TideLog Archive for the “Bus Info” Category

Can you believe it, that for the first time in what must be 15 years at least, that First Manchester have actually REDUCED ticket prices?!? Recently they sold a lot of their single decker Volvo B7RLE’s to Stagecoach, and I’ve seen a couple of Stagecoach’s Alexander Dennis Enviro400 double deckers in First’s fleet, sporting First’s new livery.

FirstWeek tickets have gone down to £13 from £18, and FirstDay tickets are now just £4.00 from £4.50. It’s just a shame they had to sell off a load of buses, and routes (All their routes that went down Deane are now all Stagecoach) to get the prices down. First Manchester are a shadow of their former self, the number of routes run by them in Bolton alone has gone from over 70 to less than 15. Andy Scholey, the new CEO who took over from Ian Davies around 2006-7 (I can’t remember exactly) seems to be doing a worse job than Ian ever did.

I noticed that shares hardly budged around the time of the announcement, though, which isn’t surprising. Nobody wants a stake in a ghost of a company. At least those buses from First will get looked after better by Stagecoach!

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I was on the 471 on Saturday on the way to Greg’s from Jenny’s, one of First’s Wright Urban Gemini bodied Volvo B9TL double deckers and as soon as I sat at the back, and the driver set off I knew straight away something was wrong. It juddered badly upon acceleration, and the engine was making a machine gun type noise whilst being sluggish. This told me straight away the engine had a problem, possibly a misfire.

The cylinders in Volvo engines can be shut off electronically by the Engine ECU if there’s a fault, so it could have been a result of this shut off caused by a misfire. The bus wasn’t in limp-home mode, it was still quite responsive. As soon as the driver let off the accelerator the shuddering stopped, so I knew it wasn’t a powertrain problem, so this excluded the gearbox, propshaft and differential.

It also couldn’t have been crankshaft or conrod big end bearing shells either. Anyway, being a respecting mechanic, as I got off I had this conversation with the driver:

Me: “I think you should call Comms and get this bus straight into the garage, your engine sounds like it has a misfire or internal problem.”

Driver: “A misfire, are you sure?”

Me: “Can you not feel how it judders when you accelerate, and stops juddering when you don’t? The engine sounds like a machine gun back there!”

I glanced down at his dashboard infodisplay, and sure enough the CHECK indicator was lit. There was no message displayed as he had it set to INFO rather than MESSAGES.

Me: “Even your CHECK light is lit. I’d call it in to be safe. If it gets any worse the bus computer will put the engine in limp home mode, you’ll notice it go really weak. The STOP exclamation indicator will come on your dash too.”

Driver: “Thanks for letting me know! How do you know all that?”

Me: “I work with buses like this nearly every day, for a friend in the Midlands”.

Driver: “Ah, it’s good to have guys like you to notify us of issues, us drivers can’t always tell there’s a problem when we’re in the cab at the front here. I’ll let someone know!”

Anyhow, I went on the 471 again yesterday to get to Manchester through Bury to get the tram to Manchester to catch a train to go back up to Birmingham, on the SAME BUS, with the SAME problem! It either hadn’t been called in, or it hadn’t been fixed! If that’d been Rikky’s bus, it would have been out of service within ten minutes of the problem being noticed, and wouldn’t be out again until fixed!

Just goes to show First don’t give a shit about a machine in their fleet that costs DOUBLE the cost of your average semi-detached HOUSE!! The single decker Volvo B7RLE’s are £130,000, and the doubles can be up to £200,000! It shows just how disposable they treat their equipment!

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If you’re driving along and suddenly the “Check Diagnostics for Engine ECU at next stop” message appears in the dash infopanel, along with the CHECK indicator and the temperature gauge reading cold or just above cold, the engine temperature sensor has failed or is dirty and will need to be replaced.

Units Involved

The Engine ECU (EECU) and the Vehicle ECU (VECU) are involved in this process. The Engine ECU periodically checks the temperature sensor. The resistance readings are sent as a changing signal to the dash temperature tacho needle as the temperature decreases or increases, the signal power varies the needle position. After 5 or 10 minutes from cold start the engine ECU knows that the engine should be warm, so if it starts to get a completely cold reading after this time, sends a signal via the CAN (Controller Area Network) to the VECU which displays a message in the dash infopanel.

