2011/12 was a good period for double decks. Although Scania sales slumped and Optare failed to take advantage of a general manufacturing upswing, double deck deliveries were up by one third. Without deckers, the year would’ve been lean. As usual, London accounted for a significant clutch. The government-backed interest in hybrid technology, both in and out of London, helped achieve production increases.
Time was when every self-respecting urban fleet was dominated by double decks. That’s no longer the case, outside London. Whether this new, rising interest in deckers will be sustained is a matter of debate. The operating industry obviously reacts to market conditions and this has always been mirrored in vehicle purchases, so:
- One-man single decks of the 1960s replaced crewed double decks as a necessary expedient, until front-entrance double decks could at last be one-manned—and then urban single decks fell from grace
- Territorial “country” operators enjoyed a mixed fleet, with a growing 1970s tendency towards single deck operation. After all, the “clunky” Bristol RE at 53 seats could accommodate nearly as many as the double deck LD Lodekka a generation beforehand. But MAP’s fleet size reductions largely brought a new interest in deckers
- As conventional double & single decks were replaced by the mid-1980s Klondike-style deregulated rush for frequent minis, so this gave way initially to the more flexible midibus. Double decks were seen as something of an anachronism
- Years of eroding demand has resulted in the continued popularity of the 40-ish seater now, thanks to DDA, in 12m form. We may talk optimistically of “growth” but that’s from a decidedly very low base.
And there’s the rub. Marginal increases in ridership, the same number of scholars travelling as there ever was and the new post-0930 nu-peak period for free travellers can be enough to tip the balance towards double decks. The cost differential between a full sized 12m single and double deck at about £50,000 isn’t as much as you’d think, especially when compared to the alternative to increasing single deck frequency.
But double decks are double edged. As passengers are aging, so fewer of them can actually manage the stairs, particularly for shorter, urban journeys. And then there are those who prefer to leave the top deck alone, as a young person’s playground, intimidated by the prospect of sitting in front of some foul-mouthed, mobile phone playing, feet-on-the-seat yob.
But there’s another problem as regards double decks and it’s one we’ll discover shortly in pt 2 of 2…