Saturday, 22 February 2014

Edinburgh Tram v Bus ?

On a recent visit to Edinburgh I couldn't help notice that everything is in place to welcome trams to the city. The rails and other infrastructure are all in place and we all know that to reach this stage the population of Edinburgh have had to put up with massive disruption whilst services have been diverted and roads rebuilt to accommodate the trams.
During the Edinburgh tram saga there was controversy and disagreement about funding such an expensive scheme, the result being that the route has been cut short of the original target of serving the Leith area of the city.  In other words the scheme was sold to the residents and tax payers based on the grand idea of trams travelling east west through the city and now due to lack of funding it will now only travel 8.6 miles west to the airport.

 The 34 travels east to Leith and the Ocean Terminal. It will still need to do so when the trams arrive as the trams will terminate in the city centre rather than continuing east to Leith. The tram tracks can be seen on the right of the picture veering off to the terminus.

I travelled west out of the city by bus to the Gayle Centre and noticed with great interest that the new tram route will use a series of flyovers and dedicated tram tracks that are completely separate from the existing road system. This should ensure that the trams are not held up by the congestion that our bus was delayed by and will give passengers a much quicker and more reliable journey for those lucky enough to live within the catchment area of the new service.

It would have been massively more cost effective 
 to have built a busway for Edinburgh. Buses could 
have been released from congested roads to 
travel on dedicated tracks just as the trams will do.

However, as our bus edged slowly forward, surrounded by commuter traffic, it also got me thinking how much more cost effective it would have been to have built a dedicated busway instead of a tram track. Wherever busways have been built in the UK they have been instantly successful, far exceeding the passenger forecasts and in some cases requiring extra vehicles to be acquired in order to boost the original planned services.
We are in the midst of an exciting transformation in the world of bus travel, whereby full size electrically powered vehicles have just entered service in London.  A fleet of battery powered buses operate In Milton Keynes that are charged whilst dwelling at bus stops. Hydrogen powered vehicles are in use in central London and hybrid powered buses are a common sight on the streets of numerous cities.

 So far trams have been tested on Edinburgh's city streets mostly at night but it is expected to commence day time testing during February. Many forecast gridlock when the long trams are mixed with buses.
One of the previous advantages of the tram was that it was emission free at the point of service but that considerable advantage has all but disappeared as buses can now offer the same as a tram.

 Van Hool showed their ExQuiCity at Kortrijk in 
October 2013. How much would Edinburgh have 
saved if they had gone for vehicles like this?
No digging up of city streets, the same benefits
for a fraction of the price.
 As we all know, the tram is limited to where the tracks are, but the bus can use dedicated busways and then take to the roads at either end of the route. Bus routes can easily be changed at little or no cost to suit changes in demand whereas tram routes are fixed and in this era of restricted finances those promoting the extensions of the tram route have a tough job to convince tax payers to extend tram routes.
Plans to extend tram routes do exist in Birmingham and Manchester where trams have become established, but again the massive financial burden cannot be ignored. We need to look at what advantage the tram now offers compared to the latest bus technology which is fast improving and ever changing. Why were trams ever allowed back on UK streets? A major reason was that trams could minimise pollution which as we now know is no longer an advantage to the tram.

 Edinburgh trams will mix with buses so the queues at traffic
 lights will be longer - good use of road space?

Trams were perceived as being more reliable as they travelled on dedicated tracks and were supposedly not held up in as much traffic congestion. Well, this doesn't apply to all tram systems and those travelling on the Manchester trams for instance can be held up in areas where the tram shares road space with other vehicles.

 Electric buses that are charged overnight can spend a full day
 in service  thus eliminating the main advantage that trams had
over the bus. Here is a Chinese built BYD in service in London

Going back to the new Edinburgh system that is about to come into service. If a dedicated busway had been approved by the city it would have been in service some years ago at a fraction of the cost. A busway would have been 'the icing on the cake' for a city that already has a well run, smart efficient transport system. Instead the city will be burdened by a tramway that serves a limited corridor and is never likely to be extended or modified due to the massive costs required. When the trams arrive rationalisation will need to take place in bus services and it is to be hoped that bus passengers in the west of the city will not find themselves with an inferior service to what they have now. If tram fares are more expensive those on a limited budget will need to make the decision as to whether they can afford to use the new service or stick to the bus.
Edinburgh residents are very upset that traffic has been diverted to residential areas to make room for the trams and are complaining that air pollution levels have increased as a result.
Whenever trams arrive in a city bus services are regarded somewhat as second class. A good example is in Birmingham where buses have been diverted away from the city centre pending the arrival of some on-street running of trams. Bus passengers are now expected to walk a considerable distance to the heart of the city which is largely traffic free. The council will argue that it is all part of a grand scheme to pedestrianise the city centre but in effect it is the council failing to realise that the bus plays a massive part in the success of the city and just because a few trams will impressively be seen on the streets again is no excuse to penalise bus passengers.

