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It’s a fair COP

Sunday 31st October 2021

While I was in Scotland on Monday and Tuesday after my Lumo journey north to Edinburgh I took a ride over to Glasgow to see how preparations for COP26 were impacting the city.

Unsurprisingly, it was huge. And this was still a few days away from today’s start of the summit’s proceedings.

Goodness knows what pollution levels were like from the traffic gridlock stretching almost all around the city centre with many road closures pushing traffic on to other roads which struggled to cope.

As it is Glasgow ‘s central area is characterised by the polluting M8 and M74 pretty much encircling it and not much was moving on these nor the city’s other arterial roads.

First Bus, McGills and Stagecoach along with other operators were doing their best but late running and cancellations seemed to be endemic. First’s high profile route 500 running between Glasgow Airport and Glasgow city centre, already on a reduced 30 minute frequency, and on which no doubt many delegates were presumably arriving in the city, having flown in, was badly disrupted with journey times at least doubled if not more and widened gaps in service.

It wasn’t giving a very good first impression to overseas visitors coming to talk about limiting our impact on the environment and in turn the climate.

But there again, neither would the UK Government’s recent pronouncements, not least the Chancellor’s Budget on Wednesday when he failed to mention climate change as he reduced passenger air duty on internal flights (the last thing that should be happening) and for yet another year maintained the freeze on fuel duty for ‘hard pressed’ motorists. The 58p per litre duty frozen since 2010/11 should be 73p today if it had risen with inflation, never mind subjected to real price increases as has applied to rail fares over these years. A litre of petrol at the pumps instead of retailing for a typical £1.41 with inflation should be £1.56 (or more likely 155.9p to make it seem less). And the Treasury would benefit from around £900 million more tax revenue each year.

This, coupled with the Government’s £27 billion road building programme, really does make a mockery of any serious intent to deal with climate change as far as emissions from transport are concerned.

Still, let’s not get too depressed, despite all this, Glasgow’s central grid street pattern, where restricted to buses and access traffic, was fortunately performing fairly well earlier this week and it was good to see all three major bus companies creating a positive impression with smart looking clean buses being well used.

Indeed First Glasgow were showing off their latest investment in electric buses on a special shuttle service for delegates to the conference venues. Their fleet of 22 new BYD ADL buses are being used on this official COP26 shuttle service.

Love the Co-op sign behind the bus.

First Glasgow’s huge Caledonian depot in the city has been designed to eventualy be able to accommodate 300 electric buses with no less than 150 planned for introduction over the next 18 months. That’s impressive.

What really stood out for me on Monday and Tuesday was the significant investment McGills is currently making in electric buses.

McGills dominates the bus scene to the west of Glasgow with operations covering large parts of North Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire.

The company lays claim to being the largest independent bus company in the UK being owned by the Easdale family and a fleet size of around 600 vehicles. Its recent acquisition of the former NatEx owned Xplore Dundee boosted fleet size and turnover.

It’s Chief Executive Officer Ralph Roberts uninhibited by a Group corporate PR strait jacket limiting what can and can’t be said is a great public voice for the bus industry forever promoting the important role buses play in the economic and social life of cities and calling out those who misguidedly reckon it’s about ownership and regulation rather than bus priority and enforcement.

McGills is very committed to electric buses having ordered 22 Yutong E12 buses with funding support from the first round of the Scottish Ultra Low Emission Bus (SULEB) Fund followed quickly by a further oder of 33 similar vehicles in the second SULEB round. Another 12 electric buses have been ordered for Dundee.

The first of these have been entering service over the last few weeks and Ralph reckons “we will have more electric buses by the time of the COP26 summit than all other operators in Scotland combined”.

McGills converted its busy route 26 running between Glasgow , Braehead, Renfrew and Paisley to Nethercraigs electric operation at the beginning of the month followed more recently by route 38 (every 5 minutes from Glasgow direct via Cardonald to Paisley and Johnstone) and on Friday officially launched the buses on to the third route, the 23.

