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Witchever way you look, new buses will be zapping about on Transdev routes in Lancashire and Yorkshire from this week. Jonathan Welch takes a closer look at the new buses for CityZap and Witchway

On Sunday 13 December, Transdev’s spellbinding new buses went into service on its Witchway route serving Burnley, Rawtenstall and Manchester, whilst across the Pennines in Yorkshire, commuters and shoppers alike will be seeing the benefits of similar new double-deckers on the Leeds-York Cityzap interurban express route. As well as taking customers into the heart of York and Leeds, the new Cityzap buses will also now for the first time serve the Logic Leeds development, home to Amazon’s £60m distribution complex, opening up new travel opportunities for hundreds of the online retailer’s staff.

The new ADL Enviro400s for Cityzap retain the champagne and red colour scheme. TRANSDEV

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It is fair to say that buses have come on a long way in the last decade or two. Look back even further, and even with the most rose of tinted spectacles, it would be difficult to look at them from a passenger’s point of view and argue that the old ones are better, no matter how big a dollop of nostalgia you top it with. So it might be easy to dismiss the pizazz and razzmatazz of a Transdev Blazefield launch as just more PR. The Enviro400MMC I travelled on in north-east Scotland a few months ago, for example, was every bit the modern bus: clean, quiet, comfortable, as was the Enviro200MMC of John Leask & Sons in Lerwick at the beginning of the year. So what is different here? Is it just another brand, another livery, or is there something more to it?

Yes, there is more. When I arrived at Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry for a low-key launch, I wasn’t sure what to expect but as the buses came around the corner, their striking orange and black livery very much made them stand out, along with their immaculate-looking drivers behind the wheel in smart white shirts and matching bright orange ties.

Modern and stylish

Before sitting down for a chat with drivers John, Beata, Umair and Mark and Transdev CEO Alex Hornby about the new buses, I had chance to have a quick look around the new ‘Sky Class’ buses. From the outset, impressions were very positive. On the outside, the branding is clear, neat and concise as you would expect from a Best Impressions livery. The white LED destination displays were equally clear and easy to read from all angles, and at roof level an illuminated orange strip adds some drama and light to the black livery.

Stepping aboard, the brand is brought inside by neatly designed vinyls on the cab doors, leading to full height artwork on the stair panels, along with illuminated glass. Looking down the bus, the charcoal and orange seats finished in bespoke moquette and leather give a high quality feel, but there are many small touches which elevate them to a higher level from the ground up.

On both decks, the rear seats consist of four seats not five, spaced out with neat dividers in between. Downstairs, removing the rear facing seats gives room for tables – something more associated with commuter rail travel than the mere humble bus. The orange light theme continues on the interior too, with orange LED strips built into the window ledges on both decks.

Upper lounge

Passengers ascending to the ‘Sky Class’ lounge that is the upper deck are greeted by what must be the best specified double-decker bus in service in the UK, if not the world. 2+1 seating around the stairwell gives excellent circulation room, and those lucky enough to bag themselves one of the single seats will find built-in wood and leather arm rests and cup holders. The space between the side wall and the edge of the seat has a bespoke leather insert to fill the gap. A little further back, the only rearward facing seats on board are found aft of the stairwell, forming a ‘family table’ of four seats around a wooden table, whilst a neat and welcome bin is provided to help keep the upper deck tidy.

The eye for detail has been such that even the table is worthy of note: a wood finish, with elegant curve at the end, cup holders built in, and invisible wireless chargers under the surface. The twin seat opposite features a similar table and extra leg room, whilst further back the well-spaced seats feature ADL’s seat back units, which contain a bell push, coat hook, phone holder, USB and wireless charger. The three large glazed roof panels add to the bright and airy atmosphere, even on a grey and miserable northern day. On the Witchway buses, the dark moquette combined with flashes of orange makes for a very refined interior: the atmosphere and style would not be out of place in a modern coffee shop.

Similar buses to the same specification have also been delivered for use on Transdev’s Cityzap route between Leeds and York. These feature an updated version of the red and champagne livery, with interiors using a red palette that gives a vibrant and youthful feel. Both fleets will be in service from Sunday 13 December.

£5.2m investment

Alex Hornby, Transdev CEO, was on hand at the launch event for the Witchway buses outside Manchester’s well known Museum of Science and Industry to explain more about the new buses and what they mean for the company, its drivers and its passengers. “We committed to this investment in these amazing new buses before Covid,” he explained, “and went ahead with it as we see it as a tool to get people back as things start to recover. The total cost has been £3.8m for Witchway, and £1.4m for Cityzap.

“We did extensive testing of a number of different buses, and the proven Cummins-engined Alexander Dennis (ADL) Enviro400 came out on top for its handling and ability to pick up speed. The drivers really liked them too.

