On test at the seaside

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The early morning mists start to lift as the first contestant lines up at Middle Walk bus station. RICHARD WALTER

Richard Walter photographed and observed the buses and drivers going through the paces at the recent 2023 Bus Driver of the Year competition in a very sunny and hot Blackpool.

The streets in Blackpool centre were eerily deserted at 7am in the morning of Sunday 3 September. The night before had seen hordes of people descend on the promenade to enjoy the splendour of the world famous illuminations which had just been switched on the Friday before, ride on the famous illuminated tram tours, play the traditional arcade games and enjoy fish and chips, ice cream and candy floss. What with it being the last weekend of school holidays, families had rocked into the early morning in glorious late summer weather and most were still asleep in their beds at this unearthly early time of a Sunday morning.


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There were perhaps understandably few spectators around to witness the start of the 2023 National Final of the UK Bus Driver of the Year (BDoY) competition. Some 116 participants and their friends and families were up early however following a gala dinner at the Imperial Hotel on the Saturday night. As the buses from visiting operators which had been parked overnight at the hotel started to line up at the imaginary Middle Walk Bus Company bus station, a thick mist had descended and most of the Blackpool Tower had disappeared. Then as if by magic, as the initial trial bus (ironically perhaps an open topper from the Lake District) set off around the test circuit at 0730hrs, the mist melted away and the sun was back in style for the rest of the day. The competition proper started at 0800hrs with each of the drivers having to complete a simulated route with various tests along the way on both private and public routes whilst coping with the type of hazards experienced in a normal working day.

A written theory test also had to be completed at the Imperial Hotel. To complete the authentic atmosphere of a proper bus journey, passers by throughout the day were encouraged by the organisers to take a trip on one of the vehicles for the duration of the tests. Funnily enough the open top bus was the most popular to take a trip on. The accompanying photos give a flavour of the route taken and the tests performed, and show the top three winning drivers plus what were judged to be the best-presented vehicles on the day.

Lee Grantham of National Express Bus was overall winner of the 2023 Bus Driver of the Year and is seen starting his trials on board newly delivered Stagecoach Merseyside and South Lancashire ADL Enviro400MMC 11637 (YX23 OVK). RICHARD WALTER
Measurements being carried out by marshals to test the drivers’ skills and accuracy along the circuit. RICHARD WALTER
Third place went to Thomas Gillhooley from Lothian Buses’ East Coast Buses subsidiary at the wheel of Stagecoach Manchester ADL Enviro400MMC 11719 (SK23 CPU). RICHARD WALTER
Runner up was Gary Black from Lothian Buses, photographed on the main road driving National Express Coventry ‘Platinum’ 7541 (SN69 ZMY), named Janet May – and the company’s last diesel powered ADL Enviro400MMC. RICHARD WALTER