I took a ride on route 38 to Paisley on Monday leaving Glasgow city centre in the peak with a good load on board. A lot of thought has gone into making the buses look the part with an updated branding for the company as a whole as well as branding for this and the other two routes being electrified using a swish ‘switch’ logo…

… and letting us know we’re “now a zero hero”.

I’ve reviewed the Yutong buses from a customer perspective before – as operated by First Leeds, Leicester Park and Ride and Go North East – and like the latter, these buses look the part with well designed interiors …

… comfortable seating…

… with good leg room.

And the usual usb sockets, these being in seat backs with a little flip cover over the socket when not in use.

I travelled back from Paisley into Glasgow early on Tuesday morning. Having waited for two consecutive journeys that didn’t arrive on route 26 (I’m guessing the driver shortage is impacting McGills like many other bus companies and it’s something I’m becoming accustomed to all over the country) I opted for a ride on route 38 again but this time travelled on a Mercedes Citaro to compare and contrast.

It was a rather wet morning and I was impressed that the windows stayed clear without the usual misting up, although there was a slight leak from the grill in the roof at the back …

… but for a seven year old bus it still gave a decent and comfortable ride into the city.

However, it wasn’t nearly as good as the ride out the previous evening on the electric bus. You really do notice the difference, not least the quietness of the transmission rather than the noise of the Mercedes engine, especially sitting at the back.

I do hope delegates at the COP26 summit get the time to take a ride or two on McGills new electric buses.

They’ll give a good impression.

Roger French

BusAndTrainUser View All

I used to run a bus company but in retirement enjoy Britain’s splendid scenic delights travelling by bus and train, and commenting along the way.

22 thoughts on “It’s a fair COP Leave a comment

  1. Point/Question 1. When it comes to busy services that require a very high frequency, assuming you’ve no physical barriers, why would you run single decks at such a high frequency as every 5 mins when I should have thought deckers at maybe every 7-8 would provide more comfort/seats for pax and use slightly less drivers/vehicles..? (..and the slight reduction in frequency would be hardly noticed..) There are many operators who do this where deckers COULD be used, but are not…. What am I missing?

    Point 2. How come the Glasgow operators seem to have been able to get the electricity companies to provide the power supplies they need whilst in London new electric buses are starting to pile up all round the capital unable to be used due to no charging facilities (and the older polluting buses are still having to be used in service)…?

    McGills plan all electric garages whilst in London they seem to be unable to arrange for charging facilities for as few as 25 odd electrics in multiple garages even with a years notice….?

    We are never going to get everyone to use electric vehicles if we are making such a dogs breakfast of rolling out the limited charging infrastructure that is already being requested and not fulfilled in a timely manner!

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  2. 1. There may be other considerations in play . . . (dare I say) certain areas of Glasgow have a “reputation”, and single deck buses are perceived as being safer. There may be physical restrictions as well . . . not just low height bridges on the routes, but on access routes to the Garage(s).
    A ‘decker also costs £40K-£50K more to purchase, and single deck electrics can have more batteries installed on the roof, thereby increasing the range . . . anything less than about 200 miles/charge will require buses to be charged during the day.
    As the railways tried 10+ years ago . . . higher frequency begats more passengers (or it did pre-Covid). There are capacity limits on railways, usually caused by gaps between signals . . . there are no such restrictions on the roads. I don’t know the routes involved . . . and First and Stagecoach do run deckers in Glasgow, but not so many as might be found in Edinburgh, for example.

    2. Aha . . . electricity supplies and urban areas . . . this may be a slight generalisation (and again, I don’t know Glasgow very well), but it’s very often all down to the urban density of the town. When Holloway (HT) Garage in London was having electric charging points installed, a new sub-station on the Garage site was needed, and a feed had to be taken from adjacent to Upper Holloway rail station . . . this took around 12 months to happen.
    In other countries (and Ireland is a good case in point) electricity cables are often taken above ground . . . look at most Irish towns and there are many “telegraph poles” in situ that have little to do with phones. The HT installation took 12 months or more to be completed, as the main feed had to come underground and avoid existing service tunnels and sewers etc.
    When Willesden Garage had 5 prototype electric buses for use . . . no more than two could be charged at any one time, otherwise “brownouts” occurred locally!! As they needed 5+ hours charging each night . . . it was rare for more than 2 to be used each day!!!!

