Sunday 18th July 2021
As well as open-top buses and DRT, 2021 is also proving to be the year of the electric bus with more and more entering service as various Government funding schemes enable operators and local authorities meet high introduction costs not only of the buses but also the associated charging infrastructure.
The latest city to add electric buses to its street scene is Leicester. It’s part of an ambitious £50 million project to ‘green’ the city with funding coming from a successful bid to the Transforming Cities Fund.
The first tranche of £14.1 million has paid for 18 Yutong E12 electric buses with half that sum paying for the buses and the other half funding bus priority measures, bus shelters and real time information.
Leicester are calling their electric bus project Greenline – that’s all one word as opposed to the two worded more famous long standing bus brand of that name in the Home Counties.
Eleven of the buses entered service on Leicester’s network of three Park and Ride routes operated by Robert Travel Group at the end of May with four more expected to enter service later in the Autumn on the Hospital Hopper service operated by CentreBus. The final three are destined for a new free to use city centre shuttle bus route linking the railway station and the city’s two bus stations with centrally located attractions planned for introduction in autumn 2022.
As I was in Leicester last weekend I took the opportunity to sample a ride on one of the Park and Ride services, route 103 from the Meynell’s Gorse car park, (situated to the west of the city) into the city centre and back.
Steve the driver was very friendly and happily showed me around the new bus highlighting its pros and cons.
Charging infrastructure has been installed at Roberts Travel Group’s Coalville depot in partnership with Zenobe Energy to enable the eleven buses to be charged overnight which is sufficient to keep them going for their all-day twelve-hour schedule. If Roberts Travel have hatched the same deal with Zenobe as Newport Transport it means a contract price without having to worry about battery replacement costs or infrastructure costs as they’re taken care of by Zenobe as part of the contract.
Times of operation for the three Park and Ride routes are 07:00 to 19:00 on Mondays to Saturdays with no service on Sundays. The Meynell’s Gorse service is not an arduous route being mostly on the flat and with a significant part of the route benefitting from bus lanes in both directions.
Yutong’s modus operandi is to mount the batteries on the roof which due to the weight Steve observed he found braking is not as efficient as on a conventional diesel bus.
However, he was most impressed with the cab layout and the high-tech looking dashboard…
… and loved the coach drivers seat Roberts Travel have installed in the cab.
Steve reckoned the buses are very quiet on the road but I found quite a lot of rattle noise as we drove along although Steve reckoned much of this was due to poor road surfacing, but he did admit the entrance doors on one bus had fallen off due to the bolts at the bottom holding it in place working lose, which didn’t sound very encouraging.
The livery and interior is a Best Impressions design and has definitely made what is otherwise a boring rectangular box look welcome and an attractive vehicle to ride in.
There’s space for a wheelchair on the nearside and buggy or shopping trolley on the offside of the gangway.
There’s two tone wood effect flooring.
A snazzy smart green moquette.
Two monitor screens.
WiFi, usb and leaflet racks.
Clear information on the cove panels.
A leaflet explaining all you need to know about Leicester’s three Park and Ride routes is available on the bus and is also a Best Impressions design.
As are posters at the terminal building.
It all looks very inviting and professional….
… and makes it very easy to use the service offering an attractive alternative to taking the car into Leicester.
I particularly like for most of the time buses leave each Park and Ride site on a 15 minute frequency at an easy to remember 00-15-30-45 departure time which makes up for it being a slightly longer than turn-up-and-go desirable 10-12 minutes frequency. Return times from city centre stops are also on multiples of 05 times too, and mainly 00-15-30-45 again. The Meynell’s Gorse service takes just ten minutes into the city centre and ten minutes back again, allowing the bus a ten minute layover at the car park. Ideal.
There’s a day return fare of £3 for up to five people arriving in one vehicle which offers excellent value. Concessionary passes are accepted for free travel and it’s also free for NHS staff.
What’t not to like? The only thing could be potential abstraction from Leicester’s network of bus routes. But there are plans to upgrade these too.
Leicester is hoping a follow up plan to convert a third of the city’s bus routes to electric bus operation involving 100 more buses will come to fruition and they have ideas for more routes to come under the ‘Greenline’ project.
“It is planned to seek funding to convert and improve the Circleline 40 service to electric in the near future in partnership with Centrebus. In addition there are plans to further develop existing and new Park & Ride electric services and sites across Leicester. We may also look to go into partnership with bus operators to enhance other key bus services to emerging new developments, moving these to electric and giving them a full ‘tram’ makeover.”
Those behind the plans acknowledge “this will all require significant additional local and national funding which we are hopeful of securing over the next 2-3 years”. It will be interesting to see how this goes, as ideas for fund raising include a Workplace Parking Levy, as Nottingham has long practised to great effect, which has just gone out to public consultation.
Leicester’s two bus stations are part of the transformation too. Haymarket was given a £13.5 million revamp a few years ago, reopening in 2016 while St Margaret’s is currently undergoing a similar £13.5 million rebuild. £10.5 million for that has come from a Getting Building Fund for “shovel ready schemes”.
And if that wasn’t enough, there are fresh plans for a multi-million pound overall of Leicester’s rail station, which was only last revamped in 2011/12. Now a bid for £20 million is reportedly being submitted to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund for this latest upgrade as well as major changes in the immediate area around the station. This will involve moving the main entrance from London Road to the adjacent Station Street – where it was when the station first opened in 1840 – and shift the taxi rank and short stay spaces close to the new entrance with access via Fox Street.
Leicester and Leicestershire are proving adept at successfully bidding to the Government’s many funding pots and could well be trail blazing the kind of transformation we’re being promised by Bus Back Better and the Government’s promised £3 billion funding from that. But other cities be warned; that £3 billion is nowhere near enough to transform everywhere.
Leicester’s certainly a city worth watching.