Cause Elimination

This fault should not be deemed to be the temperature sensor if only the temp needle is too low. The CHECK light and message MUST also be displayed. Otherwise, the tacho needle must be checked, and/or the signal from the VECU.

To check if the needle is faulty, turn off the bus engine and ignition completely, turning the starter to 0. Turn it to I to switch on the ignition and the needles should all do a full sweep of their dials to the right then return back to the left. Turning the starter to II will start the engine, all fuel and air dials should go to their operating positions, showing the correct fuel and air pressures. To check the turbocharger boost needle you will need to drive the bus on hard acceleration on a straight road. It will not move if the footbrake or airbrake is applied as the turbo only operates when the bus is moving in gear.

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Rikky did OK Friday night, but I think it was because she knew we were testing her, either that or she’s got the patience of a saint, which I’ve known for a while. The cab doors on Volvo B9TL buses helps too, all Rikky’s have the acrylic panels, and that channels noise away from the driver.

Given all the noise, I still couldn’t help notice a problem with the auto clutch during Rikky’s loud crowd test. I could feel it was hesitating during gearchanging. It was just starting to show slipping symptoms. It’s the judder that gives it away, and the not-so-right-as-usual gearchange whine. Some B9T’s have ZF’s that whine, some have Voith boxes that don’t. The B7RLE’s are dead easy to diagnose, I know the whining from the ZF’s on those by heart. Most drivers won’t notice, as the engine is at the back, and in the cab you can’t always hear it, especially with noisy passengers, but as an engineer who loves engines and listens to them, I do quite easily, and can often notice the slightest gearbox problem.

The auto clutch will eventually deteriorate so badly you’ll end up stuck at traffic lights because the thing won’t engage, and it’ll end up stuck in Neutral usually (when the brake is pressed, listen. That whine? It’s what I call temp neutral. Let go of the brake it goes back into Drive. All auto boxes do it, you can rev it with the brake pressed), and the engine will just rev uselessly. Sometimes it’ll be the relays and solenoids of the changer rack in the gearbox. My advice is to get it sorted ASAP before it gets that bad and you need Recovery, and annoy other drivers.

I took Rikky’s 59 plate B7RLE for a quick run last night. I love the new facelift B7RLE. Since Wright gave the Eclipse Urban body an overhaul in 2008, and Volvo changed the old dash to the one used in the Gemini B7/B9 double deckers it feels so much better. The dials aren’t cramped, and there’s two stereo mountings! Rik wants me to put a CD player in for the driver, and a radio/announcement system for passengers, which is a piece of cake on these new ones, as the wiring and mountings are there, plus gangway speakers. Ours even has the D7E320 320HP engine, which was a surprise, Volvo (and Dennis) normally only fit these to their refuse and tipper/artic truck line. They’re limited to the usual 74.15MPH, but I’ve had the limit off, and tuned the intake and ignition timing slightly. They can go up to nearly 100mph, which I observed using our diag computer. On a racetrack. Never do this on public roads, especially if you’ve knocked the TCS and SCS off. I think it can go higher, as Volvo seem to have given guys like me headroom for tuning. DON’T ever do anything like this unless you understand engines, are in a safe place, and won’t injure yourself or passengers. NEVER have passengers while doing this, unless they’re engineers.

I want one of these myself, given the chance! Volvo buses and Wright bodies are perfect!

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It rung true today, that’s for sure! I was driving down to Bolton in one of Rikku’s Volvos, that I’d just fixed an electrical problem on, down the M62, at about 10pm, taking it to a lockup in Heywood. Suddenly, I lost all lights on the bus. Headlights, dash lights, rear lights, top tail lights, and destination board. The passenger cabin lights didn’t work, either.

I pulled over on the hard shoulder, and used my electric warning triangle to warn of the hazard, as I had no hazard lights. Connecting the diagnostic laptop and ECU reader up to the ECU, the engine stalled. Checking the fusebox, a relay had tripped, and a fuse for the alternators. I got the engine running again, using the under bonnet starter panel, after changing the fuse when suddenly a police car pulled up behind me. I heard a familiar voice as the officer came close. It was my half sister Tammy, who has worked as a CID officer and traffic cop for 6 years.

