Raising the standard

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The new fleet will carry a striking red and gloss black colour scheme. JONATHAN WELCH

Jonathan Welch reports from the launch of Transdev’s new route 36 buses for its Harrogate Bus Company subsidiary

It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I attended the launch of Transdev’s latest WitchWay double-deckers, though that was back in late January 2021, and the event was dampened by thoroughly miserable and wet winter weather. There were no such worries this time around though, as Transdev’s Harrogate Bus Company launched the latest high-spec double-deckers to enter its fleet in the shape of new Alexander Dennis Enviro400EV electrics for its route 36 between Leeds and Ripon via the famous North Yorkshire spa town.

The launch event was held outside Harrogate’s Yorkshire Hotel, and as well as the unveiling of the first vehicle, featured entertainment, refreshments, family fun events, and thankfully, warm sunshine and blue skies.

Transdev described the event as a ‘movie star’ launch, and the festivities certainly attracted the attention of passers-by.

Also on display was a Mercedes-Benz eCitaro demonstrator, giving a flavour of what is to come for local services around Harrogate, where 20 of the type will join existing Volvo 7900 electrics on local services. Transdev naturally took advantage of the interest to promote the route, with timetables and publicity, but also used it to push its recruitment drive, advertising its driving roles across the region. Hidden under a black cloth outside the hotel until its reveal, the new Enviro400EV represented the first of 19 of the battery-electric buses for the operator’s route 36, which has long been one of its most high-profile routes across the north of England and featured high-specification buses. The operator follows Stagecoach Oxford as the second customer for Alexander Dennis’ new model, and will be the first to employ such buses on an intensive interurban service involving long stretches of interurban running at higher speeds.

Overhead charging


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To facilitate all-day operation departures up to every 10 minutes on the 27-mile route between Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon, the new double-deckers are fitted with roof-mounted charging rails to allow their 472kWh battery packs be topped up by pantograph during layovers at Harrogate bus station, mid-way along the route, though the manufacturer says that the need for additional energy will be kept to a minimum thanks to the efficient driveline using the heavy-duty version of the Voith Electrical Drive System.

The new buses include bespoke wood-effect flooring from Altro, featuring a herringbone pattern, USB and wireless mobile device charging and latest audio-visual passenger information systems including displays facing the two wheelchair bays. High-quality, comfortable coach-style seats are arranged in a 2+1 pattern on the upper deck aft of the stairs, with reclining single seats on the offside featuring large armrests with cup holders. The seats are spaced far enough apart that they can be reclined without compromising comfort for the person behind, whilst on the nearside, the double seats opposite are spaced further apart than usual to give more space.

Glazed roof panels make the interior bright and airy. Folding armrests are provided on all aisle seats, except, I noticed, the offside front seat pair. Behind the offside front pair of seats (there’s only one pair forward of the stairs instead of the usual two) a large litter bin is also provided. Across the rear, four widely-spaced seats replace the usual five.

Downstairs, a similar environment is provided, with no rear-facing seats over the rear wheels. In their place, a table with wireless charging and stainless steel cup holders turns the area from cramped and uncomfortable to a spacious and inviting place to travel. Boarding passengers are greeted by a large mural and glass stair panel with the ‘36’ logo, whilst a cab without the now-standard Perspex screen makes for a much more friendly welcome as passengers board.

The upper deck has a mix of standard double seats and seats in a 2+1 configuration with extra space. JONATHAN WELCH
The single seats upstairs recline. JONATHAN WELCH


Alexander Dennis President & Managing Director Paul Davies said: “We are extremely honoured that Transdev Blazefield has chosen our next-generation Enviro400EV for its investment in a stunning new generation of buses for The Harrogate Bus Company’s iconic route 36. Our Enviro400EV is excellently suited to the interurban nature of this service, with our heavy-duty driveline perfectly matched to the requirements of route 36, delivering the power required whilst offering the efficiency needed to comfortably cover high daily mileages. We’re combining this with class-leading warrantable energy throughput to ensure these buses will go further for longer, driving value for Transdev through their efficiency and longevity.”

The new buses have been funded with the aid of £7.8m through the first round of the Government’s ZEBRA (Zero-Emission Bus Regional Areas) scheme, funding which Transdev worked with partner North Yorkshire Council to secure.

The 20 new eCitaros will be used on local routes 1 from Harrogate to Knaresborough, 7 to Wetherby and Leeds, and 24 to Pateley Bridge. In what Transdev believes is a first for Mercedes-Benz, for whom the Citaro and eCitaro are customisable but highly standardised products, they are being specified to match Transdev’s exacting requirements, including using the same seating as on the Enviro400EVs rather than the standard eCitaro seat options.

Local content

Managing Director of The Harrogate Bus Company’s parent company Transdev Blazefield Henri Rohard welcomed guests to the event. He acknowledged the huge progress and development of electric bus technology since the Volvo 7900E buses were introduced to the town in 2018, and that now the time was right to look for buses for the company’s more intensive and long-distance services.

“We needed something that would be robust,” he said, explaining that the launch was the culmination of work which started in 2021 and adding that the company was grateful for the co-operation and funding from the ZEBRA scheme.

Henri said: “We are delighted to be working with Alexander Dennis on the next generation of the 36. This service has a special place in Transdev Blazefield network. I believe that the configuration considered in this bus is the best available and integrates all the latest innovation that we could think of. The design has been considered to improve our passenger comfort, safety, and accessibility. We will continue to integrate after the launch, additional features to further boost the quality of our passenger and driver on board information. We are looking forward to welcoming these buses into our fleet in the coming months.

