Monday 29 January 2018

Reading Between the Greenlines Part Two

In Part One I had sampled some of the fleet Reading Buses are operating on the Greenline 702 service between Bracknell and London, and had just arrived at an extremely wet Reading where I was intending to try out one of their new Scania E400citi gas buses.

The first thing that struck me was just how many buses were operating in Reading on a Sunday. You could be forgiven for thinking it was a normal weekday. The 17, for example, which the gas deckers are operating on, operates to a 10 minute frequency - on a Sunday! This meant despite the extreme wetness and gloom photo opportunities were numerous, and it must be said that Reading does have a very attractive fleet and livery scheme, of which I think a lot has to do with Ray Stenning and his Creative Desire team, who are responsible for most of the decent liveries around the country. Here are just a few examples of what was on offer.

However it was the 17 I was there for, and soon enough one of the Scania gas deckers arrived.

Reading Buses 715 YP67 XCK
This is not a particularly long route, yet the buses are high specification. Comfortable seats, WiFi, USB chargers, 2 wheelchair/buggy spaces, and, a first for Reading Buses, centre doors to improve loading/unloading times. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. It didn't feel or sound different to any other bus, yet there was that distinctive ADL ride - suspension a tad hard and the feeling that the next pothole could have it rattling like a 1940's football crowd. However I know full well that John Bickerton and his engineering team at Reading Buses won't allow that to happen.

On board information is clear yet unobtrusive and it seems a great deal of thought has gone into these buses. At the terminus I spoke to the driver, whose opinion is always important and he was very impressed with them.

You will see from the above picture that the wheelchair bays have USB points too. This detail has been missed on many buses so it's good to see Reading Buses include it.

I will be back to Reading soon, firstly to see what a week day service looks like, to get some photos in decent light, and to try out one of their fabled Streetdecks that don't rattle!

I caught the X4 back to Bracknell, another rocket E400 hybrid - if only all E400's were this standard - and discovered something else. As I was sitting further back I could see the information screen, and as we approached Wokingham Station saw to my amazement that the screen was showing real time train information. Now that is impressive, and I'm looking forward to First and Konect to do the same in Norwich! Nope not holding my breath either! Btw the weather was so foul nothing would have stopped the windows misting up so no criticisms there.

How impressive is that!!
 Back at Bracknell I waited for the Scania Iriza to take me back to London. The destination display was now working...still chucking it down so apologies for blurry pic

the Irizar in Bracknell
I have no idea why but the Iriza felt a lot nicer in the evening than it did in the morning, it was certainly warmer which might have helped, and it wasn't long before the day caught up with me and I fell into a rather enjoyable snooze, which lasted until Slough, when everyone was de-bussed and transferred onto an old Scania Omnicity as the Iriza had to go back to its Newbury base. I was just waking up and processing what was happening when there was a knock on the window and the grinning face of Martijn Gilbert jerked me into life. He gave me the option of carrying on to London or hanging around with him for a bit. No contest, so I avoided the Omnicity and spent the next few hours with Martijn.

Now let's put things into perspective here. Martijn is the CEO of Reading Buses, who employ some 650 staff. Yet here he was, on a dismal Sunday evening, in Slough, making sure the new Thames Valley services, that Reading Buses had started to operate, replacing First Berkshire, were doing ok. Because the new local office wasn't quite ready yet that meant collecting takings, cleaning and washing buses and basically doing stuff you would never see the CEO of any other operator that size doing. I went with him to a local garage to jet wash one of the Solo SR's and it became truly obvious just how much respect and value Reading Buses has for its staff. The driver who was on his break, Steve - obviously a lovely chap - came with us but Martijn insisted on driving as Steve was on break. As Steve volunteered to go back and fuel up hs Solo when he had finished his duty Martijn promptly gave Steve his hi viz jacket. Class.  Unlike the DMS in December, Martijn managed to get us there and back without breaking down!

Martijn and Steve at the Slough bus wash!
After all the Solos had been deemed fit for service the next day Martijn suggested adjourning to a refreshment establishment, so after a very long walk trying to bypass a huge shopping centre and find the High Street, which my side strain just adored, we ended up in KFC where I really got to pick Martijn's brains and delve into the philosophy that has made Reading Buses such a success. The mantra is quite simple. As Martijn explained, a bus can be as attractive as you like from the outside, but if it isn't a nice place to be on the inside then you won't encourage passengers to become regulars. That, I'm overjoyed to say, includes rattles. Reading Buses are one of the very few operators to work with (nag) manufacturers to reduce background noise while buses are moving.  if only one of the big boys would do the same we might get somewhere. Certainly no Reading bus I went on rattled, but what about those Streetdecks? I have been invited to the depot for a guided tour, and full explanation as to how the Streetdecks have been conquered, but as I understand it they have been fitted with Borismaster running gear - also built by Wright, remember, which has seriously improved the ride quality and background noise. If that is true then it does beg the question why the Streetdeck doesn't come with this option anyway.

Martijn was anxious to hear my verdict of the gas deckers, particularly asking about engine noise. Not noticeable upstairs, Martijn, but I'll sit downstairs next time and let you know! We could have nattered for hours, and probably will in the future, and I was left almost jealous of the good folk of the Reading area that they have such an excellent bus service, with an equally good fleet, and in Martijn and John arguably the most dynamic and forward thinking management team in the country. The thought of such dynamics, investment, consideration for the passengers and staff is almost unthinkable up here, and I still can't get over just how many damned buses there were in Reading on a Sunday. Just shows it can be done with the right attitude, the right people, and decisions made by bus people, not ruddy accountants in an office 500 miles away.

Martijn, it was an absolute pleasure to spend time with you, to witness your passion for getting things right, and mucking in getting your hands dirty. That's how to generate respect, and my word you have mine!

I had missed the last bus back to London thanks to spending time with the boss of the operator of the buses to London.....irony? was forced, kicking and screaming to get the train back from Slough which just so happened to be a GWR Intercity 125. Damn!!!! We arrived at Paddington alongside the Riviera Sleeper to Penzance, which had a stand in loco on the rear. Won't get pics like this for much longer.

An icon and a DRS 57
I had pondered nipping to London Bridge to see the new station, but engineering works on the Underground put pay to that, and I was getting exhausted! So I made my way back to Upminster via 3 Tube journeys, which included a white knuckle ride on the Bakerloo Line - goodness he didn't hang around - and drove home reflecting on a long, wet, cold, but highly rewarding day.


  1. Great post. It makes me want to follow in your footsteps and go to Reading purely to sample the public transport!

  2. I feel the same about NCT, the way they look after there E400s is phenomenal- compared to Stagecoach.Not a single rattle when I last visited in 2016 on a 63 reg.

  3. Reading Buses are impressive both for their service and their innovation. You didn't mention one of the significant factors in their success which is that the council supports buses. They had one of the earliest bus only streets in Reading about 40 years ago and that level of support has continued. You can't say that of any town or city in East Anglia. Most other buses services in the area around Reading are failing.