Monday 2nd March 2020
Stagecoach rolled out its high profile £16.5 million investment in 32 BYD ADL Enviro400EV double deckers yesterday so I popped up to Manchester today to take a look.
They’re zero emission electric buses and in a nice piece of purchase symmetry the Government’s Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme contributed a handy £6.9 million towards their cost meaning Stagecoach picked up the tab for the remaining £9.6 million.
The 32 bus order was first announced in a blitz of publicity thirteen months ago, the timing of which admirably demonstrated Stagecoach’s commitment to Manchester’s bus network at a sensitive time with Mayor Burnham considering ‘taking back control’. Indeed Stagecoach’s news release heralding the investment dated 6 February 2019 tactically observed ”this ground-breaking project is backed by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Transport for Greater Manchester and other key organisations”.
Good luck to Stagecoach keeping the Mayor and TfGM on side now these impressive buses are actually in service. It’s certainly a bold move to introduce a brand new fleet at this time, just weeks away from the Mayor’s expected announcement he intends to proceed with a franchising TfL style, meaning, worst case scenario, that £9.6 million investment could be a misplaced spend. Interestingly Rotala owned Diamond Bus have also just upped their profile as a Bolton based operator, having taken over from First Bus, with a similar publicity blitz announcing a major investment in 128 new buses over the next year.
Stagecoach are deploying the new electric buses with their 190 mile range to high frequency routes 43 and 111 which operate from Piccadilly Gardens to West Didsbury and Manchester Airport. They’re based at the Company’s garage in Sharston where infrastructure improvements mean buses are charged using ”intelligent chargers to limit loadings on the electricity supply and maximise vehicle availability” especially important as route 43 operates 24-hours a day.
Except there were first night teething problems with the power supply last night resulting in eight buses not being fully charged so it was back to Hybrids for part of this morning’s vehicle allocation.
I took a ride on the new buses on both routes 43 and 111. They’re amazingly quiet as I found in Cambridge on similar buses introduced in that city last week, although this morning I found the air ventilation system making quite a noise on the upper deck; at least I assume that’s what it was, which spoilt the quietness a bit!
The exteriors have fortunately avoided the new Stagecoach livery thanks to the buses arriving a while ago and almost all have been kitted out in vinyls promoting their green credentials.
The interiors are in Stagecoach’s bright blue and orange scheme and have the usual Wi-fi and usb facilitates and rather loud audio and prominent (two-stage) visual next stop displays.
The only small point I noticed was the lack of a Metro newspaper holder but perhaps they’ll be transferred off vehicles being withdrawn or cascaded.
Both the 43 and 111 are very busy routes serving Piccadilly Gardens, the University, hospitals and in the former case, Manchester Airport as well as substantial residential areas to the south of the city.
Along the Oxford Road the street scene has been much improved with cycle lanes and bus stop islands making for an attractive ‘sustainable transport corridor’ along this well used and well bussed road.
I’m not sure how many passengers realised they were travelling on some very impressive new buses this morning; I hope many did and I hope the Mayor notices too.
After that positive start to my Manchester day I decided to reacquaint myself with the Leigh Guided Busway and take advantage of Vantage.
I’d forgotten just how impressive this whole set up is. The four year old buses are ageing well and the seats are extremely comfortable.
It’s a shame there are no usb sockets for front seat passengers – you can either have a splendid view of the Busway or recharge your phone but not both!
I understand peak hour loadings are very heavy particularly coming into Manchester in the mornings and First Manchester now run extra journeys with 10 buses an hour between 07:00 and 08:00 on the V1 (6 bph) and V2 (4 bph).
The Leigh guided busway is just over 4 miles long and gives a very smooth ride; better than the Cambridge Busway in that respect.
Both the small Park & Ride sites at Leigh (130 spaces) and Tyldesley (45 spaces) and the larger one on the A580 at Wardley (250 spaces) heading into Salford and Manchester were all full.
I can imagine commuters have to get there early to be confident of getting a space.
Quite a few of the bus stops on the Guided Busway are sited opposite each other by traffic light controlled junctions.
