Tuesday 22nd November 2022
Having seen Irizar’s new ‘ie tram’ bus displayed at the EuroBus EXPO show earlier this month I thought I’d take a ride on Go-Ahead London’s route 358, where the buses are destined to enter service early next year, to see how they’re likely to perform on this busy route.
It’s a former Metrobus operated commercial route which began in a modest way in 1989 with just two return journeys on Mondays to Fridays between Crystal Palace and Green Street Green via Penge, Elmers End, Bromley, Locksbottom and Orpington.
Taken into the TfL fold in 2002 the route has been subject to many enhancements and now provides a 12 minute weekday frequency (twenty minutes evenings and Sundays) between Crystal Palace and Orpington via a similar route to the original but taking in Farnborough then via Green Street Green with an eastern terminus at Orpington station.
It’s a 15 mile route through some of south London’s well to do suburbs providing important connections to the busy retail centres in Bromley and Orpington as well as rail stations at Crystal Palace, Anerley, Kent House, Clock House, Eden Park, Shortlands, Bromley South and Orpington.
Go-Ahead London operate route 358 from the former Metrobus bus garage in Green Street Green with a peak requirement of 19 seven-year old Mercedes Citaro single deck buses, although on my trip last week I noticed four nine-year old Enviro 200s and two three-year old Wrightbus Streetlites supplementing the 11 Mercedes out in the off peak.
Mercedes Citaro buses have always had a bit of a strange interior layout with rear facing seats, so passengers will be very familiar with this when faced with the new ‘ie tram’ layout.
However, I wanted to see if the leg room between the facing seat pairs was any better on the existing Mercedes buses than on the new Irizar’s as the impression I’d come away with from the NEC was just how close the seats were. I didn’t take a tape measure with me, but my perception is the Mercedes does offer more space.
Take a look at these photos and see what you think.
One thing that shouts out at you is just how uncomfortable looking the Mercedes seats are. And I can vouch for it that they are.
I reckon passengers will immediately fall in love with the more luxurious looking seats on the Irizar even if the seat pitch and leg room (I think) is worse.
I do worry that travelling inside the Irizar will feel a bit of a squash with very little room to move around right from that very narrow front boarding door…
…. through to the wheelchair and buggy area and to that single back seat in the rear offside.
The Mercedes offers ten step free forward facing seats in the front area (ahead of the centre doors) with two pairs of two backward facing seats as well as two nearside seats up a step in the immediate front and another up a step behind the driver making 17 in all. Behind the centre doors there are another 19 seats including two more pairs of two backward facing seats making for a total seating compliment of 36 in all.
The Irizars also have ten step free forward facing seats in the front area with two pairs of two backward facing seats and two up a step behind the driver making 16. The rear part up a step has 15 forward facing seats and two pairs of two backward facing seats making 19 seats, so a total of 35.
Overall seating capacity is therefore very similar.
I caught the 13:45 departure from Crystal Palace on Thursday afternoon, and it turned out to be a journey in two parts.
We kept well to time for the 83 minute journey arriving at the terminus alongside Orpington Station only four minutes late mainly arising from a driver changeover at the Green Street Green bus garage which lost us three minutes.
We left Crystal Palace with five on board picking three more up by the station. For the next half hour we were fairly lightly used with just ones and twos getting on and off at most stops – perhaps that narrow door will be OK after all I thought. After half an hour at 14:15 we’d reached Kelsey Park having had 23 more passengers boarding at 16 bus stops. The maximum number on board at any time was 17, just after Clock House Station.
Eleven minutes later we reached the centre of Bromley by Market Square having picked up six more passengers but dropped off a couple with four more alighting at Market Square and two boarding. Another two boarded at the next stop at the Civic Hall and eight more at The Mall but at 14:33 we reached Bromley South station with 11 more boarding bringing us to a total on board of 30 with one buggy.
It was interesting to see how those extra 11 people boarding made the bus feel overly crowded even though technically there were six empty seats.
In practice there weren’t because passengers going home from the shops are encumbered with lots of shopping bags as well as other luggage and there was a definite trend to avoid sitting in the eight backward facing seats and I noticed how they really were left until the very last to be occupied when there was a choice.
Some clearly preferred to stand.
I also noticed the mother and buggy were able to board via the front door at Bromley South among the 11 boarding passengers but I doubt that will happen through the narrow entrance door on the Irizar which will make for awkward shuffling around when the mother has to make her way from the wheelchair/buggy area having boarded via the centre doors against the flow of boarding passengers giving a sense of chaos.
We picked up eight more passengers as we headed south out of Bromley passed the bus garage and Bromley Common but had also dropped off quite a few after leaving Bromley – seven alighted at Southlands Road the fourth stop, three at Turpington Lane and six at the bus garage. That section of route is also served by routes 61 and 261.
We continued to drop off as we approached Farnborough and were losing more than we were gaining – nine more boarded including five in Sevenoaks Road approaching Orpington also served by route R11 (and R1, R5, R8 and R10). We then did a small circuit of Orpington town centre itself – which takes four minutes for the loop – and dropped off ten of the 12 passengers still on board at the main stop by the War Memorial with one more alighting at the Walnut Centre, leaving just one on board who travelled to the terminus at Orpington station.
Altogether 77 passengers had been carried with the most on board at any one time being the 30 as we left Bromley South station but then only for about five to ten minutes.
But this, of course, is just one sample journey in the off peak. I’m sure the route is much busier in the peaks, and I came away still wondering whether those shiny new interestingly shaped buses are going to be big enough.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS