Wednesday, 12 February 2014

What I #Th1nk

It’s been a month now since Trent Barton’s H1 route between Derby and Heanor started using brand new Optare Versas. I wrote a blog post at the time (from York) about their arrival but this week is the first time I’ve been back in ‘Trent Barton land’ since, and I thought I’d give them a try to see what they were like, and how they compared to their predecessors.

My first bus of the day was a Swift. Regular driver Jo was fantastic, really friendly and she dealt with awful weather conditions and a full and standing bus superbly.
My initial plan was to change from my Swift service straight onto the H1 but torrential rain meant that my bus was delayed and I missed my planned bus. Instead I did my route in reverse, first heading on the Red Arrow to Nottingham Victoria before using the Rapid 1 to Heanor. My Red Arrow was busy, particularly for the time of day (and particularly in comparison to the competitive Citylink that left at a similar time) but fast as ever.

A high frequency and great quality coaches continues to be a winning formula on the Red Arrow

I had a short while to wait in Victoria for the Rapid 1, and I noticed that a lot of work has been done to it since the last time I was there. New screens make it easier to find the times for your bus and the whole place looks far more presentable. Given that the predominant user of the facility is Trent Barton, there’s plenty of their brand around the place which gives it a modern feel. Getting these sorts of facilities right is vital to ensuring that more people start to use to bus so it’s great to see that improvements have been made.
Yesterday was my second trip on the Rapid 1. Since my last trip, the route has seen success at the UK Bus awards, winning the prize for “Making Buses a Better Choice.” Anyone who takes a trip on the route can see exactly why. Prior to its 2011 introduction, the route between Langley Mill and Nottingham was “around the houses” and really time consuming. The Rapid 1 shaves around 25 minutes off journey times from Ripley, Heanor and Langley Mill into Nottingham which is a significant time saving. With the route being non-stop after Langley Mill, the driver also has the freedom to change route to avoid traffic. Upon leaving Victoria yesterday I was slightly concerned that the driver may have thought he was driving the Two, as we headed towards Wollaton. However, it soon became clear that the driver’s fantastic knowledge of Nottingham’s roads meant that we had avoided long queues and delays along the A610 before the M1 and before we knew it we were thundering up the dual carriageway with the journey to Heanor taking just 30 minutes.

The buses on the Rapid 1 proudly declare their UK Bus Award success inside and out
Whilst waiting for my H1 to arrive in Heanor, a competitive Y1 service pulled in. It was a Mercedes Benz Citaro; however it was branded for the Y5 service between Derby and Nottingham which drew a few confused looks. One person boarded the bus, using a student genie. Several other people waited for the H1 service that pulled in shortly afterwards.

Yourbus aren't as strict as Trent Barton when it comes to allocating branded bus to their correct routes, which can cause some confusion

It’s difficult to appreciate how eye-catching the new buses are by just looking at the photos. The green colour really stands out and this is helped by the bright, coloured LED destination screens. Heanor market place was dull and miserable at the time but it really did brighten it up. I was the first to board and after a friendly greet from my driver as I tapped on my student Mango card and I sat down.

The new Versas are really eye catching

Internally, the buses are state of the art. The seats are high backed and that combined with the extra soft padding makes them phenomenally comfortable. The wall coves have been redesigned and now reflect the “rolling hill” effect adopted for the new zigzag adverts. They work really well; they look modern, presentable whilst being really informative. They are a far cry from the peeling off third party adverts other operators insist on plastering inside their buses. The dark moquette and wall panels combine nicely with the cream ceiling and bright (but not dazzling) lighting to create an open and airy look (despite no rear window), whilst the H1 themed rear mural turns a normally unutilised and clinical looking section of the bus into something quite attractive.

The interiors are smart, bright and airy, and they still have the new bus smell!

 The free Wi-Fi was easy to connect to and was really quick. Thought had even been put into the “launch screen” which was also H1 themed. The bus was named “Brian,” thanks to the Namesake foundation, which allows people to name buses in exchange for a donation to the charity which supports the breast cancer unit at the Royal Derby Hospital. Next stop  screens announcements also allow people to know where to get off. This is obviously great from an accessibility point of view, in that it allows those unfamiliar with the area and those with sight disabilities to know where to get off. The problem with its use on the H1 is that there are around 40 stops along the route, and with the buses travelling quicker than other routes with the technology (such as Indigo), this can mean one announcement every minute. Whilst I personally began to ignore them fairly early on, they do seem to be one of the route’s biggest criticisms, by looking at the route’s unique hashtag (#tH1nk). This, and a faulty mango touch off reader, were the only drawbacks of the service in my opinion.

The Wi-Fi was quick and easy to connect to, and was fast as well. 
Trent Barton’s self-proclaimed title as “the really good bus company” is often disputed. However, after some time away from their services, coming back to them makes me realise that they are certainly better than your average company. All the drivers I encountered were polite and friendly and the vehicles were far better than others I’ve recently travelled on. Staff were on hand at all major terminals to assist and advise customers and information was readily available, both on bus and at the three “trent barton shops” I passed on my travels. The customer experience is the number one priority and it shows, the H1 versas may well be state of the art but all of the other routes I travelled on were of a much higher quality than is seen elsewhere in the country. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, operators could learn a lot from Trent Barton, and I urge them to take a trip on the new H1 to see how it is done.

All photos courtesy of Matt

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