Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Déjà Vu in Leeds or Running a Flag up a Pole

In something akin to déjà vu, First Group is touting what it’s calling its “New Bus for Leeds”. Does it remind you of anything, perchance?

Déjà vu because First is suggesting that 200 of these green goliaths could be the answer to Yorkshire’s transport problems. But didn’t they also plug FTR in Yorkshire as the answer, too? And didn’t FTR emerge in Leeds following the fall of Leeds Supertram? Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t First finish off the Supertram concept?

Indeed, FTR was something of a showcase and it was hoped by Old First that it would result in orders for 100 of the Wright Streetcar vehicles used on the FTR services. That promise never materialised.

The FTR brand’s now gone from Leeds and York, of course, although the kit in terms of the Streetcars is still there on a redefined service 72 called Hyperlink, between Leeds and Bradford. FTR remains only in Swansea, Wales (and this as Metro rather than FTR).

FTR in Yorkshire proved to be controversial, as seemingly does anything associated with bendy buses anywhere. The Streetcars were not only slightly longer than “standard” artics (if you can have such a thing as a “standard” artic) but also wider. The vehicles along with the FTR stamp were nevertheless designed to reinvent bus services. They didn’t. Indeed, they attracted negativity ranging from mistrust to full-on opprobrium.

First now suggests that a fleet of 200 “New Buses for Leeds” might be a better investment than Metro’s proposed Next Generation Transport trolleybuses. The trolleys require infrastructure and that means they are relatively inflexible compared to a (hybrid or otherwise) bus. This, then, is where First feels it has an edge. And First’s answer is cheaper, of course.

First’s push to circumnavigate what some in Leeds call the “Follybus” project incorporates:

  • Multi-door entry to cut waiting times at bus stops

  • Eco-friendly propulsion

  • An Oyster card-style to encourage cashless payments

  • Road infrastructure improvements plus signal priority.

But all of this is available on an existing humble bus chassis. A New Bus for Anywhere’s not actually required. But you can see the appeal of such a vehicle. It’s almost as if every high spec bus project needs its figurehead: in this case, a radical looking take on the old concept of a double deck. An ordinary bus won’t do it. FTR. HCT Trolleybus. NBfL. Unless there’s something of a flagship design, no one will look at it and perhaps no one will take it seriously.

And we all said that the New Routemaster had no place outside London. Or most of us did.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

As an embattled First employee, I wait in anticipation of a wave of anti First sentiment! I dont know why I stay in the industry!Here goes anyway!

Interesting comment but un/fortunatly it turns heads? When I woked for a large national operator of Express coaches, we brought in PBs and then Levantes, the feedback was, we love your new coaches! But we have new coaches every year? No these "new" coaches are lovely. Guys we need to get to grips with the consumer lead market, there is a reason Car manufacturers bring out a new year model each autumn, they always look slightly more "sexy" than the last one!

Why shouldnt we learn from our biggest competitor?

greenline727 said...

Whether you feel that the BorisMaster is a huge waste of money or not, it cannot be denied that the bus has "style"! It has revitalised Joe Public's perceptions of buses in a way that StreetCar never did.
Even in London, the BorisMaster still gets heads turning. Personally, I like it. Get rid of the centre door (more seats downstairs); revise access arrangements for wheelchairs and this could just be a bus for the UK, not just London.
{ducks behind wall and places hard hat on head!}.

Anonymous said...

The Borismaster definitely does turn heads and has attracted the public's attention.

Its main downfall is double crewing on some London routes - this is not necessary though (and indeed London have now run out of money for conductors for the next two routes to be converted).

Anonymous said...

Why does Leeds need something out of the ordinary when Manchester, Oxford, Edinburgh, Brighton, Nottingham etc etc manage perfectly well with decent spec, clean and well maintained off the peg buses. Is it any surprise people blame the operator for poor public transport when there's been such a gulf between cities where First has lately been the dominant company, and those where someone else is?

Anonymous said...

The question is, would TfL allow thier design to be used elsewhere in the UK?

As for other deckers, it's basically a choice between a slightly face-lifted 13 year-old Gemini or an 8 year-old Enviro 400. They can both still look good with the right livery but externally neither are now very fresh-looking and are rather common to invoke any 'wow' factor.

I agree with the first commentator, although I wonder if NE has learned the lesson, the current Levantes look just the same as the early ones... which are now coming off because they're reach the seven year limit. Time for change there too?

RW said...

First are aware of Metros 'tram envy' and their need for something prestigious. So maybe they are trying to meet this with a classy bus and avoid the financial disaster of the trollyfolly.
Hopefully this new bus might copy the style of the borisbus but me much more practical and economic

Anonymous said...