The traffic lights turn to green as a bus approaches in case it’s not stopping at the stop but then turns back to red if it does stop at the stop; only to turn green again when the bus leaves the stop and inches forward to the stop line.
It was good to see both eventualities catered for; but if the stops had been staggered to always be after the junction in the direction of travel it wouldn’t have been necessary to split the sequence.
Like Cambridge, there’s plenty of room alongside the Busway meaning it needn’t have been guided but I noticed the walkway attracts quite a few walkers and the odd cyclist.
It’s good that the ‘internals’ in the buses are still fresh and welcoming…
… and I was impressed to see a leaflet rack with the latest Vantage timetable on board.
In TfGM’s Travel Shop in Leigh bus station passengers had a choice between First’s on brand Vantage leaflet or TfGM’s bog standard offering (top left in photo below).
But at least TfGM produce printed leaflets and I like the fact they contain a route map as well as times which I always find most helpful.
But it is information rather than marketing.
And I see they produce copious printed maps for cyclists but not buses (like TfL).
The V1 and V2 routes enjoy almost four miles of bus lanes along the A580 once buses leave the Guided Busway heading into Manchester (and in the reverse direction too) but it feels like it takes for ever between Salford and central Manchester. Now Oxford Road has been turned into a ‘sustainable transport corridor’ Vantage buses are routed along it to turn at the Royal Infirmary.
End to end journey time from there to Leigh is 61 minutes in the off peak increasing to 80 minutes in the afternoon peak and tellingly the first 39 minutes to Wardley’s Park and Ride is increased to 58 minutes demonstrating an almost 50% uplift in journey time during the afternoon peak. If the Mayor wants better buses for Manchester that’s where he needs to start and get buses moving more effectively through the city centre.
Over in Leigh I took a look at Jim Stones Coaches who have recently announced the business is up for sale and will close on 18th April if a buyer can’t be found.
It’s a highly respected bus company and it’s very sad ill health has prompted Jim and Joan to sell at this time; although with the current uncertainty surrounding buses in Greater Manchester who can blame them.
The company runs three commercial and eight tendered bus routes in the Leigh and Wigan areas. These are short local routes so will presumably be picked up by the expansive Rotala owned Diamond Bus if it doesn’t buy the assets and goodwill of the company.
Jim and Joan have been a feature of the local bus scene since deregulation in 1986 and will be much missed.
Their buses have always been well turned out and a credit to their hard work.
My Manchester travels today rounded off with a short ride between Manchester’s Oxford Road and Airport stations on one of TransPennine Express’s new Class 397 trains, also known as Nova 2 and the Civity name is in there somewhere too.
I’d missed these in my travels last year as only two units had initially been introduced towards the end of 2019 and then TPE went into meltdown with the December 2019 timetable change and I didn’t want to risk a wasted journey to track one down only for last minute cancellations – of which there have been far too many in recent weeks (like almost 50% some days).
Now things are settling down and there are at least three ‘Nova 2’ units out each day on TPE’s hourly service between Manchester Airport and Glasgow/Edinburgh via the West Coast Main Line.
These electric trains are built by CAF, the Spanish train builder to a five coach unit. TPE are having twelve in their fleet.
Coach E is first class and like TPE’s other Nova branded trains I reviewed last year the facilities for passengers using wheelchairs are also in first class (at standard class rates) alongside the fully accessible toilet.
… as well as airline seats with many lining up nicely with windows. The seats are tolerably comfortable too.
Coach A has an open plan area with tip up seats right behind the drivers cab; handy for buggies, bicycles and baggage.
There’s a choice of a three pin plug or usb sockets if you successfully grope your way under the seats and find them.
There’s also a decent supply of luggage racks, and the now (becoming) standard traffic light seat reservations …
… although the train I travelled on was using old style paper reservation slips too.
I wasn’t on the train for long but it rode well and gave a comfortable ride.
A great addition to the ‘new trains coming into service’ in these ‘new train buoyant times’. They’re up there with Greater Anglia’s Stadlers.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.