblity is the name of his freelance game and Paul recognises that there has to be give and take. Sometimes he has covered jobs that some would turn down but as the operators he helps need to cover the work, so Paul will turn out. As a result, he feels that he has a good and friendly rapport with the people he works for.

Paul freelancing in Torquay for Crawley Luxury Coaches. Alan Payling

But while he helps with the bread and butter work, he is hired to do some rather nice jobs. While we were sat talking over tea and some tasty biscuits in the hotel’s lounge, Paul commented on what a great life he has in the industry when he enjoys some of the cream work. For example, his first tour of 2019 was a 10-day holiday for Roadmark Travel of West Sussex to Austria staying just outside Innsbruck at the Hotel Plankenhof in Pill. This included excursions to Innsbruck and Kitzbuhl to enjoy a sleigh ride. They also visited Krimll in the evening to see the frozen and illuminated waterfalls crossing the snowy Gerlos Pass to get back to the hotel. Paul ended the year enjoying a Christmas tour to Lake Garda for the same company. In addition to a nice welcome glass of something warm – when he had parked up the coach, of course – he enjoyed the holiday with all the trimmings with four course dinners, aperitifs and a visit from Santa. There was a trip to a local winery where he was no doubt well looked after and his passengers of course went cruising on the lake itself. What a life. Which does beg the question: why is there a shortage of drivers? In any event, Paul was certainly looking forward to his trip down to Italy when we talked.

Heading for the hills

And Paul makes the most of his life on the road. Being a keen walker, he always carries a pair of hiking boots in his locker. On his days off, he will head off somewhere nice whether it be to walk the fells in the Lakes, to climb an Alp or in Devon and Cornwall to walk a stretch of the South West Coast Path. This will no doubt do his health and weight a lot of good, particularly when he has done a few Turkey and Tinsels and savoured a few mince pies – not to mention the biscuits. Given he is also a keen photographer, well, it doesn’t come any better. Indeed, if you look carefully at Roadmark Travel’s brochure, you will see a few examples of Paul’s camera work not to mention his appearances in this very magazine. While in Torquay, the weather was against him, so being one never to waste time, he visited the art gallery at nearby Torre Abbey.

It’s worth saying that a freelance driver, in order to keep being booked, has to maintain very high standards. After all, operators talk to one another. Paul wouldn’t want any of them on his patch making negative comments about him. That is perhaps why, when I bumped into him at his hotel, he was busy sweeping his coach out. Having also witnessed his patient and helpful attitude towards his passengers, there can be no doubt about the confidence and trust they have in Paul. He also tells me that he is always mindful that he offers every passenger a holiday that they will remember, particularly when they are booking their next coach holiday. If Paul is happy, then they will be happy and the operator that has booked him will not forget what Paul can offer.

As to the future, well, it’s more of the same please for Paul. He is very happy with his lot and while the phone keeps ringing, then he will be more than happy to head out on the road. If he can take his walking boots and his camera, that will be a bonus!

Having started with a bit of Latin, it might be appropriate to end with a phrase that sums up Paul’s career and the services he offers. varietas delectat (variety is the spice of life) is clearly one option. However, what better than omnibus omnia? I’ll let you look that one up on Google, and the next time you run into Paul, whether that be somewhere nice in Europe or in a classroom, you can let him know which motto he could use on his business card.
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