Sunday 1 January 2017

DDA Day Part One - A Step Too Far?

Never before have there been more bus Running Days over the festive period than there were this year, as the day the huge majority of bus enthusiasts were dreading finally arrived, and step entrance deckers in public service were consigned to history. Operators up and down the country marked the occasion by giving the old war horses one final outing. I went down to Kent to a Running Day organised by Nu Venture and was pleasantly surprised by the turnout, and boy did the memories flow.

Hang on a sec though - did I say old war horses? Sorry the 37's on the Short Set are old war horses - they are 55 years old this year. The final bus I went on yesterday, heading for retirement is 18 years old. That's not old. My car is 15 years old and I don't regard that as old, doesn't drive like an old car either. To put it in perspective there has been media coverage about the average age of the UK rail fleet this week. It varies depending how sensationalist the report is, but the general consensus is it's about 24 years old. That's the average remember not the oldest. If the UK bus fleet was the same the average age would be K registration, and there are precisely zero K registration buses in regular public service in the UK now. Some might say that's a good thing, and it would be if the new buses were any better than the old ones. But they are not. OK engines maybe cleaner, Chantelle and Kayleigh can wheel their buggies on board and be able to concentrate on their Facebitch status rather than their kids throughout the journey, meaning everyone else has to struggle past, causing delays, and some now have air conditioning - essential in our tropical climate.

But in other areas they are no better. Fewer seats downstairs so more people forced upstairs - remember when there were 33 seats downstairs - lucky to get that on single deckers now. Ride and built quality isn't a patch on 30 years ago, Brakes that "harness the konetic energy and return it to the batteries" - oh do shut up - just mean jerky brakes. New buses have had to be built at a rush to meet demand and I'm not looking forward to an 18yo E400 - the longevity just won't be there yet new buses cost the earth because builders know the operators have had no choice but to buy.. Operators have been forced to either buy new or make expensive conversions whilst binning perfectly good vehicles in order to cater for a huge minority of passengers.

Why couldn't the legislation have been less black and white and dictated that a certain percentage of the fleet had to be easy access, that all routes had to have a certain proportion of journeys operated by easy access vehicles and those journeys had to be indicated on the timetable, just like they were when easy access vehicles started to appear in the late 90's. Then fleets could be updated naturally, no rush, less expense, and perfectly good buses not needlessly scrapped. But no, common sense did not prevail and as such I found myself at Chatham with very mixed feelings.

I parked up at Rochester Airport - yes there is one - and caught a service bus into Chatham. An Arriva Sapphire 15 reg E400. Leather seats, plastic panels, rattles, horribly uninspiring. But something to compare everything else I travelled on to.

Bus 1 of the Running Day was Nu Venture's Alexander bodied Leyland Olympian F346 WSC, which was new to Lothian buses in 1988. It was driven yesterday by Norman Kemp, owner of Nu Venture and no it didn't feel 28 years old. A better ride and less rattles than the E400 26 years its junior and soon we were at the base for the event, Asda in the old Chatham Dockyard.

Nu Venture 346 at Chatham
I hadn't been aware there would be so many visiting buses, and my heart leapt when I realised I would be re-united with some old friends. First up was former Arriva Kent & Sussex Plaxton Prestige bodied DAF SB220 T916 KKM. I remember this batch brand new as 6 of them were vinyled for my local route. 916 was new to Northfleet, but saw work out of several Arriva depots before finishing its life at Southend last year. I'm delighted one of the batch is being preserved, and although I didn't have time to ride it yesterday I certainly will as soon as possible.

Preserved Arriva DAF SB220 T916 KKM
I make no apologies for going on a bit about the next bus. Long time readers will know I grew up in the Medway Towns at the height of National Bus Company, and the area was used to test out new vehicles as it was deemed very demanding. One of the types trialed was the Volvo Ailsa, and 5 were sent to Maidstone & District. In the history of buses they are unique. The only non half cab bus I can think of with an offside driver's door, front engined, and a front design upstairs that would have Health & Safety in a cold sweat these days. I've driven them and without doubt they are the Class 37's of the bus world. I'll go more into 5385 LKP 385P in Part Two

Volvo Ailsa LKP 385P
An unusual visitor was this East Lancs bodied Scania N113 owned by Hams Travel of Flimwell in East Sussex. Sadly it didn't operate any services but it was good to see it there.

