Wednesday 18 May 2016

Electric Decker Review

Yesterday en route to Kent I was able to free up some time in an attempt to sample a revolution in bus evolution. 5 Chinese Build Your Dreams (BYD) fully electric double decker buses have been delivered to Metroline's Willesden garage and are now finally out in service on the 98, which operates between Willesden garage and Russell Square via Maida Vale and Oxford St. So after riding the first Borismaster I've ever noticed serious rattling on - LT52 for your information - and an old ALX400 I got to Tottenham Court Rd and waited for my first glimpse of these revolutionary buses. I waited for quite some time actually and only saw some 04 reg Presidents and a couple of 15 reg Gemini 3's on the 98. As this was mid afternoon and I still had to bus it down to Kent I asked a driver if they were out to be told they only operate in the peaks. So I decided to catch a 98 further up the route to hopefully be in the right place when they came out to play. So I boarded one of the aforementioned Presidents - not that bad as it happens - and immediately passed an electric bus going the other way. Between Oxford St and Kilburn High Rd we didn't pass anything else, so I alighted, got some stomach fuel, thinking at least I knew there would be one about 40 mins behind me. And as it happens that s what I ended up catching. BYD1472  LJ16 EZN silently pulled up and I boarded, went upstairs and waited for the future to hit me between the eyes.

BYD1472 Electric bus at Willesden Garage
It must be said it doesn't look that futuristic. The front is reminiscent of a President, and if I'm honest the top deck interior does little to detract from that impression.

Top deck of the electric bus
Yes those seats are as hard as they look. I couldn't get a lower deck interior shot but there is no rear window and what seats there were looked rather crammed in. The plastic is very plastic, including the window surrounds.

When I travelled on a single deck version a couple of years ago I bizarrely described it as "a tram on wheels". I knew what I meant though, a tram with a steering wheel would have been a better description. The double deck version feels like a tube train with a steering wheel, and sounds like it too - you go on one of the Northern Line trains and you have the right soundtrack. The doors on the decker are very noisy, not the action but the doors themselves crash and bang oen and shut. Acceleration is phenomenal though - I doubt there is a faster accelerating bus around and it must be said the brakes are smoother than any new bus I've been on for ages. It only appears to have one gear so no jerky gear changes either.

Rear view of BYD1472
 As you can see from the pics I ended up travelling to Willesden garage, then back to Marble Arch as BYd1472 was the only one of the 5 out in service yesterday. Why that was I don't know, but we had a tense couple of mins halfway back when a lot of sirens and alarms suddenly sounded. The driver had to basically reboot the bus to get it going again.

Ready to return to Central London
So what are my conclusions. Well I thought I'd do it in table form, marking out of 10 for a change so here goes.

Exterior appearance: 2 - nothing modern about the look
Interior design and comfort: 2 - cheap plastic and uncomfortable seats
Ride quality: 4 - very bumpy and suspension negligible
Acceleration: 10 - just wow
Brakes: 9 - smoothest brakes around on new bus
Soundtrack: 8 - far better than expected
Build Quality: 1 - this will be rattling no end in weeks
Feel Good Factor: 5 - give this bus a better body and it would be much nicer to ride on

That gives an average rating of 5.125 out of 10 and that's about fair I think. Its good points are really good and its bad points are awful. One thing I can't get out of my head though. When these buses first arrived I watched a publicity video where a chap from TfL proudly stated that "older passengers will think they are riding a 1950's trolleybus". That's not exactly progress and I can't really see an electric revolution coming. Yes no emissions but what is the cost of charging these things. The emissions are still created somewhere. And why spend Lord knows how many millions developing these buses when you could just bring back trolleybuses - trams on tyres - and be done with it. We were stuck in the same jams after all.

As a concept it's good, it's a start, but just as Edison's first lightbulb won't have lit up Wembley Stadium I very much doubt these BYD electric buses will light up the bus industry. Who knows what might spawn from them though.



  1. Andrew Kleissner18 May 2016 at 23:35

    I believe I'm right in saying that electric motors (and steam engines!) produce maximum torque on starting, while internal combustion engines basically produce none - which is why you have to have clutches, torque converters and gearboxes. That would seem to make an electric bus ideal for urban routes. If you can use the brakes as dynamos (retarders) to recharge the batteries too then you're onto a winner: low brake-pad wear and longer range. Don't know if these buses do it though.

    You're right about the pollution having to be created somewhere, but I suspect that a power station is much more efficient (and cleaner) at converting fuel into electricity than a multiplicity of petrol or diesel engines.

    1. I would hazard a guess that yes we have no retarders could be sung about the BYD decker. Streetlites etc have retarders and we know what the braking is like on them. The braking was one of the high points of the BYD, as smooth as you like so if there was a retarder they need to market it!

  2. Thomas Browne) Build your dreams ha ha. Just off the subject of electric buses. Heres this what I found on the internet. Its a New Routemaster but on a Volvo B5LH chassis. The description said the bus is on trial in London and only has the conventional 2 door's rather than the 3 door's like on the normal NBFL. Here's a link.

    1. I believe it's out in service now, Thomas but I'm not sure what route. I know Metroline have got it though.