 Trams are always given generous road space, much of it 
completely separated from other traffic. Here we see one 
of the West Midlands trams on separate track and 
on the right, buses trapped in the congestion with cars.
If the money that is being spent on bringing the Birmingham trams from their dedicated ex-railway routes under the city onto the streets for a short distance could have been invested in dedicated bus lanes to improve bus reliability the city would have actually achieved something really positive.
Towns and cities that pay lip service to having bus lanes and no car lanes and then not enforcing them are guilty of setting a bad example. Our local city council are very guilty in this respect. They have 'bus only' lanes right in the heart of the city which are never enforced. Every extra vehicle that sneaks through adds congestion  to where buses set down and pick up. I have seen complete gridlock being caused by one extra vehicle that shouldn't have been there in the first place and when the council are asked what they are going to do about it they say the police should do the enforcement and when you are ask the laid back police they say it's not a high priority.
Back to trams versus buses, it is now reasonable for the UK to declare that due to progress in zero emission buses no further new tram systems will be allowed and that a massive focus on bus priority measures will be undertaken.
The strange concession given to taxis whereby they are allowed to benefit from the use of bus lanes should also be withdrawn, leaving much more free road space for the vehicle that does all the hard work - THE BUS

It will be no surprise to hear that there is much criticism about the Edinburgh Tram project, some of which can be read here

Friday, 7 February 2014

Go North East Invest £8.5m in New Depot

Go North East have opened a new depot which will accommodate 160 buses and will be home to more than 500 drivers and engineering staff. 

At the opening ceremony Kevin Carr, Go North East managing director, said: “This depot is the culmination of a significant 30 million pound investment programme for our business in the region.


“We’ve bought more than 100 new buses for our services in Gateshead, Newcastle, Sunderland, and Consett and invested £8.5 million in this new facility in Gateshead.”


“We are incredibly proud to have celebrated our 100th year in 2013 and this investment marks our dedication to serving the people of the north east with modern, efficient vehicles."

Mayor & Mayoress of Gateshead, Cllr Jack Graham MBE, David Brown, Go-Ahead group chief executive and Kevin Carr Go North East managing director
David Brown, group chief executive at go-Ahead, said; “Local services are at their best when they are delivered locally by the people who know their customers and the area inside-out. We have more than 2000 employees living and working right here in the North East. They don’t stand apart from the community – they are part of the community. And I would like to pay tribute to all of the staff of Go North East.

“It is only by running a successful, profitable bus company that investment can be made. This brand new depot is solid proof of our long-term commitment to running buses in the north-east. This is an £8m investment which goes alongside the £22m spent on new buses over the last two years; every penny made in the north east has been re-invested in the north east.”

The depot, developed by UKLEP and built by Surgo, breathes new life into 5.75 acres of brownfield land on Handy Drive, which was formerly the site of Dunston Power Station.


The depot's 160 buses will operate on 120 services and drive 163,000 miles a week, with all vehicles returning to the depot each evening to be refuelled and washed over night.


The Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Jack Graham MBE, said: “There are few companies in Gateshead that can trace their history much further back than Go North East, and fewer still that can still claim to be based where they first started, here in Gateshead. With 500 employees based here, Go North East is Gateshead’s largest private sector employer. It gives me great pleasure to officially declare the Go North East Gateshead Riverside open.”

The depot has storage for 140,000 litres of diesel fuel and four spill-free, high tech high speed fuel pumps capable of delivering 90 litres per minute.


The workshop has 15 bus work stations accessed by 21 fully insulated fast action roller shutter doors. Manual handling is virtually eliminated thanks to service poles that have inbuilt electrical distribution, oil, anti-freeze, screen wash, water and air supplies.

 The depot doesn't have pits in the main workshop and instead has three different types of lift

The depot has a VOSA approved MOT testing centre, its VLT test equipment includes brake roller, shaker plates and a state-of-the-art luminscope headlight tester.

Right. Scott Millar from GO North East explains the details of the MOT testing centre 

Gateshead Riverside depot took 50 weeks to construct including 20 weeks for civil engineering work, which included extensive underground work to make safe several large, deep coal dumps from the former power station.

 The depot became operational on the night of 1st/2nd February.

