Last week, First may have officially launched its Temsa Avenue lighter weight bus in Bradford, where it will undergo a six month evaluation, but perhaps the most important area for such re-engineered technology is in the far south west.
Over recent years, First’s investment in its Devon & Cornwall subsidiary has lagged. Managing director Marc Reddy has managed to persuade the First UK Bus board of the need to invest but it’s been geographically patchy and reliant on cascaded though some relatively new stock. The other side of the coin, in reducing its fleet age profile, is the steady reduction in mileage and PVR, as First especially in Cornwall slims down. Older vehicles get scrapped.
Perhaps the Temsa Avenue is akin to the Bristol SUL and Bristol LH of old. These two buses occupied a high proportion of the Western National fleets of the 1970s and 1980s and were particularly suited to the operating environment in which they found themselves. The narrow-bodied Plaxton Supreme bodied LH coach seated about the same number as the Avenue. Back then, their main failings were (a) a lack of capacity on occasion and (b) short operating life. The latter was a function of its lightweight nature. The former is less of an issue these days, even in the free travel honeypots of Cornwall.
And there’s the proverbial rub. Going lightweight eventually brings with it an additional vehicle replacement cost. But that’s exactly why First should be using those vehicles in the south west. Operating a bus at one ton’s worth of lighter weight, in a market such as the far south west, would bring with it instant benefits, where there are fewer demands on buses making service. By that, I mean fewer all day 18-hour commitments, compared to urban operations. It’s conceivable that a lighter weight bus such as the Avenue might suit its environment that much better than in an intense operation in urban Bradford. In Bradford, there’s still a trade off between lighter weight and the robustness of a heavyweight bus such as the Volvo B6RLE. You can depend upon Volvos day in and day out, and night in and night out, for reliability and regularly over long periods.
Meanwhile, what is First’s trial trying to achieve?
- It will allow First to gain operational experience of lighter weights.
- First will better understand the trade off or balances between the revenue expenditure savings of a light weight against capital expenditure of a more conventional, perhaps longer-lasting heavy weight.
- Undoubtedly, it will challenge the UK sector to come up with lighter weight composite buses, including those with traditional heavyweight chassis.
Take a look at First’s largest Cornish competitor, Western Greyhound. There’s definitely an operational fuel penalty now that Greyhound is at last investing in heavier low floors. Heavier than conventional minis, that is. The fuel inefficiency of its 23 Optare Solos compared to blighter Vario O814s they have replaced will be only too apparent.