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
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.