Hams Travel Scania N113 X8 HAM
After meeting up with Stagecoach bigwig and old friend Matthew Arnold the next ride was a bit special. Nu Venture had two Leyland Titans in service until very recently, and New Year's Eve was A907 SYE's swan song. Again there was nothing wrong with this bus, yes the windows rattled a bit but the seats were comfy, ride smooth, no jerky braking and the old bus defied its 33 years of life, most of it in London. 907 is joining its sister 901 in private preservation and again that's good.

Nu Venture Leyland Titan A907 SYE
Farleigh Coaches of Medway sent along two Northern Counties bodied Volvo Citibuses. Again a bus I'm familiar with, having driven them in London their distinctive B10M engines with the unique brake noise made them great to drive.  FHZ 9600 started life as VC19 G119NGN and London General and has done the rounds before ending up in Kent. Now classified as a coach there's another potential 3 years at least for this bus on school work and private hire.

Farleigh Coaches Volvo Citibus FHZ 9600 at Riverside Country Park, Gillingham
That's it for Part One. Much more to report, with a Routemaster shaped Dart included, and I'm the last ever passenger in public service on an Olympian. Part Two will be up soon, and I will also be announcing the 2016 Steve Awards, and believe me it has not been easy this year!

In the meantime a very Happy New Year to you all, thank you for your continued readership and support, and here's to a very interesting 2017. I have a feeling it could be,


  1. Andrew Kleissner3 January 2017 at 08:47

    Hallo Steve and welcome back. Two quick points:

    - The Press Reports about "old trains" actually got things wrong because they said that the most venerable stock in service, with an age of 41 years, is on the Caledonian Sleeper. They clearly forgot that (so far) the Isle of Wight is still part of Britain and still has trains, which are now in their 78th year!

    - I'm afraid I can't agree with your comment about "a certain proportion" of services on a route being operated by easy-access vehicles. If you need to travel you want to get on the next bus, not have to wait half an hour or more for the next one (or the one after it) to come along, always with the worry that it might not be DDA compliant anyway. The only services on which that might just be acceptable are ones with an extremely frequent intensity (say every 5 minutes) - and, even then, why should you be compelled to wait longer in the cold and wet simply because you can't physically board the bus? That is discriminatory.

  2. Andrew Kleissner3 January 2017 at 09:43

    PS I remember the Ailsas from Glasgow in the mid-70s and rather liked them.

    Of course the Guy Wilfrunian was a front-entrance, front-engined OPO bus and, from the pictures I've seen, it also had an offside driver's door. What was more remarkable is that many of them (West Yorkshire) had their staircase on the NEARside, right behind the front entrance - I can't think of any other bus that had that!

  3. The majority of Guy Wulfrunians were bought by West Riding Automoble Co Ltd either new or second hand, but none of them ever operated as an OPO bus. All of them had a nearside staircase that gave good passenger flow. Check out Dewsbury Bus Museum for the two preserved examples.
    Ken - (West Riding and Dewsbury Bus Museum)

  4. Andrew Kleissner4 January 2017 at 16:51

    Of course I bow to your superior knowledge! But this essay at least suggests that they were originally intended for OPO: So: did any other operator actually put this into practice, even for a short time? (I appreciate that the timescale involved was one which involved restrictions on OPO in double-deckers anyway).

  5. Thomas Browne) Can't understand that even early b7tls, Scania flolines,b10ble's etc aren't dda complaint and there low floor. I'd give my right arm if I could hear the sound of an old Gardner or Volvo in service again unfortunently an end of an era. Although i'm sure if opearators even the likes of stagecoach and first could getaway with still running Olympians and b10ms alike they would. I dread getting on a streetdeck if i'm going in the city lol. Happy new year steve.