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Slough’s Bath Road gets a plug

Thursday 29th October 2020

This week sees the start of a trial of BYD’s electric EMV200 single deck demonstrator bus in Slough. But this isn’t one of those short visit bus demonstrators slotted into an existing bus route for a few days enabling bus company managers to get a feel for what a new bus can do. This is an all-singing all-dancing 13 week trial lasting until the end of 2020. And what’s more, it’s on a special route devised by Slough Borough Council to further promote its vision for mass rapid transit across the Borough and make better use of recently installed bus lanes.

Temporary bus route 4a parallels part of First Berkshire’s commercial route 4 which runs every half an hour along the A4 Bath Road linking Heathrow, Slough and Maidenhead.

Slough Borough Council’s temporary 4a runs for 3 miles along the A4 from the Uxbridge Road roundabout just east of the town centre, via the town’s station and bus station, then west as far as St Andrews Way, down which it turns south for just under a mile to a handy turning circle in the south west corner of Slough’s Cippenham residential area.

An hourly timetable has been devised for route 4a running between 07:55 and 18:45 on Mondays to Saturdays. It’s operated for the Borough Council by Thames Valley Buses, aka Courtney Buses, aka (part of) Reading Buses. Manufacturer BYD is also providing support for the trial presumably hoping to pick up an order for a few new buses at the end of it.

Slough’s aspiration for what it calls the “12 km strategic public transport corridor that links Maidenhead, Slough and Heathrow” has the project name SMaRT which stands for ‘Slough Mass Rapid Transit’. The idea is “to improve this corridor by carrying out road widening in order to facilitate dedicated bus lanes along the A4”.

The project first surfaced in 2014 when a public consultation for SMaRT Phase 1 took place: “our vision for SMaRT is a scheme which will provide a high quality, fast and reliable public transport service along the A4 to link Slough Trading Estate, the town centre and the east of the borough, with the potential to provide a direct mass rapid transit connection to Heathrow.”

The Borough Council had noticed that along with peak hour traffic congestion on Bath Road, a number of the major employers sited along the road and in Slough Trading Estate were contracting their own dedicated shuttle buses for employees and visitors travelling to and from the town centre and station, presumably not satisfied that First Berkshire’s half hourly route 4 was attractive enough.

Following the Phase 1 consultation and completion of work to widen sections of Bath Road and add bus only access to service roads alongside ….

….. in 2017 a new frequent ‘Bath Road Central’ bus route operated by Woodley based Stewarts Coaches was introduced to replace the myriad of shuttle buses.

Employees of participating employers travel free and there’s a flat rate £6 day ticket for any members of the public wanting to travel.

Covid has impacted the timetable with the service curently reduced to run half hourly during the day and a ten minue service at peak times with the busiest journeys duplicated. Buses departs alongside the bus station, opposite the railway station, and only stop at the offices of O2 and UCB along Bath Road.

Meanwhile in 2019 Slough Borough Council held another public consultation to seek views on Phase 2 of SMaRT which would see bus lanes extend east to the borough boundary and eventually on to Heathrow.

Earlier this year a bus lane was introduced to the east of the town centre along Wellington Street by Sainsbury’s but then Covid hit, and during the summer DfT made funds available to local authorities too encourage them to install measures to boost ‘active travel’ and public transport. Slough Borough Council was awarded £200,000.

It used £50,000 to immediately install a bus lane in both directions along Bath Road from the Trading Estate to the town centre in addition to the arrangements already introduced on the service roads for the ‘Bath Road Central’ service under SMaRT Phase 1.

As in a number of towns and cities, these rapidly installed bus and cycle lanes have proved controversial. They’ve reduced Bath Road from two lanes in both directions to one lane for general traffic and one lane for buses, which, aside from the aforementioned Bath Road Central service, is only the half hourly First Berkshire route 4.

The Council have added signs to let cyclists know they can use the new bus lanes, but for most motorists it looks like a waste of money to allocate half the road space for a relatively infrequent bus service, especially when they find themselves stuck in a long queue of traffic.

It’s against this background Slough Borough Council have launched its trial “bus of the future” which will “use the A4 Bath Road experimental bus and cycle lanes along part of the route”.