    Regrettably . . . it’s not as easy as plugging in an additional 13amp plug!!! That might be OK for a home charging point for one car, but for 50+ buses all on charge overnight . . . I believe the HT absolute charging capacity is around 100 buses each night (the PVR is around 220 buses) . . . and they’re up to about 60 now, so perhaps two more routes can be “electrified” there without another sub-station??

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  3. This whole obsessional situation of making everything Electric baffles me… Where is all the electricity going to come from…? Where is it all going to be generated ?

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  4. THe grid is not normally up to it even for cars Typically a home supply is a 100A and the local substation has about 200 homes on, it but it can only cope with about 10000A. CAbles would need replaing as well. It is an expensdive and time consuming job

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  5. Arrive Guilford

    The takeover of Arriva Guilford operations has fallen though and the routes are now being picked up by various operators

    Why it has fallen through is not clear. THer only thing I can think of is Arriva have had an offer for the garage assuming they own it which is worth more than selling the operation

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  6. Yes the motorist has built a motorway right through the middle of Glasgow I discovered that when I was there a few weeks ago.I only saw the M8 but saw the other one on my map of the city.They should put a roof with no ventilation over the M8 and make the motorists breath in the muck that they pump out.The climate summit is pointless worrying about drinking straws and plastic bags while letting people own two tons of metal and plastic.

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  7. Worth noting that the COP 26 bus is in front of the Co-op store on Union Street, which the local management for the duration have creatively (and subtly) rebranded as “co op 26”. Also from this same stop, not wishing to be left out of the electric party, West Coast Motors have replaced the two usual branded single deckers on the 398 (station link service) with two electric buses, one a decker.

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    • I think the subtle rebrand of the Coop store was what Roger was alluding to in his caption for said photo.

      Like Roger, I found the budget massively disappointing. All very good to throw some crumbs in terms of money to sustain bus services in the short(ish) term but what good is that when you consistently fail to raise fuel duty (and so make private car use cheaper and more attractive), do nothing to limit car usage, and then decide to give a tax break to encourage flying when perfectly acceptable rail alternatives exist.

      You can have all the COP related window dressing of a few electric buses but until we deal with some of the intractable and unpopular decisions, then said green machines are still going to be stuck in traffic behind a 2012 Land Rover Discovery on the school run.

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  8. I dont think you can say the Bus funding is crumbs if it is all new money. There is the £3B for the Bus Back Better Funding and that is just fot Bus Services in England outside of London, The budget announced £6.9B for City bus networks in England (Excluding London)
    I would assume that as £6.9B has been announced for City Bus Nteworks that most of ther Bus Network funding will now exclude these areas

    The big question is will councils come up with sensible networks of reasonable frequency networks say 20 minute frequency forr most of the towns as well as a network of inter urban buses to onnect most of towns in an area DRM I think should be kept fot the very rural areas. If you hve good town nd Interurban services the DRM services can feed into those

    Will there now be proper bus services to Industrial estates and out of town shopping centre, hospitals and health centres and business parks ?

    Will we get the bus hubs at rail stations and proper integration of bus and rail ?

    How do you incentivies the use of buses ? Perhaps a few hundred pound travel allowances for use on buses? Lower Business rates for companies that have significant numbers travelling to work by bus ?. Lower off peak fares perhaps

    A bus costs pretty much the same to operate whether it has 2 passengers or 80

    Should there be a small lervey on Parking spaces to help fund public transport ? Strangely many councils are happy to subsidise car parking but not buses

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    • Dream on! In practice I suspect that, whatever, as it always has done, bus investment (public and private) will end up going to already “successful” routes, where it provides a return. I live in a neighbouring village to an area of substantial residential growth. Our buses have doubled in frequency to 4/5 an hour over the last 25 years, as patronage has crashed by 80-90%. Why? It defies all logic, but I see the same thing elsewhere too. Except in met type areas, I’d describe it as the rule, not the exception. The rhetoric makes no difference. Nobody moves here for the buses. It may be a factor in moving away. Nothing in prospect will change that. The only realistic option for the bus Co is to keep cutting pvr, as far as they dare. As for investment, forget it. What’s the point? As for the current driver shortage, why would anyone want to work for them, apart from to get a qualification, to work somewhere else. Never mind covid, it’s been the same for the last 50 years!

