Tuesday 3rd November 2020
First Bus in Leeds have just introduced a fleet of nine electric buses manufactured by the Chinese company, Yutong. They’re becoming a popular purchase choice with a fleet of 14 recently introduced in Newport, South Wales and a batch arriving for Go North East imminently. With Lockdown 2.0 fast approaching and the need to hibernate for a few weeks (at least), I decided to pay a visit to Leeds today take a ride.
Yutong offer two versions of their single deck bus. First Bus have gone for the shorter version at 10.9 metres simply called model ‘E10’ while Newport have the longer, 12 metres ‘E12’. They sound like Epsom bus routes – that would be neat if Metrobus introduced an E10 on the E10, and Abellio did the same in Ealing! But I digress.
They’re the first electric buses to be introduced in West Yorkshire so have arrived with a good dose of positive publicity in the Region not least as they’re supplied by Castleford based Pelican Engineering.
Total cost of the nine buses as well as the necessary charging infrastructure at First West Yorkshire’s Hunslet Park bus garage has been a whopping £7.3 million with a helpful £1.7 million grant from the DfT’s Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme. Obviously the cost per bus will decrease as more electric buses enter First’s fleet, but with this initial batch coming in at around £800,000 per bus you can see how investment of this kind is a non-starter without Government support. Even with it, it works out at £620,000 per bus – so you have to be pretty confident you’re going to be able to afford to buy a growing fleet of electric buses to cover those initial overhead infrastructure costs.
The buses have a range of 200 miles before needing an overnight charge and, according to First’s news release “have been fitted with a special acoustic vehicle alerting system (I think that means ‘a noise’) to alert pedestrians and passengers when the bus is moving”.
It’s said that each Yutong E10 bus “will save 45 tonnes of carbon emissions a year compared to a Euro 6 diesel-engine bus”. It sounds impressive but I have no idea what a tonne of carbon emissions looks like, or what the total amount of emssions of a bus is in a year, which is why I’m always more interested in how attractive the buses are to take a ride in for my top priority, but it’s certainly good to know a carbon benefit is being achieved.
Another interesting snippet in the news release that attracted my attention was the buses “have capacity for up to 70 passengers”. That sounded like a lot of seats on a 10.9 metres bus, but inevitably it actually means including a theoretical standing capacity. Even before a socially distanced Covid era, you’d never in reality get 70 people on board. As always it’s a calculation based on overall weight the bus can hold rather than any reference to how many human beings you can actually accommodate in comfort on a bus. But every time manufacturers and bus companies trot out the same false mantra and the trade press duly reproduce it as though it’s fact.
The buses are being used on First’s ten minute frequency route 5 which operates between Leeds’ Albion Street (north of The Headrow) and Halton Moor where the route terminates using a loop working. It’s a journey time of around half an hour with a round trip from the city centre and back taking 69 minutes.
The route taken in the city centre is somewhat circuitous reflecting the fact in 2016 route 5 subsumed the former Leeds CityBus circular route, which had previously ran free until 2011. The circular ran around Leeds city centre connecting the railway station with the bus station and other landmark destinations including the universities, hospitals and town hall.
To that extent route 5 can be seen as a route of two halves; it takes about 20 minutes to do a circuit from alongside the bus station in York Street to the terminus at Albion Street.
One journey I took from the station round to Albion Street had just a couple of passengers on board with no one boarding on the circuit, whereas another took a reasonable number who’d travelled in from the eastern end of the route for the universities and hospital so to that extent it’s a useful add-on to the western end of route 5.
Mind you that busier journey took an age to do the circuit with city centre traffic at a crawl. Central Leeds seems to be plagued with roadworks at the moment closing a number of streets including part of route 5’s circuit necessitating a diversion.
The buses themselves are somewhat utilitarian looking as perhaps befits their country of origin.
Someone described them to me on Twitter as ‘brick like’ looking and they’re not far wrong.
A bright green livery helps to make them stand out although more and more ‘Leedscity’ buses are now appearing in the smart green colours recreating those halcyon municipal heydays of old.
Large signs on the sides and rear and scrolling destination messages extol the E10’s electric credentials.
Inside they’re what can best be described as ‘functional’.
The plain grey seat covering fits the overall utilitarian feel of the bus admirably but fortunately are more comfortable than I was expecting – there’s a degree of cushion ‘give’ rather than being the hard surface they look on first sight.
There are 36 seats with 17 in the rear half including 13 involving a significant step up to access them…
… 8 easy access in the front half, 7 tip up seats with 4 in the nearside wheelchair bay and 3 in the offside buggy area and a pair of double seats back to back behind the driver.
You don’t get much of a view from the nearside rear of the accessible seats – unless you’re quite tall – due to the slope of the bodywork.
And the incline of some of the seat backs seemed much more laid-back than normal to me.
These back to back four seats behind the driver aren’t individual ones but are joined doubles – unusual these days.
The interior cove panels have large print size virtuous messages about all the carbon being saved by travelling on the bus and there are more signs directly facing you in both directions.
It does come across as a bit message shouty.
And there’s a lot of green (for obvious reasons – connotations with sustainability and all that) – even the Metro bin is painted green!
There are also a couple of maps showing the city centre landmarks passed on the circuit one of which shows Halton Moor…
…. the other doesn’t. I didn’t find them particularly helpful as I tried to follow the city centre circuit.
Most seats have a double usb socket on the sides of the bus although I noticed a couple of pairs of seats didn’t.
I also wonder whether in practice a passenger sitting on the aisle seat will reach across a fellow passenger on the window seat to use a socket.
There’s a next stop announcement audio and monitor which also shows other First corporate style messages including this rather bizarre one….
The route out to Halton Moor takes advantage of the extensive bus lanes along the A64 York Road until the bus turns off down Osmondthorpe Lane towards Halton Moor.
These provide an excellent continuous journey including priority at clever traffic lights installed by bus stop lay-bys.
Journeys at the Halton Moor end of the route were well patronised and our Covid capacity of 17 was met on one inbound journey I made leaving passengers behind – fortunately in York Road where there are plenty of other buses.
After my experience in Slough last week it was pleasing to note the quietness of the ride and the drivers seemed to be enjoying the smoothness too.
It’s great to see such significant investment being made by First West Yorkshire in Leeds where the image of bus travel really has improved in recent years with smart branded livery variations by route group alongside these latest additions for route 5.
It’s a shame they are a little on the utilitarian side, but journey times are relatively short on route 5 so I guess luxurious extras can’t really be justified. Although bearing in mind that £620,000 cost per bus that seems a bit ironic.
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.