Anon, 8.22 - Three of the five cities you mention have trams. So they do have something other than big stabdard buses. The trolleybus is a replacement for Leeds tram scheme. Like it or not, trams, with their 'differentness', predictable routes, frequency and elements of off-street running, do pronpt modal shift. Bog stabdard buses dont. Hats off to First for at least thinking about some halfway houses, even if like FTR they dont succeed.

Neil said...

The fixed nature of a tram or trolleybus can be seen as a disadvantage. But it also has a big advantage - it isn't going anywhere any time soon. So you can consider a house purchase based on it, for instance.

"But we have new coaches every year? No these "new" coaches are lovely."

The railway has fallen into the opposite of this trap on occasions. I saw a post from a friend commenting on the 1980s train he was in. It wasn't - it was a Class 180 Adelante, built in the mid 2000s. But the design "looks" old.

Pete said...

This is basically 'stop the trolley' - a view I personally share. Many elements of the proposal are desirable - bus priority, better ticketing to speed boarding and so on; some are not actually new - hybrids, wifi - but the new bus is just a 'big idea' to make the proposal look like more than incremental improvements to the status quo.

Anonymous said...

ftr was nothing more than a solution looking for a problem. In the event, it wasn't a solution to anything, although it may have helped see off the threat of trams on the streets of Leeds.

Now that the threat has turned to trolleybuses, First is quite understandably looking to protect its business, although one has to wonder why it takes such threats to prompt First into coming up with imaginative and inventive schemes such as New Bus For Leeds. That said, of course, Leeds has just seen the bulk injection of 100 new double-deckers, just eighteen months ago.

The difficulty is always going to be fighting against grasping politicians who want the prestige of being able to introduce trams/trolleybuses/monorails/quality contracts into their town or city and the glory that goes with being able to spend mind-boggling sums of other people's money on such nonsense. Not to mention the empire-building they so crave which such projects allow and the misguided belief that they can run the trains/trams/trolleys/buses so much better than the professionals working for the supposed profit-pocketing big, nasty PLCs.

Unfortunately, thirty years on, transport provision is still seen by many as something that Councils should be responsible for and as such transport/buses/transport providers etc are an easy target. Twas ever thus and probably always will be.

Neil said...

"Now that the threat has turned to trolleybuses, First is quite understandably looking to protect its business"

Given that First might end up operating any such trolleybus system...

Neil

Anonymous said...

Why has bus builders not redesigned thier buses? Pre 2007 designs kept changing.

Has the demand petted out or is it the demand by bus compaines to have a standard fleet?

But surly if B13 coaches can haved body styles updated ever few year cant the same be done for E400?

Anonymous said...

"Given that First might end up operating any such trolleybus system..."

Or might not...

Roy said...

I should think TfL would be delighted if other operators took on the Borismaster design. At the moment the Borismasters are having to be bought/leased by TfL directly and sub-let to the route operators as there is currently no re-sale or re-use market for them. On conventionally operated routes TfL just mandate new buses when a route comes up for re-tendering which the operators are happy to comply with as they can sell/cascade the old buses to elsewhere in the UK. I'm sure TfL would love it if they could apply that model to the Borismaster too.

RW said...

Anon, 8.22
'Like it or not, trams, with their 'differentness', predictable routes, frequency and elements of off-street running, do prompt modal shift.'

UK trams lost more patronage than buses during the recent downturn

Trams, NGT are supposed to symbolise permanence, but we had trolleys here in Bradford but they were scrapped on a political whim, as were all the trams.

Anonymous said...

Re: Roy @ 14:15

The reason that TfL is buying and leasing out the Borismasters is not so much concerns about their post-London use but essentially that neither the operators nor the leasing companies are prepared to risk getting their fingers burned by buying expensive, unproven buses that theoretically could get withdrawn from the Capital on a political whim as the bendys were. Some entities have taken massive losses on bendys as their early withdrawal and near non-existant second-hand sales have seen hoardes of them still today, sitting parked up in yards around the country as no-one wants them.
Given that, and the possibility of it happening again, TfL buying them and renting them out was the only way they could have got the project off the ground.

Whilst TfL might like some income from licencing the design for use elsewhere, having them run in, say, Leeds (or anywhere else) does rather detract from the vehicle being promoted as a London icon and being specific to the Capital. They can hardly be touted as something special to London if there's a couple of hundred of them running around West Yorkshire.

RC169 said...

Anonymous said...

" Whilst TfL might like some income from licencing the design for use elsewhere, having them run in, say, Leeds (or anywhere else) does rather detract from the vehicle being promoted as a London icon and being specific to the Capital. They can hardly be touted as something special to London if there's a couple of hundred of them running around West Yorkshire."

If TfL really are averse to the presence of NBfLs in other cities, one wonders why they send examples to the USA on what is presumably an export drive?

Anonymous said...

It's an export drive promoting Great Britain in general, not to sell NBFLs.

Anonymous said...