I told her what was wrong. I needed to get the bus back to the depot, (obviously I couldn’t carry on to Bolton in it) but Recovery weren’t available, they’d gone home, and my radio wasn’t working. She radioed through to her station, while I borrowed her phone to call Riksy, to open the depot for me.

5 minutes later her backup arrived, and they escorted me back to our depot, me driving the bus with no lights in between their cars. It must have been a funny sight! Rikky was quite surprised, and joked, “You’ve not got yourself into more trouble for speeding, have you!”, with a wink! It is very scary in the hard shoulder with no signal equipment on your vehicle. I don’t yet know what caused the issue, nor have I had time to even fix it, but the original fault was a dodgy earth, which was causing the diagnostics to issue the Check Light Control Unit error, which I’d fixed.

I got down to Bolton OK, just a bit later, by borrowing another bus, our fun little 1997 Dennis Dart, which has never had any problems since we got it, except a squeaky accessory belt. Shows how finicky new computer controlled vehicles can be, sometimes! I love machinery, and wouldn’t stop doing this for Rikku even if you paid me! I’m good with vehicles, and engines, but all this computer controlled vehicle stuff is quite new to me, and I’m still learning myself!

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This week’s been quite interesting, so I’ll summarise on a day to day basis. I’m catching up late as our internet has just been fixed.


Tuesday I had a practise match with Hopwood, against Rikku’s social team. She has a group of 12 lady friends she has playful matches with now and again, their social tam name is Firebird LFC (given the red kit they wear) and they’re very good at football. They were all really understanding! I was playing with the Hopwood girls, and Rikku with the Firebird ladies, it was a really fast paced match, I was able to keep up pretty well, and our side won 2-1!

Being the only guy mixed in with two ladies teams, I now know what I’m in for (I think, anyway!) on Sunday. I’ve only ever watched teams play in a full size ground, so to actually play in one will be a real experience! Talk about a once in a lifetime experience!


I’ve sold Ami, I got £200 for her. So, I decided to try my luck at sniffing out some more bargains to re-sell. And got them. I’ve bought a Tiny A360+ Pentium 3 1.1GHz laptop, that I’m absolutely stunned by, in a good way! These machines are hitting 10 years old, and this one is perfect, as if it’s hardly been used! It has a 30GB HDD, DVD-CD-RW combo, and the original Tiny branded Windows XP install! It just needs a new keyboard, some of the keys don’t work, and one of the two Shift keys seems to have stuck on permanently, as when Windows loads, the StickyKeys bloop bloops its bloop (say that when drunk!) about three times, and all icons get selected upon one click of a single icon, like a Shift & drag select gesture. It comes with original power adapter, too! All for the Tiny (no pun!) price of £39, and I can get around £90 – £110 once the keyboard is replaced!

I used to be a freelance engineer for Tiny, and have done hundreds of their FIC manufactured machines, including the A360, A360+, A430, A440 and A535, and still do in my daily work!

I’ve also bought a Clevo M360C, an ex-college machine, that needs a new screen (the one fitted has stylus marks and scuffs on it), optical and some plastics. It’s a Celeron-M (JUUUNNNKK! Going to be replaced with a Pentium-M! As soon as possible!) 1.2GHz, with 512MB RAM and webcam. I need to stick a HDD in, and install Windows yet. I bought it for £39, and am hoping to sell it for £80 – £90 once repairs and installations are done.


Tonight I’m spending a little lovemaking time with Mika, before heading off to Jenny’s later. She’s coming up to Birmingham for a bit, and I’m taking her along roadtesting Rikku’s new BU10 plate Alexander Dennis Enviro 300 later too, once the roads are clear about 1am before Jen takes us back to Bolton! Riky wasn’t expecting delivery of this bus for another two weeks! Time to see how they do at full throttle down the M62 when brand spanking new!

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I’ve had a hectic few days!

Monday I had to fix our main Hyundai 52″ HD plasma, as the power supply went bang last Friday. Mika was missing out on her Sky+HD Corrie catchups, and kept mithering me, in a sweet little girl-even-though-I’m 29 voice, to get it fixed as soon as possible.