“There are a lot of ‘firsts’ in this bus. I hope they will push other operators to raise their standards,” he added, pointing out that there has been a lot of local input into the new vehicles: “80% of the components in both of these new buses are produced in the UK or in Europe – and Yorkshire-based company OGL Construction has installed charging facilities at our depot in Starbeck and at Harrogate bus station,” he said.

There were specially-made cupcakes and beer from a local brewery to help celebrate the launch, alongside extensive printed publicity. JONATHAN WELCH

Sound investment

“We needed a bus that is going to be robust for our more intensive services – most of our existing buses on route 36 are covering over 100,000 kilometres, or 62,100 miles, a year, with two million customer journeys per annum. These two bus designs are custom engineered to deliver a positive step change in performance across our most popular routes,” Henri continued.

“This new generation of buses has been three years in the making with a successful application for £7.8 million through ZEBRA by our exceptional partner North Yorkshire Council, supporting our own investment to make this exciting project a reality.”

The new buses also feature a camera mirror system in place of traditional mirrors, and a glazed staircase, as well as seat-back units providing wireless mobile device charging and a low-level reading light.

Two dedicated wheelchair spaces are provided. Yorkshire disability rights campaigner Flick Williams was first to try the wheelchair spaces on the new bus at the Harrogate launch, and said: “I think it’s fabulous – lots of families with two wheelchair users can now travel together on the same bus, while the colour contrasted flooring will help visually impaired people to find their seat.

“The backs of the seats are colour contrasted so it’s much easier for partially sighted people, and the glazed staircase makes the lower deck wheelchair space a much lighter and pleasanter place to be.

“This bus company is showing that it takes accessibility seriously with these amazing new buses, and in how well it trains its drivers. I can honestly say I’ve never experienced an issue with a Transdev bus driver.”

Henri also thanked the teams at EvoBus for their part in delivering the forthcoming eCitaro models for Harrogate and Keighley, and added that more new buses would be arriving in the near future for the company’s ‘Flyer’ service to Leeds-Bradford airport.

Flagship route

Speaking to CBW, Henri said that as a flagship route which carries around 8% of Transdev’s total number of UK passengers, the 36 is one of the services it uses to show off the best the industry can achieve. “It’s like a BRT but on an interurban level,” he said. “We have a lot of suppliers who help us to achieve what we have produced. The additional cost impact of these high-specification buses isn’t that much compared to a traditional double-decker.

The route is currently operated by diesel Wrightbus Gemini 3 Volvo B5TLs. JONATHAN WELCH

“We chose the Enviro400EV because not many buses can give us the mileage that we need. Even with diesel, it’s complex, so electric is even more so.”

“We approached two other manufacturers, and they couldn’t give us the spec, with coach seating, a glass roof, double glazing, and enough range on an electric bus,” added Operations Director Vitto Pizzuti. “When we started looking around, no-one could do what we wanted to do. The 36 is our flagship and has its own standards. Trying to bring a new technology, whilst keeping in all the things that we want, air-conditioning for the driver, air cooling for the passengers, pantograph charging,… it was impossible. It’s been a long journey, but Alexander Dennis has really stepped up and delivered a bus that is incredible.

“We have hearing loops upstairs and down, and the most advanced TFT screens from Navaho, who also really came to the party and have fitted the same technology used in London.”

Alongside the new buses, to ensure that beauty is not just skin deep, Vitto explained that Transdev has also invested in a new control room in Harrogate to help support company-wide operations and improve its punctuality and reliability. “We’ve had driver shortages, and the £2 fare has meant that we’ve had to look at how we deliver routes like the 36 or Coastliner to accommodate the extra demand. On top of that, worldwide supply chain issues beyond our control have impacted everyone,” he said.

Turning to the eCitaros, Vitto explained that the new buses would enable the longer routes to operate electric vehicles without the need for opportunity charging or the need to schedule extra buses to cover for charging times. “We wanted Mercedes-Benz to raise the bar,” he said. “We’ll have the first Citaros with Kiel seating to match the 36, and with wireless charging which Mercedes-Benz hasn’t done for anyone else. The Citaro is a fantastic product with class-leading range with their NMC3 batteries, but can be very standardised. We are really excited to see the end result.”

Speaking about Transdev’s wider operations, Vitto explained that the company also has 15 new buses coming for its ‘Shuttle’ route in Keighley, where depot electrification is currently ongoing. We can show people what we’ve done here with pantograph charging and double-deckers, and what we could do elsewhere.

Despite the advances in technology, operating electric buses is still a challenge, Vitto added, in terms of electrifying depots and also managing costs, given the rising price of electricity, noting that the operating cost of a diesel bus remains cheaper.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting the electricity supply to the depot,” Vitto added.

Looking at wider industry issues, Henri said that the industry next needs an exit plan as it approaches a potential end date for the £2 fare cap. Looking beyond the general election, he said that ongoing support from Government is vital. “We need to have a long-term plan,” he said.

Transdev says that final testing and driver familiarisation of the first Enviro400EV is now underway, and it expects to begin introducing its new fleet to route 36 in September, with the eCitaros due to begin entering service at around the same time.

Mercedes-Benz demonstrator BF24 AHC gave an impression of how Harrogate’s other new electric buses will look. JONATHAN WELCH