Sunday 22 June 2014

Going Electric

York’s sixth Park and Ride site recently opened at Popleton Bar on the outskirts of the city. The opening made York’s scheme the biggest in the country in terms of parking spaces and meant that every major ‘A’ road into the city had a Park and Ride site where it intersected with the outer ring road. The site provides 600 car parking spaces and will reduce the number of cars within York City Centre.

One of the new electric buses passes the iconic Clifford's tower on the Turquoise line 59 Poppleton Bar Park & Ride

The opening of the site was also significant in that the bus service linking the site to the city is ran with a dedicated fleet of electric buses.  Six Optare Versa EVs run the service, enough to allow one to be on charge during the day, meaning that the route should only use electric vehicles; the first route in Yorkshire to make such a claim. The Versas join the sole Solo EV used on the UB1 University service. Whilst the electric vehicle is predominantly used, a diesel bus is used occasionally whilst the Solo is recharged.

York's other electric bus outside the University's Student Union building

Electric vehicles are a fairly new phenomenon which is mostly thanks to grants courtesy of the Green Bus fund. Alongside those vehicles in service with First and Transdev, York is expecting a converted double decker for City Sightseeing duties, further Versa EVs for Park and Ride work and Solo EVs for City Council funded routes, all utilising electric propulsion. Similarly enthusiastic about electric buses is Nottingham County Council, who have invested in a number of electric vehicles for their Medilink, Locallink and Centrelink routes. One of the Citylink Park and Ride routes is set to follow.

Locallink is the latest Nottingham service to go electric, after Centrelink received electric buses in 2012

The use of such vehicles can significantly reduce emissions in City Centres.  Buses do make up a large proportion of City Centre traffic, standing on Parliament Street in Nottingham or outside York Station will demonstrate just that. A lot of buses, all congregating in a small area, producing a lot of greenhouse gas. Of course, these buses are producing much fewer emissions than if all of their passengers were in private cars, but the use of electric vehicles takes these emissions out of heavily populated areas. It is na├»ve to think that electricity is a clean fuel, but there are sustainable and environmentally friendly ways of producing it, the same can not be said for diesel power. Despite a new, high frequency route starting in York through the 59 route, there are no more emissions.

One of the new Versas alongside a number of other, less environmentally friendly buses outside York's Cedar Court Grand hotel

Electric vehicles do come with their drawbacks. Often an additional vehicle has to be used to allow one to charge during the day. On Nottingham’s Centrelink route, four electric vehicles replaced three diesel ones. In addition, given the cost, a spare fleet is not practical. Diesel vehicles have been spotted on Nottingham’s Centrelink and York’s route 59 in the past weeks. In fact, electric buses are so expensive they currently seem to only be cost effective with funding from the Green Bus Fund which is obviously limited. The infrastructure that needs to be put into place to support them is also high. Despite York City Councillor David Levene claiming that all of York’s bus network could in theory be entirely electric, it is a theory that will not likely be put into practice any time soon due to cost and lack of funding. First York would require their own electricity substation in order to have an electric bus operation of that size.

A diesel Wrightbus Eclipse deputises on an electric route in York...

...whilst a diesel Optare Excel does the same in Nottingham (though I don't foresee many complaints from the photographer!)

However, electric buses are a positive thing and a step towards more sustainable travel. There are environmentally friendly and city centre friendly whilst still providing the same internal environment to passengers as a standard bus. They may not be suitable for all routes, particularly longer distance ones, but given the developments in recent years this may well change in the future. Diesel will not last forever and having a bus manufacturing industry that is pioneering new technologies is an incredibly positive thing. Electric buses may be a relatively new concept, but their future is a very positive one.
A sign of the future? Two electric buses and an electric car wait at York's newest Park and Ride site at Poppleton Bar

As ever, many thanks to Chris for the York photos and Matt for those of Nottingham

Friday 13 June 2014

Bye bye bendy...

*Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts over the past few months. As many of you know, I am currently studying for a law degree which has involved an assessed piece of work being due in every week for the past few months which is where my efforts have been focussed. With that out of the way, and a lot more spare time over the Summer vacation, I hope to bring the blog back to its regular frequency*

A sight that will no longer be seen on Nottingham’s streets will be that of the bendybus, which bowed out of service with NCT last week, after 13 years in service. Having spent their time serving various parts of the extensive network, the buses have seen use on Go2 Uni route 4 (formerly Unilink 4) for the past 9 years. The route will see double-deck operation from the next academic year, making the articulated beasts surplus to requirements.

NCT did make a fairly big deal about their withdrawl; certainly a bigger one than the Tridents that had provided an equal length of service that were also withdrawn in the same week. The reason; it is unlikely Nottingham will ever see such vehicles again.

One of the buses that NCT has recently retired

The Scania articulated buses were given a fond farewell from the streets of Nottingham by all accounts. Certainly more so than their London cousins. Boris Johnson’s dislike of the bendybus was well known and as part of his election pledge in 2008. Three years later they were no longer present on the streets of the capital. Johnson claimed that they were not suitable for the streets of London due to their length and the danger they posed to other road users, particularly cyclists. Whilst compounds across the country remain filled with the London rejects (including one near Stafford), some have found use elsewhere; Leicester being one example, where former London Bendybuses shuttle students into the City Centre.

Boris Johnson saw bendybuses as a problem, and a New Bus for London as the solution

However, they haven’t always been any more popular in their new homes than they were in London. The batch that went to Malta were unreliable, unpopular and seemingly highly combustible. One now famous photo showed the result of when a driver attempts to do a ‘U-turn’ in one, resulting in the bus clogging up the entire road. Back home, Go-North East fell out of favour with theirs on their Citylink 58 route, opting instead for rigid Optare Versas.

The main benefit of the bendybus is the overall capacity. A London specification Citaro seats just five more than Trent Barton’s Wrightbus Eclipses, however with a generous standing capacity. A double deck bus’ inability to have standees on the top deck results in the bendy bettering it in that regard. It means that they are ideal for busy routes where customers are not on the bus for a significant period of time. This is a very particular type of route and it is this lack of versatility that is why so many of the buses are sat out of use up and down the country. The other is the sheer issue of size; they are long and difficult to manoeuvre; they simply are not suitable for certain roads.

Despite being taller and thus less streamlined, these double deck buses were more fuel efficient than the Wright Streetcars that they replaced

Which leads me nicely to their use in York. York is one of the few places across the country where Bendybuses were bought specifically for the City, as opposed to being London cast-offs (or in the case of Leeds, York cast offs.) The 15 strong fleet of Mercedes Benz buses are used exclusively on four of the city’s six park and ride routes; three routinely and the fourth during busy periods. They therefore use roads across the city and throughout the ancient city centre; the same city centre that apparently rendered the ‘Ftr’ buses unsuitable a few years ago.

The Ftr scheme ended after pressure from the City Council who felt that the size of the vehicles meant they were unsuitable for the city.

Councillor James Alexander said in 2010: “The Ftr has been an unmitigated, costly disaster. Not only is it too big for York, but it has been costly to taxpayers due to the road changes required to service it. More than £1.5 million has been spent on it and this could have been better spent on genuine investment in public transport.” 
One of the many tight turns the Citaros have to navigate in the City Centre. This one is part of the Grimston Bar route

So if these buses are too big, then are the Citaros as well? I'm inclined to say yes having watched a number on the Grimston Bar route negotiating their way through York’s tight streets yesterday. Yet, there is no uproar about them. How intriguing.

A Citaro navigates one of many bendybus friendly roundabouts in the city. The cost of similar infrastructure for the ftr scheme faced much criticism 

Despite their widespread use throughout mainland Europe for quite some time now, the bendybus appears to have been a noughties trend that has fallen out of fashion and out of favour within the UK. The use of double deckers is instead far more widespread and arguably more practical for our roads. York, London and Nottingham are all cities where bendybuses have been replaced with double deckers and that is a trend I can see continuing. The older buses on York’s Park & Ride network are due for renewal; I will be somewhat surprised if new bendybuses find their way onto York’s streets.

As ever, many thanks to Chris for the York photos and Matt for those of Nottingham and London.