Jenny’s internet went on Wednesday morning, at 1am. She’s switched back to ADSL from Virgin, because she doesn’t use the internet as much these days, so wanted to save a bit. Virgin weren’t supposed to cut her off till the end of the month, but they did, so I had to go to Whitefield from Birmingham, pick a router up for her, go all the way down to Bolton, fit the router and set it all up. Then go all the way back to Birmingham, to pick Jill up from after school class at 4.30pm. Which I successfully managed, which made Rikku proud, and made me look ever the sweet loving dad she thinks I’ll be when I have kids of my own.

Then last night the leased Zen line Kassie had set up for us before she went back to Tokyo went down. I had to contact her to get Zen to sort it, as she set it up. We can’t use Kassie’s leased Sprint line for general internet, as that is a crucial vein for all her servers, which links us to her datacenter in Altrincham that holds servers for backups and redundant servers if our main ones go. Meanwhile, I’ve been out and bought an 02 dongle, which compared to 20MB leased fibre optic, is painfully slow!! But, it works, I can keep up on eBay, and Mika and I can keep up with Kassie on Messenger.

Then today our 56 plate B7RLE has developed a weird problem. When the engine is cold, she’ll start, without hesitation. If the engine is warm/hot, and running, then switched off, she just won’t start again. Cranking sounds perfect, speeding up as though she’s gonna catch and tick over on her own, but it never happens. Let it cool and it starts perfectly. I think it’s a temperature sensor somewhere.

Bloody buses and sensors! On a typical Volvo B7RLE with Wright Eclipse Urban body there’s ALL these:

1. Body mounting sensors

2. Body door sensors (bonnet, driver’s cab, emergency door and passenger entry door)

3. Engine sensors, including gearbox and temperature monitoring as well as all fuel/air intake sensors

4. Impact sensors for the airbag (a godsend, I’m glad THAT’s there, but they do go funny sometimes!)

This computer controlled vehicle malarky is getting slightly old, and I’m a computer expert! Today, though, is my chill day, with lil Mika. I was hoping Tuesday might have been OUR catchup day (yup, that’s the one!) but she was too busy catching up on her TV stuff! Ah well, at least I’m busy!

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Today was quite fun, other than my earlier HDD disaster! I’ve started work on Rikku’s mobile disco, that started life as a Volvo B9TL, but with a difference! I started today by taking all the seats out, on both upper and lower floors, and I was surprised how much roomier it looks without them in! I’ve wired in a CD player (see why the B9TL/B7TL dash is good? The CD player slots!) and wired in some new speakers, to both the cab, and gangways, upper and lower. The thing is bloody loud too! I haven’t fitted them permanently, as I’ve got to mould and drill all the interior of the bus to accommodate them, and the wiring. I had it all trailing everywhere, and nearly broke my neck just 5 times, coming down from the upper deck! I’m glad the interior is plastic, if it was fibreglass, it’d be so much harder! The plastic Wright use is great, if you heat it up enough with a heatgun it softens just right, and is great to cut.

Hobbies are great, aren’t they? I’m doing this just for Rikku’s love, and maybe a ferry load of Pepsi Max!

I was going to do a photo diary, but the gearbox on my Nikon camera’s lens system is jammed, I think it’s been knocked around in my rucksack, and all I get is whirring, grinding, and “Lens Error” on the screen. Kassie gave me that camera, and it’s got a lot of sentimental value! Damn…

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Is when they’re in vehicles, especially Volvo buses. Rikku cornered me this morning, telling me that her brand new B9TL executive double decker wasn’t changing gear correctly. This thing’s a brand spanking new 59 plate bus, and has only been used for 3 corporate runs. So, being the vehicle loving guy I am, I went round to the garage, jumped in, and took her for a run on the rolling road (going nowhere fast, literally!). It had decided it wanted to ignore 3rd and 4th gear entirely, on upshift and downshift, clanking as it did so.

Now I know there’s nothing wrong with the gearbox (it’s a Voith, rather than ZF like our B7RLE’s), so I looked to the ECU, both main computer, and gearbox. Somewhere, the code for gearchanges wasn’t being executed correctly. A quick re-flash of the original BIN dump I did when we got it solved the problem, she’s happy as Larry, until next time!

