Sunday, 26 January 2014

London to Ride the BYD

I was recently invited to London to attend a two hour meeting and took the opportunity to use the rest of the day and stay overnight in order to study the public transport scene.
Of particular interest was the possibility of riding on one of the two Chinese built BYD electric buses recently brought into service between Waterloo and Victoria on the 507 route.
Having done justice to the two hour meeting I quickly dropped my bag at my hotel and made my way to Victoria.
Drivers on the 507 reported seeing a BYD in service on that route but no one could tell me where it was. One driver told me that one vehicle was on driver training and the other somewhere on service. Anyway, having hung around the Victoria bus station area and taken pictures of everything but a BYD I decided to call it a day. I was cold, hungry and fancied 'doing a show' and the BYD could wait until tomorrow.

 WSH62996 a 13 reg Hydrogen powered bus at
 the RV1 terminus  (click to enlarge)
I did however see a couple of the hydrogen powered buses in service on the RV1 which terminates in the Covent Garden area. These are recent 63 reg vehicles, the previous ones having disappeared off the scene about a year ago.
The next morning I headed for Waterloo travelling the 521 route between High Holborn and Waterloo, using Mercedes Citaros. The 507 route sets down and departs from the main Waterloo station concourse and runs every few minutes and I waited patiently as, one after another, Mercedes Citaros arrived and departed. A quick visit was made into the station to observe the busy scene as commuters scurried from their trains like ants, all working to a plan and everyone knowing exactly where they were going, oblivious to everything else.

 My first view of EB1 at Waterloo

Then, as I came out of the station building just before 10am there it was, a BYD pulling up at the drop-off stand and joining the short queue of other  buses on the 507. I quickly snapped away thinking it might just suddenly disappear and asked the driver if I could take a few interior shots to which he kindly agreed.
I then made my way to the 507 bus stop and waited for the BYD to emerge, as it did at 10.05.

 Passengers entering via the front entrance walk between two cupboards
Boarding on the 507 is via both front and central doors and passengers surged through the doors to take their seats. There were some comments about the new bus, especially that it "doesn't have as many seats" When entering via the front door alongside the driver one immediately notices that there are two 'cupboards' behind the driver, situated either side of the isle, so no forward facing seats until you reach almost the centre of the bus. I sat on the very centre rear seat and the bus soon filled to capacity.
It was noticeably quiet and pulled away smartly. There was a slight vibration during initial acceleration but overall first impressions were good. 

 Rear seating section (click to enlarge this picture and the one above)
As is usual in London progress was slow and the bus spent a good deal of time in stationary traffic but when the opportunity arose the driver made good use of the power and the bus accelerated well in spite of its full load of passengers. As we neared Victoria passenger numbers reduced somewhat and by the time we pulled into Victoria bus station at 10.27 there was only a handful on board. The bus had done well and had carried a standing load through dense traffic. It joined the queue of other 507 buses at Victoria and gradually made its way to the front of the queue where it then picked up passengers for Waterloo and departed again at 10.35. 

 EB1 enters York Road, Waterloo en route again for Victoria

 By 10.50 we were back at Waterloo again unloading passengers and ready for another return trip to Victoria which it did at 10.55. The driver pointed out that it was still showing over 90% of its charge on the gauge in the instrument panel which was a good sign. On this particular day he thought the bus would stay out all day rather than returning to the depot for a top up charge as had been the case previously. This had been as much to do with driver's rotas rather than the requirements of the bus, so it would be interesting to learn how well the bus can operate all day on a single overnight charge. At this point I decided to move on and took a few more pictures as the BYD departed for Victoria again.

 The Low Emission Zone sign is a timely reminder that cities welcome battery powered vehicles.
 Then an interesting opportunity presented itself in the shape of the arrival of one of the hydrogen powered Wright bodied vehicles which operate on the RV1 service. I climbed aboard the vehicle which was heading for Tower Gateway via the relatively quiet riverside roads near to the popular Tate Modern building situated on the south side of the Thames.

WSH62993 appears on the RV1 service on York Road, giving me the 
opportunity to take a ride and compare the vehicle with EB1
In comparison the Hydrogen powered bus seemed very bright and airy, with its conventional seating layout giving a good forward facing view. It was quieter than the BYD although sharp acceleration was never required on this part of the journey through the narrow back streets. The two routes could not be more different, the RV1 being mostly undemanding and lightly loaded, the 507 heavily loaded and using busy, congested roads a tough test for the BYD's.

 A New Routemaster on the 11
The other new attractions on the modern London bus scene include the shear numbers of what are now called New Routemasters - previously New Bus for London. More routes have been converted and it seems strange to see so many of them mixed in with conventional buses. More than 600 of them will be in passenger service by 2016.
Route 24 between Hampstead Heath and Pimlico became the first to fully convert to the new bus in June 2013. The New Routemaster also operates on route 11, which runs between Liverpool Street station and Fulham Broadway, route 9 (Hammersmith to Aldwych) and route 390 (Notting Hill Gate to Archway). Initially route 38 was selected as the first to be partly operated by the new vehicles but has now reverted to conventional buses. 

 The new buses are now a common sight as can be seen by this view taken on Oxford Street

The new Routemaster has its critics but also has its fans and the more I travel on them the more enthusiastic I become. There is very little noise from the engine which is buried somewhere towards the rear and they seem to glide along with no fuss or noise experienced on other conventional buses. Due to the rear platform the downstairs seating layout needs to be slightly unconventional but most passengers just accept this and are grateful for a seat even if it does face rearwards as some do.

 A 9 taking a break before heading for Hammersmith
The ability to hop on and off at will is so convenient and brings back the big advantage that all buses used to offer, including the original Routemaster. We made use of this feature during a December trip to London when we took in a show one evening and hopped on to the open rear platform of a 9 just before it pulled away in Piccadilly. The policy seems to be that the person who stands at the open platform doesn't inspect tickets but we waved our passes anyway and no comments were made as we grabbed the last couple of downstairs seats as the bus headed west towards Knightsbridge.

 The open rear platform is useful for hopping on and off in London's congested traffic
Finally a mention about the original Routemasters that are still operating on heritage routes 9 and 15. It is sad to hear that in July they will no longer be operated on the 9's and that at this point the best of the vehicles (and hand held ticket machines!) will be cascaded to the 15 route. Is this the writing on the wall for the true end of service of this remarkable bus which has defied all the odds to carry on serving passengers since the 1960's?

I'm always fascinated by the London transport scene, especially the buses. London's transport system is always held up as the shining example of how well passengers are served night and day by a well organised and well funded system. No other area in the UK could afford such a system and those that think they can imitate it even in a small way will find out the hard way that it comes at a massive  cost.

Read the BYD press release here

David Gambles 

Colin Lloyd has sent the following two pictures of the EB1 in the Victoria area, has anyone got pictures of EB2 please?


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