The Mayor unveiled a box containing the original Company Seal press of the Gateshead And District Omnibus Company, bearing the following inscription:

The Gateshead & District Tramways Company began running trams in 1883 and buses in 1913. Gateshead ran electric trams until 1951, when the Company was renamed ‘Gateshead and District Omnibus Company Limited.’ This press dates from 1951 and was used to emboss the Company seal on official documents. This press was placed here by The Worshipful The Mayor of Gateshead, Cllr Jack Graham MBE, to commemorate the official opening of Gateshead Riverside on 28 January 2014 and in recognition of our long tradition of service in Gateshead.”

Go North East, is one of the region’s major bus operators and one of the region’s largest employers, with 2,100 staff employed across seven depots. The company’s 650 buses carry more than 70 million passengers a year. More than 100,000 customers use the company’s innovative ‘key’ smartcard to pay for their travel, making it one of the largest ‘smart’ ticketing schemes outside London. Established in 1913 as the Northern General Transport Company Ltd, Go North East is part of everyday life in the region. During its centenary year the company is investing in more than 100 new vehicles that include passenger innovations such as free wifi, audio visual next stop announcement systems for visually and hearing impaired people, wheelchair and buggy spaces and high-backed coach-type seating.

Focus Comment
The depot has been opened in what could only be described as an uncertain climate with the possible threat of a Quality Contract being imposed on the region by the ITA and Nexus. However, Go North East are taking a positive view that a Quality Partnership will be selected as the best option which will continue the progress made over the past few years whereby services have been improved and tailored to the needs of passengers and satisfaction levels are the best in the country. Some of the facts and figures put forward in favour of the Quality Contract have now been found to be untrue and if those responsible persist with their ideas the whole matter is likely end up in the courts.  

Saturday, 1 February 2014


Mayor launches the ‘Year of the Bus’ to celebrate vital part of London’s transport network

London’s bus network carries 6.5m passengers a day – representing half of all bus journeys in England
 2014 sees significant anniversaries of Routemaster, RT and B-Type ‘Battle Bus’ that carried troops to WW1


Year of the Bus will celebrate the iconic London buses past, present and future 

The Mayor of London recently launched a year of events and activities to mark the vital contribution London’s bus network continues to make to the life and economy of the city and the UK as a whole.

From left to right Leon Daniels, Managing Director Surface Transport, Sir Peter Hendy CBE, Commissioner of Transport for London, and the Mayor of London Boris Johnson face the media at the launch (Graham Smith)

London’s bus network – the most accessible and one of the most extensive anywhere in the world – has, throughout its history, played a central role in keeping the city moving and maintaining London’s role as the engine-room of the UK economy. This year sees a number of important anniversaries, including 60 years since the creation of the original and iconic Routemaster, 75 years since the launch of its predecessor the RT-Type bus, and 100 years since hundreds of London buses were sent to the Western Front to play a crucial role during the First World War.

Throughout this year, Transport for London (TfL) - working in partnership with London Transport Museum - will host a number of engaging events, exhibitions, recreations and other activities that will re-connect Londoners with their bus network and remind the world of the role that London buses, the bus drivers and the staff who support them, play in keeping this great city moving 24 hours a day throughout the year. Key events in the Year of the Bus calendar include:

*         A major exhibition at London Transport Museum entitled ‘Goodbye Piccadilly – from the home front to the Western Front’ – which opens on 16 May 2014 to commemorate and explore the contribution of buses and bus drivers to the First World War and life on the home front in wartime London.
*         The restoration of a B-Type Bus, the world’s first mass produced motor bus. B-Types were commandeered in large numbers during the war and converted into ‘Battle Buses’ which carried soldiers to the frontline and were used as ambulances and even mobile pigeon lofts.  The Battle Bus will be fully restored in its original livery in the summer, will be painted khaki, be converted to a ‘Battle Bus’ later in the year and will travel back to France.  The bus will then return to London to take part in events to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the war. 
*         In the summer there will be a bus cavalcade event that will see historic vehicles from the last century back on the capital’s roads. 
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said: “London buses are the pulsing red arteries of the capital, 24-hours a day, 364 days of the year and they play an undeniably important role in the city’s economy.  The history of London’s bus network is a fascinating one, from George Shillibeer’s early horse-drawn omnibuses to today’s world leading New Routemaster, and this year we will celebrate the central role the bus has played, and will continue to play, in the life of our capital.”   

Leon Daniels, Managing Director for TfL Surface Transport, said: “In London people make more than 2.3 billion bus journeys a year – more than are made in the rest of England.  This year will see a richly-deserved celebration of the humble bus from its origins in the 19th century to today, and also look at what the future holds for this crucial part of London’s transport network.” 

