Sunday, 1 April 2018

Reading Buses Part Two - Don't Mention The Tape!

A bit delayed due to the wrong type of circumstances but here is the second part of my visit to Reading Buses a couple of weeks ago. If you can't remember Part One it is here.

We left it with your humble blogger being shown around the engineering side of the operation by Head of Engineering & Innovation John Bickerton, who had something he wanted to show me. Tucked away in a corner of a small workshop was a piece of kit that could, sorry - will revolutionise industry. I have never seen a 3D printer before, let alone what it can do, and if I'm honest my head really can't get round the concept or potential. John can, though, and his eyes sparkled with ambition as he talked about possible futures.

Vases today but bus parts and panels tomorrow?
John can see a future where under the cavernous roof of the main workshop is a band of 3D printers churning out needed parts and panels, reducing the time buses have to stay off the road. At the moment it's not a quick process - those vases took 18 hours each to print, but then again 20 years ago mobile phones were bricks and internet was still dial up so the future may come quicker than we think.

After being shown round the fuel and gas pumps John noted a bus on the pumps and made a beeline for it. It appeared, at first look to be a smart Gemni 2 but all is not what it seems.

Reading Buses 530 X100 RDG
The front may be Gemini 2 but the rest of it is very much Gemini 1, a 53 reg Gemini 1 to be precise. Not that it looks it inside or out. Like Cityzap in the York/Leeds area they have taken a decent but old body (I know that feeling) and turned it into a new bus. This particular bus is used to encourage student design, and the interior is covered with examples. It has tables and a communal seating area, and I'd be very happy to ride it all day! John explained one of the pluses of the tables. He pointed out that if some passengers were facing the back of the bus it cut down on vandalism and antisocial behaviour. Having the communal seat nearer the front also means those who normally frequent the rear seats upstairs were less likely to. Clever.

Table area top deck of the Gemini
Incidentally before I was allowed to take that picture, John made sure there was no litter evident and the vinyl on the window was neat and straight. A sign of a perfectionist.

Now if you were following my Tweets on the day you would have seen me post a pic of an E400MMC asking why I was about to spend over an hour riding around Reading on it out of service. Here it is.

The Emerald MMC
.I mentioned how Reading Buses like to make the staff feel part of one big family. This is a brilliant example. This bus was going to provide the first two "times" of the Reading Buses Top Gear Challenge. Every driver/manager/anyone with a licence has been invited to take an MMC out on a designated lap of Reading, not to see who can do it the fastest, but who can achieve the highest fuel economy. Measured by the telemetics system it is hoped to encourage drivers to drive more economically, which John explained would more than cover the fuel costs of the exercise. What a cracking idea. The only condition is the lap must be done between 0900 and 1500 Monday to Friday so no one can cheat by taking advantage of quiet traffic conditions.

Operations manager David Rouse went first, and considering the heckling he had to put up with from 4 passenger seat drivers, including myself, and the Friday afternoon Reading traffic he did a commendable 8.3km averaging 6.73mpg. Then John showed us how it was done, although it seemed much slower it wasn't, and the clever clogs managed 8.71mpg, setting the bar for everyone else. I have to be honest and I say I have never missed no longer having a PSV licence more than I did that afternoon, as I would have killed to see what I could have achieved. I'll make sure I get the final results. Just another way equality reigns at Reading Buses. Here's John trying to look like a bus driver on his lap! I'm still waiting for the cheque, John, not to publish the first pic I took!!!

Professionalism personified! John Bickerton at the wheel
We adjourned to the control room to get the results, and that was just about it, the end of a wonderful afternoon at a wonderful operator. There was, however, one more thing to do.

My dislike of Streetdecks is well known, but both Martijn and John have always emphasised that their Streetdecks, complete with Sofa and tables were rattle free. I had to try one out, so before I caught the train back to London I did a circuit on the 13 with my most critical hat on.

Reading Buses 901
I started off on the sofa, a funky communal seat behind the stairwell. Specially designed material to feel like the peel of an orange - it actually does - I found it very comfortable.

The sofa on the top deck of the Streetdeck
The other seats aren't what you'd call sumptuous, but unlike new train seats I found the longer I was sat the more comfortable they felt.

Regular seats on the lower deck, nice design
So of course the big question is do they rattle? Were the claims accurate? Well much to my surprise the claims were proved accurate. It didn't rattle. in fact the Streetdeck gave a cracking ride. No, that's not an April Fool as I'm not doing one this year! I thought I'd found evidence as to why they didn't rattle. I took this picture, and tweeted it congratulating everyone for noticing and dealing with rattles.

Thou shalt not rattle!
As a massive anti-rattler I was impressed. However, the reaction to that picture was akin to the reaction in Monty Python's "Dirty Fork" sketch. What? Gaffer tape on one of our buses? You're joking - which bus is it, it's coming off the road now! We only have gaffer tape behind glass for emergency use only!

It would appear that the rule is something like "Our buses shalt not rattle, but not by use of gaffer tape". And that rather sums up Reading Buses. no corners are cut, and if something's going to be done it is done properly without the use of gaffer tape! Most operators would have accepted the compliment about paying attention to rattles. Actually no - most operators wouldn't have given a damn about the rattle in the first place, let alone deal with it, let alone be horrified at how it was dealt with.

So as I mentioned at the beginning of Part One I have nothing to moan about, which is annoying! I will get back to Reading whenever I can, as there is so, so much more to see, and the trials for the 702 continue. My thanks to Martijn, John and everyone I met at Reading buses for being so darned happy and passionate about what you do, and Glen I promise we'll have lunch next time I'm down. Just don't mention the tape - I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it......


  1. Ipswich Free Shuttle Bus has been retendered The tender has been retained by Ipswich Buses. Whether they will make any money out of it seems to be dubious. They won the tender at a daily price of £64.40

  2. Perhaps you could try to persuade Martijn and his team to help Steve and Chris at FEC!