There’s times when I wish buses had MANUAL gearboxes! The last time I drove a manual was a big Leyland coach when I passed my PSV for Blue Bus, in 2000, and even that was a big 20 year old junker. It had a tiny gearstick, you changed gear, and 10 seconds later the gearbox actually changed, with a big jerk! I hated the thing!

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Wow, the bookies are sure eating their words now! Some of them were upping odds on bets that it wouldn’t be a white Christmas, and Mother Nature is proving them wrong!

It’s causing havoc on the roads though. I have to get the buses out of the garage for Rikku every morning. Some of them are stored outside, and would not start! Outside our yard there’s a small road leading out onto the main road, and this is NEVER gritted, I was trying my hardest to control several slides this morning. The good thing is there’s no parked cars on the road, and there’s plenty of room, so it was quite enjoyable pulling slides in a 12 ton bus. The airbrake is useless, so I use my revs, steering and brakes to control it, fighting against the TCS to slide round the corner.

I can tell when the bus is going to slide, and when the ECU will kick in. When you hit the gas, and hear it over revving over 1,500rpm, that’s the time! The great thing about the Volvo buses (B7RLE and B9TL) is the TCS can be turned off via a switch in the cab, so it’s you, 12 tons of monster, and ice!

Our Dennis Dart is a great fun little thing on ice! They’ve got the right name, for sure!

Caution: Don’t try this at home. I’ve done my Advanced PSV driving skills test, and am fully competent at controlling such a big powerful vehicle on snow and ice.

Coming Soon: Strictly Come Powersliding (in a bus!) on Ice from Matsuki TV!

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This is a totally new one to me! It came up today while I was checking one of the rear LED stoplight clusters with Rikku as part of an MOT pre-check on our 2006 B7RLE. It seems that the computer watches the resistance on the signaling circuit too. When a light is working, the resistance is low, because it’s functional. When it isn’t working, resistance across the circuit increases, telling the control unit something isn’t right when a light should be on.

I need to get on to Volvo, the Impact software doesn’t cover the in-cab diagnostic system, or ECU error codes. The in cab errors are just generic warnings.

What gets me is, why does the system tell the DRIVER to “check diagnostics for xxx ECU at next stop“? Normal drivers don’t have the skills, experience, nor training for checking ECU faults! Nor are they employed to!

Very strangely worded messages, but very useful. I hate buses with just dash indicators, the faults could be anything! Volvo’s system is very to-the-point, and market leading, like their buses, in my opinion.

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I hate it when I hear people say, “My fan belt’s gone”. The name “fan belt” is a bit of a misfit nowadays because the belt drives much more than just a fan. Also, more engines use electric fans, rather than belt driven (viscous) fans. It is frequently called an accessory belt. The fan belt runs around a pulley attached to the flywheel and powers accessory pumps and motors such as:

  1. Water pump
  2. Air conditioner compressor
  3. Air system compressor (buses/trucks only)
  4. Alternator
  5. Power brakes
  6. Power steering pump.

Some vehicles have one large serpentine belt that drives all of the accessory motors and pumps. Others divide the work more evenly by employing the use of two belts.

In this industry, we call them either:

  • Accessory belts,
  • Auxiliary belts,
  • Poly Belts, Poly V or N belts (depending on the shape of its route)


  • Just engine drive belts!

I got sick of Matsuki Transport’s technicians calling them that, I took them into a meeting and told them to stop it! And all our buses do have the fans driven by belt!

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Volvo buses have another use, as well as buses, racing tools, and back massagers. They are good UPS systems! They even beat my old Merc Sprinter! We had a power cut at 7pm tonight, and we needed to keep the 2 main servers in our server room going when our big UPS ran out of juice. I’d brought our 2008 B7RLE home from Matsuki to do some diagnostics. There’s 2 batteries and two dynamos in these so it was ideal!

So, I wired an extension lead and plug board to the inverter powering the bus CCTV DVR, started the engine, and revved it at 1,500rpm using the diagnostic software (the throttle is electronic!). It lasted well over two hours before the batteries gave out. I then had to jumpstart the bus using Kassie’s Subaru, and Mika’s Mini, each car wired to a battery, reset the computer, and take it for a razz to get some juice from the dynamos before charging the batteries once the power came back on. I had a laugh with the girls, when the bus gave out, I said, “Right girls, give us a push!”