The Council explain in its press release “the experimental lane was introduced to help residents socially distance during the ongoing pandemic alongside making road space available for active and sustainable travel”. Now I’m a great fan of bus lanes but it’s a bit of an odd justification for a bus lane – “to help residents socially distance” – especially as I doubt First’s route 4 was suffering from being overcrowded.

But Slough’s Councillor Rob Anderson is undaunted “we hope people will hop on and off this bus for the duration of the trial for no cost and we will see if this service is viable for the future”.

The problem Rob’s going to have in making that determination is there aren’t many residents able to take advantage of the new “hop on and off” trial. It’s really only those lucky residents living close to the three bus stops in St Andrews Way on the western fringe of Cippenham, currently served by the half hourly Thames Valley route 5. As you can see from the map below, the 5 (in green) meanders all round Cippenham taking about 40 minutes to reach the town centre whereas the hourly trial route 4a (in red) does it in half that time, and, of course, is free.

Along Bath Road passengers already have First Berkshire’s route 4 (orange) every half hour, and use of the hourly 4a will grow if word spreads it’s a freebie – which in turn could be a bit of a blow for First Berkshire and potentially undermine that route’s viability if too many passengers switch to save money. Commendably the hourly 4a journey has been slotted almost exactly in between the two departures each hour on the 4 so at least there’s been an attempt at even spacing, but increasing two buses an hour to three, on a 15-15-30 frequency, is hardly going to generate many, if any, extra passengers. Electric propulsion or not.

Which brings me to the bus itself, it’s always nice to take a ride on an electric bus and enjoy its quietness of ride from a lack of engine noise, as this demonstrator duly demonstrated, except in place of engine noise came a bad case of interior rattles which really was noticeable and distracting. I’m sure the road surface was partly to blame but I wouldn’t expect a two year old bus to be so rattle noisy.

Inevitably the demonstrator ticks all the boxes for the latest gizmos which I see are listed in an online questionnaire passengers are encouraged to complete via a QR code printed on a Thames Valley issued leaflet available from a cardboard box on board.

The questionnaire asks “which features of this bus did you most enjoy” and lists: wireless charging points; shelving units; tables; coffee-shop flooring; free wifi; mobile phone ‘pods’ with phone holders, usb ports, coat hook and reading light; glazed rear; comfortable leather effect seats; none of the above.

I love how coffee-shop flooring as opposed to ordinary bus flooring has now become something you can ‘most enjoy’ and I also wondered if I’d missed enjoying the ‘shelving unit’ as listed and then realised it must be referring to the rather large ‘double deck’ luggage rack at the front nearside.

I have to say I didn’t enjoy this one bit as it effectively obscures the front forward view for all passengers on board, so if any orders for the bus do come from the trial, please move this to the offside behind the driver, especially as that seat looks at a black blank and is currently Covid out-of-bounds anyway.

My sampling of the route yesterday was only the third day of the trial, so perhaps unsurprisingly there were few passengers – Kevin and Dave, like me were trying it out taking an interest in all things bus on the outward journey (good to meet you both, and thanks for being blog readers too!) along with one genuine passenger enjoying a quicker ride home in St Andrews Way than the circuitous 5 or a walk from Bath Road from the 4, while on the journey back into Slough one passenger in St Andrews Way thought we were a 5 to take her to Asda (“sorry, not this one”) and another couple on Bath Road thought we were a 4 to take them to Heathrow (“sorry, not this one”) but two more passengers came on board for the town centre rather than wait (and pay) for a ride on the 4.

Our driver Neilson patiently explained what it was all about, especially to those who needed their normal bus, and was very positive about the trial, and the bus itself, complimenting the layout and comfort of the cab and its ease and smoothness of driving, with no need to brake “as the retarder does all the work”. He’s going to be driving the route for the duration of the trial, so will certainly get to know the bus (and those rattles) and this stretch of the Bath Road (and its ‘controversial’ bus lanes) well.

It’ll be interesting to see what Slough Borough Council’s next move is for its ambitious and commendable vision for mass rapid transit across the Borough and to Heathrow, but it’s going to need a whole lot more to get those complaining motorists queuing on Bath Road to leave their cars at home and “hop on and off” the bus.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

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.