Full detail of First's alternate proposal here

http://www.firstgroup.com/ukbus/leeds/

Steve said...

I don't know where anyone has got the idea that TfL wouldn't like to see these things in other cities. They and the Mayor have always made clear that they would like to see other UK operators buying them.

Anonymous said...

Trams have proved problematic and very expensive and inflexible and all the few networks there are have needed massive on-going subsidies so more of a failure than a success

Trolleybuses offer much more potential far quicker and cheaper then trams and they also offer flexibility in that they can run off line under battery power

There is also the possibility of doing away for the need for the overhead lines

Neil said...

"Trams have proved problematic and very expensive and inflexible and all the few networks there are have needed massive on-going subsidies so more of a failure than a success"

Go and see the masses travelling on Manchester Metrolink and say that again.

Neil

Anonymous said...

The good thing about Manchester is that it is an evolving system, always looking to growth, I'm guessing some of the other tram networks around the UK may be different as some of them seem to be just one route. How are those systems doing?

Anonymous said...

If tram systems need large on-going subsidies compared to an equivalent bus network, what is the point?

Neil said...

"If tram systems need large on-going subsidies compared to an equivalent bus network, what is the point?"

The fact that they attract people out of cars much better than buses do?

Money isn't everything.

Neil

Anonymous said...

"Money isn't everything."

Well, it should be, especially given the fact that we don't have any and the country has a monstrous debt already.

We should be spending what we have on repairing the damaged existing mainline rail lines, sorting out proper flood defences and helping those whose properties are underwater. We need to sort out the causes of the floods and worry about building power stations before the lights go out in a few years' time. New tram and trolleybus schemes should be way down the list of priorities until we can afford them. We're stuck with the ones we have but throwing money at new ones right now is crazy.

Anonymous said...

I dont see how a commercial operator could make money out of operating a Borismaster, double-manned or not. A bit like FTR really.

Neil said...

""Money isn't everything."

Well, it should be"

Well, we fundamentally differ there. I don't want to live in a country dictated by that mantra.

I think the national debt is too high, but personally I am in favour of increased taxation to fund a quality national and local transport infrastructure, among other things.

I would like to see our city transport being like Germany, personally. Heavy rail connected to light rail connected to a quality bus system intended to get people to/from the rail system and to fill in the gaps, and a unified ticketing system. Visit Germany and try it. It's excellent.

Neil

Neil said...

"I dont see how a commercial operator could make money out of operating a Borismaster, double-manned or not. A bit like FTR really."

Minus the gimmicks, it's a 3 door, on at the front, off at the back double-decker with a fancy body and some clever technical improvements. Why wouldn't it make money?

You could even have a single-door version if you were stupid enough, or perhaps most sensibly remove the middle doors and have it as on/wheelchairs/prams at the front and off right at the back, which would significantly reduce dwell time at stops.

Neil

PeteB said...

The First press release states "One of the Company's main concerns is that Leeds will be locked into outdated 100 year old trolleybus technology for decades to come". This is nonsense, trolleybuses are tried and tested state of the art technology. Electric traction using overhead wires is the standard for trams, light rail. I think First's statement is understandable from a commercial bus operator's viewpoint, but the first generation UK trolley bus systems were in the main tramway replacements and operated by tramway departments who were used to running fixed track systems with the disciplines that requires. IMO trolleybuses are (as originally labelled) trackless trams and Leeds should persevere with their NGT project. Regarding the New Bus for Leeds, if extra doors and faster boarding and alighting is so advantageous (and it is IMO) First could have specified dual door buses years ago as these are available from all bus manufacturers, and First has plenty of experience operating them in London.

Chris said...

Some rather outdated views being expressed here - it's telling how even America has cottoned on to the benefits of the 'streetcar' as a fixed system driving investment and regeneration along the route even when requiring subsidy.

That simply can't be replicated by fancy looking buses, as with the FTR they can easily be re-routed or withdrawn entirely.

Neil said...

"The First press release states "One of the Company's main concerns is that Leeds will be locked into outdated 100 year old trolleybus technology for decades to come". This is nonsense, trolleybuses are tried and tested state of the art technology."

Agree, it's complete garbage, rather like saying that building HS2 is being locked into outdated 150+ year old railway technology. Just because two bits of steel a pair of horses' arses apart have proven to be an effective means of moving large chunks of metal at high speed doesn't mean it's outdated!

"That simply can't be replicated by fancy looking buses, as with the FTR they can easily be re-routed or withdrawn entirely."

That inflexibility is indeed a benefit of trams as well as a downside, though in cities with a complex web of tram lines like The Hague they do re-route them almost as often as buses!

That said, MK's bus network doesn't

change so often either. And buses can be given the same kind of unimpeded flow as trams if the right priority measures are used. Sadly in the UK they rarely are, and buses end up sitting in traffic jams at junctions when they should have sped past the junction with all other traffic stopped.