London buses carry 6.5m passengers a day and, alongside the Tube – which carries around 4m each day – provide the backbone of London’s transport network.  It’s one of the largest bus networks anywhere in the world, with a 8,600-strong bus fleet, operating across around 700 routes serving 19,000 bus stops.  Despite its size, the bus network remains flexible and able to adapt to the challenges of operating in a constantly changing streetscape.  
Buses are a vital daily service for millions and one that is very local with the vast majority of Londoners (95 per cent) never more than 400 metres from a bus stop.  Buses link homes to jobs, schools and hospitals in every part of the capital.  They are the backbone, and often the forgotten workhorses, of London’s transport network.
The bus network is also the most accessible in the world and a vital service for older and disabled passengers. All 8,600 buses are fitted with ramps that are checked each day before a bus enters passenger service.  Seventy one per cent of bus stops are wheelchair accessible and we have committed an extra £18m to ensure this figure increases to 95 per cent by 2016.
Buses support the needs of our growing city and in turn help London to function as the engine-room of the UK’s economy.  The bus network in London directly employs 24,500 bus drivers and tens of thousands more in supporting roles.  And the economic effect doesn’t stop at London’s borders – thousands of jobs around the country depend upon London’s network.  The night bus network also transports legions of people who work outside of the 9 to 5 routine – with almost half of passengers travelling to or returning from work.
London’s buses are also at the forefront of work to reduce the environmental impact of the transport network with the operation of electric buses, zero emission hydrogen buses and the delivery of Europe’s largest hybrid bus fleet.  Around six hundred hybrid buses now operate on the capital’s roads, including the New Routemasters, with more being introduced in a rolling programme.  By 2016 there will be more than 1,700 hybrid buses in service on London’s streets representing 20 per cent of the total bus fleet.

The front and rear nearside aspects of the silver liveried celebratory New Routemaster. Do not think the photographer had been on the sauce, the buildings lean that way (Graham Smith)
Buses in London have also affected great social change.  During the First World War women began to work in what had previously been male-dominated roles – including 'on the buses'.  In the 1950s and 60s thousands of men and women came from the Caribbean to work on London’s famous red buses, helping to shape a vibrant and diverse city that now speaks more than 300 languages.
As part of the launch activity the Mayor unveiled a specially painted silver New Routemaster bus that will soon go into service, a ‘Year of the Bus’ roundel and a limited edition Oyster card which is due to go on sale shortly.  

Boris Johnson holds up an Oyster Card to the media (Graham Smith)

A ‘Year of the Bus’ webpage on the TfL website will feature a number of short films celebrating the role of the bus network and also link to special events at London Transport Museum, including BBC London Radio presenter Robert Elms ‘in conversation’ with Leon Daniels, Managing Director for TfL Surface Transport, about the capital’s iconic red bus.  The webpage will also host films celebrating the unsung heroes of the bus network, who help to keep London’s buses moving behind the scenes and ensure passengers can get from A to B as smoothly as possible.

A number of bus types will appear in the cavalcade later in the year, to represent the history of London's bus operation over the years from the 1920s through to the present day. However, a selection of such bus types are now illustrated but only up to the 1970s. These include representatives not only of the 'red' Central Area, but also of the 'green' Country Area, that was hived off in the late 1960s to the National Bus Company. Some of the following may well appear in the cavalcade, the date of the event to be advised.

From left to right Dennis / Dodson, AEC NS-type / LGOC and AEC K-type / LGOC

AEC K-type / LGOC

AEC NS-type / LGOC

AEC Regent / Thomas Tilling

AEC Regal / LGOC

Guy Arab II / Park Royal

AEC Regent / London Passenger Transport Board

AEC Q-type / Birmingham RC&W in Central Area red or Country Area green livery

Leyland Tiger PS1 / Mann Egerton in red livery & AEC Regal /Mann Egerton in green livery

AEC Regal / London Passenger Transport Board

Leyland FEC / London Passenger Transport Board

AEC Regal IV / Metro-Cammell in tourist livery green and Central Area red livery

AEC Regal IV / Metro-Cammell in Country Area green livery

Guy Special NLVVP / Eastern Coachworks

AEC Regent / Weymann in Central Area red and Country Area green livery

AEC Reliance / Willowbrook

AEC Merlin / Metro-Cammell Weymann

AEC Swift / Metro-Cammell

Daimler Fleetline / Park Royal

AEC Routemaster / Park Royal

Daimler Fleetline / Park Royal

Leyland Fleetline / Park Royal

Leyland Titan / Park Royal

MCW Metrobus