14 thoughts on “Slough’s Bath Road gets a plug Leave a comment

  1. To call a bus carrying around 40 pax and stopping every few hundred yards ‘mass rapid transit’ is being somewhat cavalier with the English language.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Totally agree with your comments about forward view, I really cannot fathom out why manufacturers always stick obstructions on the one side that you could otherwise get a forward view from. Maybe they don’t consider anyone is not going to have their eyes stuck to their laptop of smart phone throughout the journey. Personally I find I feel very claustrophobic on such buses. The first nearside forward seat is actually facing backwards because of the table. Again this is a personal hate because it just encourages people to stick their feet up on the seats. I wonder why the map shows the route continuing along Wellington Road to the Uxbridge Road roundabout, when it clearly terminates at the Bus Station.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heading into town it continues eastwards to the Uxbridge Road roundabout then doubles back westwards and turns into the bus station for its layover. Coming out of the bus station it heads west straight along Bath Road.

      Like

  3. One timetable using the 24hr clock and the other the 12hr clock welcome to England!as to which is best the answer to the following question is the obvious answer:how many hours in a day 12 or 24?

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  4. What is the obsession with bus companies sticking tabled on short bus journey trips. It just reduces the seating capacity although at present that’s probably not a problem

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  5. By far the worst bus they could have chose for the trial, made in Scarborough no doubt by Yorkshire cloth heads more bothered about a conversation than doing their job right. As for the route of the 4A, it looks to be in walking distance of much, if not all of the 5 route and as we need to get fatties fit and healthy so they stop costing the nation a bloody fortune, then I can see why they haven’t routed it further into the area where the 5 runs. Hopefully the fatties will see sense and walk up to where the 4A runs, if not then they really do have too much money to burn.

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  6. I note that the timetable requires two vehicles: the 08:55 departure leaves before the 07:55 departure has returned (at 09:07). Are both vehicles electric buses? If so, what does the other one do all day?

    As for “all the latest gizmos”: TrentBarton introduced many of these on its Indigo route nearly 10 years ago now. I’m sceptical: leather seats may look good but bare legs stick to them, especially in summer; coffee-shop flooring seems more slippery than ordinary flooring (not good in wet weather, when it is more of a problem on a bus than in a coffee shop); who needs Wi-Fi and mobile phone charging on a short bus journey? phone holders – resulting in more phones being left behind.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Suffolk Covid-19 Bus Service Support Grant (CBSSG) 4th Aug to 28th Sep

    BACT £6,666.85
    Big Green Bus Company £568.62
    Borderbus £14,767.29
    BSEVC £12,123.18
    CATS £22,476.55
    Chambers £793.44
    Coach Services £24,563.61
    Felix Taxis & Co. £373.68
    First in Norfolk & Suffolk £29,059.89
    Galloway European £10,967.40
    Hadleigh CT £8,197.75
    Ipswich Buses £30,658.95
    Minibus & Coach Hire £2,099.88
    Mulleys Motorways £26,530.29
    Simonds £54,101.70
    Stephensons of Essex £5,431.32
    TVN £24,075.03

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  8. Whilst appreciating the reasons for doing this experiment, it seems odd that the Borough Council have chosen an almost residential-free section of route, with an already dedicated service for the (normally hundreds) of people working there. I am sure First must be somewhat less than delighted, as their service 4 loadings are rarely healthy. In fact, it is one of those sections of road that has probably seen the most dramatic reduction in service levels over the last fifty+ years than anywhere else in the UK. Living in the area during the late ’40s and through part of the “50s, for most part of the day there was always a Thames Valley bus in sight (not unlike the current Stockport-Manchester 192). And from Salt Hill, where London Transport buses joined in, it was a truly remarkable sight. Perhaps the experiment would have had more impact if conducted on the eastern side of Slough towards Langley and Heathrow? And yes, why on earth do designers put obstructions to forward vision on the left side, including wheelchair rests which can perfectly well be placed on the right? But then I think we know the answer to that already.

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  9. I went to Slough yesterday, 2nd, and sure enough the electric bus was not running.
    The timetable is available in Bracknell with a new Slough and Windsor book too dated 1 November and also the Feb 2020 Bracknell book. Full credit to Courtney but none to First as their office in Slough remains closed.
    Now I hear today that the Arriva office in Chatham is to remain closed permanently, replaced by an office selling property! That is a disgrace. The big groups are hardly covering themselves in glory.
    Malcolm Chase, Fleet

    Liked by 1 person

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