The puzzled look on their faces was a picture! I was expecting them to fall for it!

CAUTION: NEVER connect a battery charger to an inverter in ANY vehicle and try charging it while the engine is running, or connected to the battery. You’ll damage the electrical system. I wiped out an ECU on an old van of mine a few years back trying it!

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Yesterday I found the problem with our Volvo bus. The clutch was damaged, and 4th gear had a tooth missing, supposedly from the clank that followed during the heavy braking.

I stripped the gearbox down, and completely inspected and overhauled it, renewing all solenoids. I replaced the auto clutch, and she’s happy as ever. Gearchanges are nice and quick, and reverse gear works again.

I just don’t understand the stalling. It shouldn’t have occurred. If the ZF6HP550 can’t change into a gear, it knocks down one, and alerts the driver with the “Check diagnostics for Gearbox ECU at next stop”, which didn’t happen.

Note: The Reverse sounder switch isn’t controlled by the gearshifter like a manual gearbox. It is controlled by the cab Reverse gear switch. The sounder working DOES NOT mean that Reverse is functional. Reverse doesn’t get selected until you come off the brake pedal (listen for the whine as it comes out of N), it’ll then change into Reverse as the accelerator is pressed.

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Whew, that was close! Never trust mechanical things, lol! Everything went fine, the radio system’s been done. It’s later on it went wrong! Rikku and I went to Sutton Coldfield running some friends of hers around, in our 2nd B7RLE. On the way back, running empty, Rikku had to brake very sharply after some idiot slammed his brakes on after pulling right in front of us coming out of a sidestreet. The braking was so sudden and forceful I felt and heard the bus body shifting on the chassis because of G force. The gearbox went nuts downshifting, made a clanking noise, and didn’t quite sound right afterwards.

We pulled over, and I checked the bus externally. Everything *seemed* fine except gearshifts sounded a bit hesitant, but otherwise, OK.

Later on, I drove round picking the team girls up. The last two live right near us. After picking the last girl up, I needed to reverse back up a cul de sac. I put the bus out of Drive into reverse, and the sounder started. Letting off the brake and on to the accelerator, the bus lurched backwards and stalled. I knew straight away something was wrong, as an auto gearbox is near impossible to stall so easily. I switched the ignition off, then re-started the engine. No warnings from the diagnostics.

Same again. I kept the brake pressed, and revved her slightly, pulling the brake up to reverse forcefully. Same lurch and stall. Good job we were right near the depot. I had about 17 metres of road before the end of the cul-de-sac, so decided to hammer the bus, try to loosen whatever it was that was stuck! I warned the ladies to hold on, and Rikku, she was outside the cab. I went into Drive, revved it, and floored the throttle. Under stress it sounded really shaky on gearchange, but that was it. I got up to 3rd before nearly running out of road. Still no Reverse.

I radioed through to Comms, and got the Recovery team on standby, which went something like this:

Me: “Comms, this is driver 642.”

Comms: “Go ahead 642.”

Me: “I’ve got a problem with my gearbox, it won’t go into reverse without stalling. I think the earlier reported incident is the cause. I’ve got Rikku and her team with me, I’m just round the corner, stuck at the bottom of a cul-de-sac. Can you get Recovery out to me? I’m going to run back and pick another bus up to carry on, I’ll leave them here waiting with Rikku.”

Comms: “OK 642, we’ve got you on GPS. Recovery Team is on their way to you. Comms out!”

I ran back to the Depot, and Recovery passed me on the way there. By the time I jumped into our other B7RLE, did a Pre-Service Check, fuel check, radio diagnostic, and got round there, they’d already pulled the bus out of the cul-de-sac, backwards, and were loading it onto the truck. I picked everyone up onto the bus, and everything went fine from there, luckily.

We got to Surrey on time, and the girls had a good match, in fact, they won 1-0! I don’t yet know what the fault is with the bus, but it could be the gearshifter or relays/solenoids. The sharp braking seems to have affected it. There are too many idiots on the road, and they annoy me! If that other driver had waited, our problem wouldn’t have happened. We’re only a small private bus company, and having vehicles off the road with problems like this can affect us.

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