It made a pleasant change to get the train up to London thanks to a decent deal on an Off peak Return from Greater Anglia. I'd forgotten how comfortable those Mk 3 coaches were, and it certainly beat driving down the A12 again.
|90004 at Ipswich|
|The U\SB charger in action and the BYD E200e at Finsbury Park. note the very low roundel|
A stroll through Victoria Station and its shopping arcade and I was back at the Collonades Bus Station to catch the 702. I had been asked to give my opinion of the BCI Excellence which is on trial on the route, and I jumped at the chance. As I've ridden the Excellence during the day I thought I'd catch up with it for a ride after dark, which gave me time for other things.
Waiting on the stop was Reading Buses 1212, an ADL E400 in all over Vamooz livery, not what I was expecting. However a quick message to Reading Buses supremo Martijn Gilbert and all was made clear. Because this bus has a high ratio differential it is used as the official spare bus for the route. Perfectly acceptable for a 7yo bus, minimal rattles and it certainly moves.
|Reading Buses 1212 at Victoria Collonades Bus Station|
|Emirates A380 approaching Heathrow|
|Thames Valley Omniciti YN56 FBK at Windsor|
Due to Friday afternoon congestion in Hammersmith made worse by a broken down vehicle the Excellence was delayed by half hour, but Lordy was it worth the wait.
|BCI Excellence in Ensignbus demonstrator green arrives at Slough|
Since I last rode an Excellence, when Borderbus had one last year I have been on just about every new bus in production there is. Scania MMC's, electric buses, gas deckers, hydrogen buses, Streetdecks, Volvo B5LH's, the lot. The BCI Enterprise is head, shoulders and torso above the rest. I was impressed last year, but you will know I tend not to really judge a bus until it's 6 months old. Well this demonstrator is, and I fell in love with it all over again. The ride is amazing. Nothing but nothing rattles, it is astonishingly quiet, the seats I'd happily sit on all day, and then we come to a feature I didn't know it had, because I'd only ridden it during the day - the lighting.
When the bus doors are open the interior lights are bright. However 10 seconds after the doors close they dim, meaning you can look easily out of the window and see something other than your own reflection. Not great if you want to read the paper I'll admit, but most people are on their phones these days so the majority will love it. At Bracknell there was just enough time to grab a couple of photos before Peter, our driver loaded up for the return journey, taking no layover whatsoever except a quick trip to the loo, but after he had loaded up, getting customers out of the cold before he did.
|The Excellence at Bracknell|
Secondly while waxing lyrical about the lights dimming Peter pointed out that the door lights stayed on for the same 10 seconds after closing, which does make the cab area very bright while pulling away. Could those lights be on a separate circuit to just come on and off with the doors opening and closing?
But that was it. The nicest driving seat he had ever had, and on the motorway the Excellence still felt like a coach whereas all the others "turned back into buses and were affected by wind noise".
Drivers like Peter Cotton are priceless in their value to an operator. I have never had a more detailed or thoughtful analysis of a bus from a driver before, and it appears there is a great amount of discussion among the Greenline drivers as to what will suit the route best.
Quite simply they want Enterprises, big brother to the Excellence. Peter explained that they would give extra capacity for Legoland, which will be required in the Summer months, and the rear wheel steering would mean the tighter places at the Bracknell end would be manageable - after all, as he pointed out, there are Scania tri-axles already on the route. Put 4 tables upstairs, and you have a great selling point. But if not Excellences will do just fine. Peter tweeted the day after we met "Stunning bus to drive, best demo so far". Peter, it was an absolute joy to both meet and be driven by you, and I'll try and ensure you are driving any future demonstrators I check out!
So what are my conclusions for Martijn and his team. Well, an ideal bus has to tick many boxes. Will the passengers like it? Overwhelmingly yes, especially after Reading Buses have personalised it in their own customer friendly way. The ride is very quiet, even downstairs which puts it miles ahead of anything else, It doesn't rattle and seats are great. Will the drivers like it? In this case the drivers don't just like it they want it. Is it affordable? The Excellence is in the same price band as the E400MMC and so, so, much better so yes. Unfortunately the boxes I can't tick are the engineering ones - fuel economy, availability of parts, reliability etc, but I know John Bickerton at Reading will be poring over data as I type. I also spoke to Ross Newman the other night who told me he will buy BCI again over anything available from the UK market. Says a lot.
It was a bold, some might say very risky move to call a bus an Excellence. Asking for ridicule and it to come back to bite you. However BCI knew what they were talking about and have been vindicated. A few years ago Malcolm Robson asked me what I thought of the Mercedes Citaro demonstrator at Ipswich Buses. I rode it, and emailed him one word - "invest". They did, though sadly not to the same spec, which I'm guessing was taken out of Malcolm's hands by how much IBC would cough up. My advice to Martijn and John at Reading buses is the same. You have found your bus. The only bus that could top the Excellence is the Enterprise. I suggest you both ride it in service to see what your customers will see, and listen to your drivers. I didn't want to get off it, and no bus has done that built in the last few decades!
The day didn't end there, as I had my first ride on an IEP back to Paddington from Slough, but that can wait for the next post. Today belongs to this wonderful bus that proves it can be done if enough thought goes into it, and all the complaining about body noise is justified.
|Rear view at Bracknell|