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      • There are, I’d suggest two immutables. Once you’ve forked out for a car, nothing is going to stop you using it, or moving to somewhere you can, as soon as you can. I recall a conversation between my parents when my retired father told my mother she could catch the bus, to be met by the reply “what’s that car sitting on the drive for? A bleedin’ ornament? You can darned well drive me”. I suspect it’s a daily conversation over many breakfast tables since. And second, nothing can be done to damage the housing market.
        Buses have to work around those “facts of life”.

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    • Bob – the funding really is crumbs. As Roger has pointed out before, once you factor in that the headline figure is a multi year deal, and then split that funding across every local authority, the figures become quite paltry. Also, it’s not all new money; significant elements have already been announced previously IIRC.

      The successes in UK bus operation (when not throwing TfL levels of cash about) have come when bus operators have stepped up to the plate (and we must accept the culpability of some parts of the industry who haven’t/won’t/can’t) in line with progressive local authorities that take steps to limit car use in towns and cities whilst enabling bus priority to exist.

      Local authorities don’t subsidise car parking. For many, it is a very important revenue stream and along with not wishing to upset the motorist/voter, they perhaps feel that they can’t penalise the motorist for fear of losing that money. Alternatively, they could incrementally reduce on street parking (use the road footprint to support cycle or bus lanes) and increase the cost of parking on the reduced number of remaining spaces?

      As for rural services, the argument of large buses lumbering on subsistence level routes has been around since the MAP schemes of the 1980s.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. One of the more off-putting aspects of bus travel is the often quite unnecessary use of single-decks on busy services such as the 38. A crowded single-decker can be quite claustrophobic, particularly on a wet winter day in Glasgow. I am not aware of any physical limitations on this route, and (am sure to be corrected) McGills did operate double-decks at some point on some journeys? Many First Glasgow services are now happily back to double-decks after some considerable time, as in many other parts of the UK, so hopefully this will be looked at again. Electric vehicles do give a better ride for sure, even if not the same charm for Enthusiasts, but even better if you have a good view from upstairs.

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  10. In the more rural areas the problem is the other way around . The use of large double deckers that are not needed and frequently on roads that are not really suited to large buses

    Double deckers cost more to buy. Use a bit more fuel. Cost sllghtly more to maintain and insure. Need more water to wash them and take a bit longer to clean and need more garage space, I diuess one would hope that no the water foir a bus weash is filtered and reused but I would not bet on that

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  11. Oh dear . . . here comes the “littler buses on daytime rural bus services” argument again. Here are the facts:
    If a double deck bus is used on a school-time journey, it is better to use that decker for the off-peak journeys as well.
    In terms of road space used, a decker at 10m long versus a saloon at 11m long is more manoeuvrable.
    If the decker is already on the route, then trees won’t be a problem.
    That will mean only one bus in the fleet; only one bus to be maintained; only one bus to be cleaned; only one bus to be taxed.
    Yes . . . to be sure, there is a small penalty in extra fuel costs (around 2-3 MPG), but Stagecoach (for one) frequently do exactly this . . . if there was that much of a cost penalty, I doubt that they would continue to use deckers so widely.

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  12. THat is not a sensible business model for rural routes. To build a business model around the need for a few double dekers used no more than on average 4 days a week is not sensible. Frequently in rural areas the routes are restrficted because the bus is to large to serve the villages. It is alsol a good part of gthe reason that town services have all but disapered. Double deck routes are frequently delayed because they have trouble negottating nsrrow rural roads
    The best vehicle for rural town service would be small midi bus. I suspect you are think asbout the London end of the home countis whic is not thst rural

    I think we are going to disagree on this

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  13. But what do you do with the minibus during the peak when a double deck is needed for all the school children? A waste of capital if it is sitting round idle!

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  14. It is not about constructing a business model for rural routes . . . it is about providing a limited shopping service using resources otherwise paid for on schools business. It is essential to realise that, as mentioned above, if there is a car in the family, then it WILL be used in preference to the bus . . . so the only “market” for the bus are those passengers without access to a car. The flexibility of travelling IMMEDIATELY can never be reliabily met by a bus.
    A bus can only pay all its costs if it is used relatively intensively . . . 0700-1800 at the minimum. A working day with gaps in it will not cover those costs.
    There is no point in trying to resurrect the business model for rural buses (or even a small town network) if the passengers won’t travel. By all means provide a minibus service for mini numbers of passengers . . . but “society” (in the form of taxes on income) will need to subsidise it.
    The whole debate here is whether it is better for the bus to provide a service where there is a reasonable chance of carrying significant numbers of passengers, without financial support, or better to be used for the benefit of miniscule numbers of passengers, at a cost to society.

    I worked “on the buses” for 45 years, and I’ve seen rural bus services decline away to practically nothing . . . because the car, outside urban areas, has won. I’ve been involved in all sorts of “initiatives” . . . some worked, some didn’t. DRT is the latest initiative to be tried . . . if the long-term subsidy is there, then by all means persevere . . . but my experience (Rural Bus Grant in the 2000s; Local Bus Support Grant in the 2010’s) says that the subsidy is only short-term.

    As you say . . . we’ll not agree on this . . .

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  15. Thank you “greenline727” for your support and pointing out the myth that double-deckers “are too large for many rural services etc.” when of course they occupy less road (and garage) space than a normal sized single-deck. They proved invaluable during the Covid crisis, where passengers were able to spread more widely in the vastly extra space, and although many still choose to cram themselves downstairs on a double-deck, at least many more of us have a choice to sit upstairs in comfort and see the world go be.

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  16. Most rural service have only a handful of passengers even at peaks so it is madness to use double ceckers. Only a handful of school trips even jusdtify double deckers most of the rest are actually taxis

    Rural areas are very differentr to urban areas . Bus companies have been failing for decades in rural areas so they are clearly no getting things right mind you the local council do not help. Look at the state of bus stations asnd bus shelters and even the buses. It clearly tellls you they dont care. If you have that attitude you are not going to win back passengers

    There are a few execeptions but they are very few. Look at the mess of abandoned liveries and branding. THey end up looking a very scruffy mess. Look at the inside of buses full of old acverts and timetables etc scruffly pated om windows and left there or with more timtables etc pasBobEvansc@Live.cvo.ukted over the top of old ones

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  17. Oh honestly!!! I’m trying very hard to not get personal here . . . but the numbers, and the stories posted on here, tell the truth.
    Yes . . . apart from school times, rural buses are almost empty . . . and that is because . . . ?
    It’s because, by and large, they are no longer relevent to people who live there. That’s all there is to it.
    If the bus is scruffy and a double decker . . . does that put potential passengers off travelling? Of course not!! They won’t travel anyway!!!

    I really don’t like banging on about this, but we must look logically at the future of the bus industry . . . should it cater for EVERYONE, and if necessary FORCE passengers to travel; or should it run services where there will be decent numbers travelling, and concentrate on encouraging more passengers there by providing a frequent, comprehensive network. THAT will reduce traffic levels and emissions . . .

    Coercion will never work, so lots of empty buses roaming around the countryside will be the result, and money will have to be found to pay for them all. We’ve tried flooding the countryside with buses, and it hasn’t increased passenger numbers . . . so, everyone, let’s have some detailed proposals, instead of just whinging on about scruffy buses and blaming the bus companies.

    (Apologies to Roger for hijacking his blog again . . . I’ll stop now . . . ).

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  18. As someone who lives in Northern Ireland i am happy to see a reduced passenger air duty as flights to NI to UK mainland are very dear so it and although we have ferry link but they are not always convenient

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