Will passengers on the 358 like their ie trams?

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.

Map courtesy of, and with thanks to, Mike Harris and LondonBuses.co.uk

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.

It was definitely a journey of two halves in terms of use.

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.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

18 thoughts on “Will passengers on the 358 like their ie trams?

Add yours

  1. There was a fire a couple of years ago that destroyed some of the Mercedes so the other types make up the numbers.

    The original 358 used double dockers including DMSs and so omitted Shortlands and also went directly along Elmers End Road

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As noted, these are an awful long way from second hand DMSs!

    My experience of the 358 is broadly similar, with the Bromley – Farnborough – Orpington section being much busier than the rest. The 227 provides the more direct service between Crystal Palace – Penge – Bromley.

    Personally, I’d have reverted to the 261 running through to Orpington with the 358 curtailed at the PRU hospital, which is the main reason for the 358s existence. But of course, the need to reach the two pantographs stops any changes to the termini. Not that any are planned of course!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. In my Inter-Rail travels around Europe over the last three months it was interesting to see that the Citaro has become almost the default bus, especially for urban work, even in those countries that have their own established vehicle production so Mercedes must be doing something right.

    The narrow front door on the ie tram will, I think, present problems for those with buggies. If they have to use the middle door and ramp this is going to affect timekeeping, and thus reliability. Will it deter such passengers? The signage at the front door for disabled people in chairs looks confusing as the ramp is clearly at the other door. The swept front design appears to result in some wasted space by the front door because there isn’t room in the body to make it wider. Again, will those people be put off going by bus and possibly not going out?

    The load vary very much during the day and also, where there is more than one route, what gap there is with the bus in front. Because different frequencies mean there is no coordination of timings you can easily have gaps followed by a bunch of three. This is particularly the case to and from Bromley High Street from the south where people will take the first bus to come along causing delays whilst the other two sit tightly behind with few people boarding.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Looking at the route map, it is difficult to see a tram taking such a convoluted journey.

    Glad to see that TfL’s money problems are behind them, being able to invest in expensive kit to replace mid-life vehicles. It will be interesting to see the effect having smarter looking vehicles will have; it reminds me of the FTR concept, which faded quickly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Are these any more expensive than other electric buses? The real issue, I understand, is that the route is so long and the hours of operation so extensive that battery buses would not last the day on a single charge. If there was an opportunity charging E200 available, that could have been chosen, but Metrobus is not averse to trying the unexpected – they were one of the first London operators of the Optare Excel and Dennis Tridents when low floor buses were still a novelty.

      I think the origins of the 358 were two-fold. Firstly to provide a link with the north of the borough to the then-Bromley Hospital, but also to provide an in-service use of coaches which had ventured into London on the commuter route 705. When the demand was realised, the DMS’s took over, then the Optare Excels, and the route has grown from strength to strength.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The narrow front door buggy issue will be interesting. Perhaps it isn’t an issue where these buses already operate because buggies may have to be folded. In the UK low floor buses were developed to meet wheelchair access legislation, the bus industry decided to welcome roll on buggies of its own volition.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can assure you that there will indeed be a flood of complaints as the service operates at crush-load capacity for many parts of the day (my house is situated at the first northbound bus stop beyond Farnborough Common, so get a bird’s eye view), particularly at school times. I understand it is, or most certainly was when they had one, on the TfL list of “most over-crowded” services (alongside the 336 which shares the road twixt Locks Bottom and Turpington Lane). The reduction of one seat may not make much difference, but as the photographs show, the interiors and seating arrangements of these French Marmite Wagons (why the need to buy Foreign yet again when ADL can produce superior vehicles??), there is definitely a reduction in overall space. I already avoid using the present 358, and not just because of the appallingly hard seats, another disgrace which slipped through when the Citaros arrived. Unfortunately since the demise of the 402, do have to use them for work occasionally to/from Green St, Green, mercifully, only an eight minute trip.

    As mentioned elsewhere, the service should most certainly be double-decked on the Bromley-Orpington leg. Severe traffic conditions, and in spite of ever lengthened running times, often determine buses being turned at Penge, Beckenham and Elmers End even off-peak, causing major gaps at the far off Crystal Palace end. It is quite surprising that TfL have continued to tender the 358 in it’s present form, but then many things surprise us about TfL these days….. and surely ridiculous wheel spats are going to cause problems too on tight turns?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Double decker’s may be ideal for the 358, but the problem is the low bridge at Shortlands, so it’s either rerouting the 358 to avoid the low bridge(s) or splitting the route into 2 sections,.

      Splitting the 358 say, Orpington to Bromley, & Crystal Palace to Bromley Common or Bromley Garage, with decker’s on the Bromley to Orpington section. I see route number 458 is available too which could be used for one section.

      Don’t know the reliability of the route, end to end journey time is up to 100 minutes in the peaks [about 90 minutes daytime off peak], got to be the longest TFL routes allocated for single deck vehicles

      Liked by 1 person

      1. If you want to split the route, I would suggest the southern terminus of the Crystal Palace leg should be Princess Royal Hospital, but there aren’t any charging points there so that won’t be possible.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. The wheel spats are fixed to the wheels so in themselves should not be a problem on turns. Where it will potentially be a problem i with the wheels hitting the Kerbs . It will also be a potential issue with checking the Tyres and wheel nuts


    3. I assume it won’t make a huge difference but regularly being turned short at one or other end of the route when you need to get to the pantograph is probably suboptimal!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. TfL Bus consultation

    The number of routs being axed has been reduced to 3. These are the 332, 507 & 521

    18 routes are to be changed

    THe GLA has found another £25M to keep the other services going. Whether £25M will be enough remains to be seen


  8. Why on earth are the facing seats necessary. Will only be used by disrespectful people to put their feet up.on the seat opposite. Why on earth do people design buses like this, do they never travel on buses and see how unpleasant this is, and likely to put people off travelling by bus.


    1. On the other hand, it does allow groups of people to travel on the bus together, much like a group of friends facing each other on the train. After all, the rather school classroom-like layout may not be favourable for them to turn around on a forward-facing seat.


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