Saturday 21 November 2015

The Ultimate Bus Comparison Part Four

If you haven't yet read Parts One, Two, and Three yet you really need to or this will all seem rather confusing.

On Sunday afternoon after lunch in Edinburgh City Centre the rain closed in so my friend and I decided to go to the cinema to see the new Bond film. I'm not here to review the film but can someone give the director a slap and tell him the 15 does NOT go over Westminster Bridge, or indeed any bridge over the Thames! However to get to the cinema meant a ride on one of Lothian's Volvo 7900 Hybrids. I wasn't expecting one of these to be part of the comparison but I'm glad it was.

I went on one of Lothian's older models last year, as well as the ones First Essex have on the 100 Chelmsford - Lakeside service and hated them so much I even tweeted Volvo to say so. But I had a pleasant surprise - the newer ones are a vast improvement. The gap between electric motor cutting out and diesel engine cutting in is much shorter, the horrible vibrations have gone - it's feels far less than a B6 now, and it was a good comfortable ride. My only concern, which my friend who travels regularly on them brought up, is that they are stuffy with no opening windows. I'm not sure in a capital city that is a good move as the climate never has a chance to settle. I would think in Summer they can get extremely hot, but still a massive improvement on the original 7900's.

Lothian Buses 38 Volvo 7900 Hybrid BG64 FXL in Princes Street Edinburgh
I had saved what I hoped would be the best till last. On Monday I caught a Scotrail Class 170 up the east coast in glorious sunshine to Aberdeen. Ever since I read about a joint venture between First and Stagecoach in Aberdeen involving some Van Hool tri-axle A330 hydrogen buses I had wanted to ride one.

First of all they are very big, however are still only 42 seaters which is surprising as it looked more. Anyhow I quickly located the bus station, and boarded one of the Stagecoach versions to Westhill, a suburb of Aberdeen about a 30 min journey away. I must say they look rather impressive.

Stageoach 29905 Van Hool A330 Hydrogen bus SV64 BRZ in Westhill, Aberdeen
As you would expect from a gas bus they are quiet. What I didn't expect, though, was that they only appear to have one gear, so sound more like a tram than a bus, and top speed seems very low, 40 - 45 at a very maximum. The air conditioning was ok and if it hadn't been for one major point I would have loved them.

Rear of 29901
Quite simply they have no suspension. None at all. Aberdeen is not blessed with silky smooth roads and whenever we hit a pot hole it wasn't just the bus that rattled - and to be fair it didn't rattle much - but I rattled too. On several occasions my spine was jarred and I've never experienced that on a bus before. I can't help wondering if that has something to do with the tri-axle element of the vehicle. But whatever the reason it lets this otherwise decent bus down badly, and that's a shame as there ae many things to like about them.

First 64994 SV14 FYR in aberdeen
There was much more to see in Aberdeen, including one of the most bizarre rare workings I've ever seen, and a fleet of buses I heard very interesting whispers about, but I will do a separate post for that. Suffice it to say Aberdeen was the most interesting and varied place for buses I've been to for decades and I'm definitely making a return visit soon.

And so I need to declare the winner - what is the best new bus around at the moment. Obvously for town work it's the Borismaster, but since it's not possible to travel on one out of town yet they can't really be included in an overall survey. So these are the contenders.

Wright Streetlight
Wright Steetdeck
Volvo B5tl Gemini 3
Volvo 7900 Hybrid
Van Hool A330 Hydrogen Cell Bus

I knew which had come bottom but as I travelled from Norwich to Beccles 24 hours into my return journey on Tuesday I was still pondering which vehicle should win. Nothing is perfect and ticks all of my boxes. Then reality kicked in and I realised I was traveling on a bus that was quiet, smooth, comfortable, didn't rattle, not stuffy despite a full load, still pulled away well despite a full load, in fact all round the best bus I had travelled on all trip. So the winner of best new bus on the market is a 7 year old Volvo B9tl Gemini 1.

37568 seen in Norwich Bus Station last year
However it would be unfair if I didn't pick a winner from my list and it must be said that Alexander Dennis have put their act together whereas Wright have gone decidedly wrong. Those who are mournng the fact Norwich lost out on the Streetdecks can breath a sigh of relief. Chris - your aim should be to get as many Geminis as possible for Eastern Counties as they last the pace better than anything else! New vehicles go for MMC's as they are the best new buses around. So if I was waiting at a bus stop not knowing what was about to turn up, this would be my order of preference from the vehicles I sampled last weekend.

1. ADL E400MMC
2. ADL E200MMC
3. Volvo B5tl Gemini 3
4. Volvo 7900 Hybrid
5. Van Hool A330 Hydrogen Cell Bus
6. Wright Streetdeck
7. Wright Streetlite

Look out for special posts on Aberdeen and Borders Railway but I hope you've enjoyed this completely unscientific survey. I always say I'm a passenger first and foremost and these reviews are based soley on the pleasure I derived from traveling on them. Of course cost, fuel economy, emissions etc all play a part in what operators purchase but my backside doesn't take that into account.


  1. Knew it was worth waiting for ! I know your interest was piqued when Suzy linked that 200mmc. So the conclusion is....let everybody else have the new stuff and we get the only slightly used Gemini's plus a few mmc's for good measure !!

    1. Sounds about right, Tim! Went all that way when a simple journey from Beccles to Norwich told me everything I needed to know!

  2. we've got 5 StreetDecks coming in March for the yellow line! And then "some more over the next 12 months after that" apparently

    1. Where's the source for that?

    2. I've just had that confirmed by First - 5 is the minimum but talks are still ongoing. I have suggested swapping them for MMC's.......

    3. Been spoken of for quite a while now, chap outside the office told me a month or so ago. Should the three for yellow line and two generic - but as you say more possible

    4. Lol we were all expecting 11 of them for the pink line - indeed they had already been painted hence the hastily created new pink line in Bristol! So I don't believe anything is actually coming until it turns up. Not that I'm getting hot flushes about Steetdecks anyway as you'll have probably guessed from my reviews of them!

  3. Interesting stuff. I hardly ever get the opportunity these days to ride deckers locally, but definitely prefer the current crop of single deckers from ADL over WrightBus. Sadly I think First threw in most of their lot (outside of their Scottish and northern heartlands) with the latter a couple of years ago, and some of their staff thought it was a dodgy decision at the time.

    Given that profitable routes, and often passengers, are hard to come by, I think a lot of the business is now trying to "rationalise" i.e. reduce engineering/servicing costs by reducing the range of buses in the local fleet (and reducing the number of depots too). So provided you've got the passengers and the routes to cope (which I suspect East Norfolk has), getting hold of as many of the Geminis going as you can sounds like a great idea for East Norfolk! I'm envious! Down here in Essex I think we're stuck with a WrightBus press release. Fortunately these days I more often head into Arriva country where I hope more sense prevails. Generally the passengers don't seem too impressed with the Streetlites as far as I can tell as they don't seem to increase the patronage locally, which looks fairly poor anyway in mid-Essex compared to what I see elsewhere. If we can't change the buses, perhaps we could change the bus company?

  4. If I remember those Streetdecks were pencilled in for the park and ride but were only allocated after the tender was let

    1. Yes, pretty much.

      As I remember the timeline it was initially 20 odd Streetdecks intended solely for the Park and Ride contract (which as we know went to Konect), then it subsequently went down to 8 Streetdecks (intended for the Norwich pink line 11), then after that it went down to 0.