Neil

dwarfer1979 said...

Neil & PeteB - the point about outdated technology is that by the point this scheme is introduced it is likely we will be able to run electric buses without the 'knitting'. With induction charging (as being trialled in Milton Keynes & appearing in a number of cities around the world) & the increasing ranges finally starting to appear for batteries tieing the scheme to a trolleybus risks spending money on infrastructure that isn't necessary. Going wireless, so to speak, would also allow the scheme to benefit a greater area of Leeds as the buses can run out further into the suburbs beyond where this current scheme will terminate. The basic principle of the bus priority improvements, roads & lanes is a good thing and should be supported but if you saved the cost of stringing wires up along the full route they could, possibly, be able to have a wider network included in the scheme.

Neil - money always has to be at the bottom of any thought process. Even if you want a European style system funded by higher taxes, how much extra money to pay for how good a service? If you are relying on taxation you always have to compete with other sectors for money and it has to be justified in a financial sense of worth the investment. I don't think anyone would agree that a blank cheque with no further input would be a good idea in any sphere of life.

Chris - I think there is too much credence given to the supposed ability of bus services to change, despite what is routinely said major high-frequency bus routes don't change that much either. You may split a route and/or merge with another (the same can happen with a tram or train if you have a big enough network - nothing to stop Supertram switching which trams run across Sheffield & which terminate in the city centre like buses do) but the basic route down the road will still be there at a similar frequency (it is different for low frequency services but they aren't the ones that would ever have a tram or any sort of investment). The FTR buses may have gone (largely due to changing political views which can happen just as easily to trolleybuses or trams - there are systems being withdrawn in Europe whilst others are started or expanded) but the routes themselves are still there running the same core route at similar frequencies, just with different buses.

Neil said...

"Neil & PeteB - the point about outdated technology is that by the point this scheme is introduced it is likely we will be able to run electric buses without the 'knitting'. With induction charging (as being trialled in Milton Keynes & appearing in a number of cities around the world) & the increasing ranges finally starting to appear for batteries tieing the scheme to a trolleybus risks spending money on infrastructure that isn't necessary."

This is a fair point. However, inductive charging takes time. The route 7 trial has resulted (or will result, when the problems are ironed out - it's back on Solos for now) in an increase in the PVR by one vehicle and one driver so they can sit at the terminus and recharge - and that's not useful layover time which can recover delays, either.

What might work, though, is that you have wires on the core network (main roads) and battery equipment on the bus, then it charges while under the wires, thus being able to avoid complex, unsightly wire systems in city centres, allowing a trolleybus to pass a breakdown or divert, and being able to run extra bits at the end of the route, without needing that wasteful layover.

That approach is being seriously considered for railway branch lines - I think for buses it also has good potential.

PeteB said...

dwarfer1979 - Trolley bus "knitting" is an advantage - the power is always there. The buses don't need heavy batteries. The wires give a psychological advantage of giving confidence when no buses are actually in view that a dependable service exists, similar to the effect tramlines have. The wiring would also justify more priority measures that diesel bus routes currently lack as the capital tied up makes rerouting on a whim less likely.

Compared to that a battery powered bus or hybrid is just .... err.....a bus and just as likely to get stuck in traffic on a winters night with the heating and lighting eating the battery reserves. Many places gridlock following even a minor accident or a nearby motorway is closed, I have visions of battery buses running out of juice mid route as they could not reach a charging point in time.

I think the real 'issue' with trolleys is the UK deregulated bus market. Who would pay and maintain the wiring? Could anyone buy some trolleybuses and run them on 'my' wires? If the local authority owns the wires and I invest in new trolleys what if a competitor runs diesel/battery/hybrids on my route. This simply isn't an issue anywhere else in the world.

Eventually we will have to decide do we make do with a bus service that can be provided commercially but may not meet the needs of the public and LTA in terms of wider social and economic objectives, OR we follow the rest of the developed world and restore public control and pay through our taxes to get a better quality service. That would requite a sea change in government policy, oh and a decent thriving economy with well paid jobs to generate the tax revenue.


Neil said...

Or how about - if we feel commercial operators are better at planning and providing bus services than Councils - letting a commercial operator bid for exclusive operation in an area, e.g. a town? A bit like rail franchising?

That way, the company can invest safe in the knowledge that a cheapo-crappo competitor won't throw them out of the market.

Anon Y. Mouse said...

Nice idea Neil, but if you look back to the WCML fiasco involving First Group underbidding everyone else (and the inevitable mess that has been the result) I can't see it working too well with bus operations!

Certain stetson wearing folk could well buy a fleet of tatty old heaps and bid ridiculously low to get the work - the local authority in question will accept the bid purely on cost terms and then wonder why no-ones bus turns up!

James said...

They could at least apply the Leeds City livery properly... :-)