They are the first ADL buses we have bought for over 20 years. We set a very demanding specification, and ADL came with us on the journey to create our new buses. ADL’s designer Simon Bishop was brilliant, his attitude was ‘yes we can do that.’ It has been a real collaboration between ourselves, Ray Stenning at Best Impressions and ADL to produce these outstanding new buses.”

Talking about the order, Paul Davies, ADL President & Managing Director, commented: “With these new buses for Witchway and Cityzap, Transdev has once again raised the bar for what makes an amazing bus. No-one else has buses quite like these, with such a unique specification and design. We’re proud to have been chosen to build the new fleet and have embraced the challenge of creating a bus which performs as well for the driver and engineering teams as it does for the customer. It’s no surprise therefore that these are the highest-specified Enviro400 double-deckers we have ever built – and we cannot wait to see them on the road, expertly driven and looked-after by the teams in Burnley and York.”

Talking about the interiors, Alex continued: “The Kiel seating is a first in the UK in this application. We chose it not just for comfort but also for its lower back, which allows people to see out and enjoy the forward views. Our research has shown that people like to be able to look out.”

The seats are trimmed in bespoke moquette with real leather inserts: Transdev also produced a number of cushions featuring the new Witchway and Cityzap moquette, available for £25 via its online shop, with proceeds going to NHS Charities Together. At the time of writing, cushions in Witchway colours had already sold out, with a limited number of Cityzap ones remaining.

The striking new livery for the Witchway route is a Best Impressions creation. TRANSDEV

Audio-visual announcements

Transdev has also chosen to make a feature out of the next stop announcements, which are done by local celebrities. On the Witchway buses, actress Jennie McAlpine, best known for her role in ITV’s Coronation Street, provides the voice, whilst over in Yorkshire, passengers will hear local TV weather forecaster Paul Hudson.

Alex explained that the audio-visual system doesn’t just announce the upcoming stop, but will also display bus and rail connections in real time, as well as highlighting key destinations and attractions along the route. Thought has also been given to the future, with extra messages recorded, such as to advise of the bus being diverted, and to reduce the risk of the announcements becoming repetitive, different phrases are used when announcing stops.

“We didn’t want a robotic voice,” Alex said. “Jennie is a great example of a welcoming, northern voice. She really got into the spirit of it.”


For those not wishing to look out of the window or who want to give their tech a rest, a more traditional option is also available on board: “The average journey on Witchway is 40 to 60 minutes, and around 60 minutes on Cityzap,” Alex explained, “so we have also included a Book Club shelf on the lower deck. People like to have a good read when they are on their way to work.”

Whereas the buses for Cityzap have remained very close in terms of image to their predecessors, Witchway has seen a revamp of the brand. “The brand was introduced in 2004, and this is its third refresh,” Alex explained.

Originally using black and red Wright Eclipse double deckers, the service them moved to a two-tone grey livery. “We think this is the most spectacular,” Alex continued. “We introduced the orange as this is our Burnley brand colour, where the buses are based. With the black it looks very striking, and has a real air of quality.”

Alex said that the Witchway route had seen some real growth pre-Covid, especially around the growing town of Rawtenstall where he said it was a key selling point for some house buyers, as it meant commuting to Manchester is easy. “It’s almost turning Rawtenstall into a suburb of Manchester. It creates a lifestyle choice and makes the bus relevant to people’s everyday life. The route connects with our Rosso services in Rawtenstall and with Burnley Bus Company routes in Burnley. Our usual timetable has late night buses on a weekend, and will have late night journeys on a Friday as well as Saturday once things return to normal. The journey into Manchester takes the route you would take by car. We take advantage of the M56 from Rawtenstall.”

Witchway has a dedicated team of drivers based at Burnley depot, including Umair, John, Mark and Beata, who have received smart new uniforms in matching orange and black. TRANSDEV

A driver’s view

To match the new buses, dedicated drivers have been issued with matching, smart uniforms including a bright orange tie. Speaking to the drivers present at the launch, they were also very proud of the new buses and of the investment made by Transdev. Burnley-based John Burns said: “This is the fourth generation of buses since I came here in 2002. They have to be the highest specification buses I’ve ever driven. They really are top end, real luxury on wheels. You don’t expect anything like this on a bus, it’s a coach standard.”

John added that he loved the new uniform. “It’s really smart and reflects what the company aims for. It will be great to see people coming on board as things get back to normal, it will give them a whole new experience.”

Drivers Beata Wesolowska and Umair Ali agreed, and were equally proud to be driving the new buses, both taking the opportunity to have a good look around and examine the features of their new workplaces. Fellow driver Mark Smith commented: “They are a fantastic drive. They feel solidly built. The uniform looks very professional too. I think the customers will love the new buses.”

Summing up, Alex said: “We make it our mission to create buses that people want to be seen on. The new Witchway and Cityzap buses raise the bar higher than ever in both comfort and style, all amounting to a journey experience like no other.”

See more of Transdev’s new Witchway buses here: