Tuesday 26 February 2019

Borderbus Demonstrator and News.

It's been sometime since Borderbus managed to wrangle a demonstrator, so when they announced yesterday that one was on the way it aroused interest in many quarters. This particular demonstrator turned out to be an extremely eye catching ADL E400MMC. I was out bright and early (for me) to catch a ride on it and see if it managed to impress me anymore than previous MMC's, which have left me feeling distinctly underwhelmed.

ADL E400MMC demonstrator YX68 UPY in Worlingham
First of all this bus looks stunning inside and out. The MMC has an attractive body (no sniggering at the back) and the interior is up there with the best I've been on. Light and airy thanks to the glass panels in the roof, seats which look comfortable, USB charging, wireless charging if your phone is enabled, tables, air con, even a radio. And those seats on an E400 that are normally rock hard - over the wheel arches and back seats were fully padded too.

Interior shots of the demonstrator
However, then the wheels start turning and the usual frustrations emerge. The suspension is just too hard - Roger French's coffee cup test would fail abysmally - and there is just too much body creaking and rattling. I was told once that was because lighter materials were being used to keep the weight down. Poppycock! The engine is smaller than they were 50 years ago, yet the bus weighs over a tonne heavier than they did 50 years ago when they didn't rattle! The engine, as it happens is extremely impressive - very powerful and gave a decent kick down when needed. The brakes are smooth and even, although that might have been Terry's good driving.

One word about the seats - initially very comfortable after 30 mins or so you begin to notice the lack of lumber support and by time we reached Southwold I could feel my back more than I should have done.

Rear view at Southwold
Now you will know I always ask the driver their views. Today I didn't have to as Terry let me know what he thought of it the second I stepped on board. He loved it! Said it felt like driving a coach, not a bus. The only quibble he had was the cab was a tad cramped and he couldn't fit his bag in it. Other than that he was one very happy bunny. A very considerate bunny too as he made a point of slowing down whenever he saw anyone taking a picture of the demonstrator, and there were a few. Extra useful today as the (very welcome) sun made photography very challenging at times. Terry isn't an enthusiast, but respects those who are, and that is a rare quality these days. Cheers Terry - more than one person asked me to say thanks!

One Terry slowed down for, at Pakefield.
So my verdict? Yet again I've alighted from an ADL demonstrator frustrated that it could, and should be the perfect bus, but just isn't. There is so much potential there if the suspension was softer and the body that bit more robust to get rid of the Poundland type quality noises it emits. I'm going to ride it again this week, then jump on a B9 Gemini 1, which is my benchmark, to get an instant comparison. I think it will confirm my feelings, but if anyone else rides the MMC and has a different interpretation then please share it - I can only say what I think after all!

As I got off the demonstrator I almost literally bumped into Roy Northcott of East Norfolk Bus Blog, who I haven't seen for months. They were flooding the area, as I had passed Graeme Bessey from the same esteemed blog earlier on. A decent natter with Roy ended up with us both driving to Beccles to pay Borderbus a visit as their latest Scania Omniciti decker was being vinyled up, bringing the total number of Scania deckers to 6, and don't be too surprised if that's not the last. YR61 RUY was new to First London before passing to Metroline. I must say they do look good in the Borderbus/Ryan Air livery, as good as anything new on the road.

New to Borderbus Scania Omniciti YR61 RUY
A good natter with the Borderbus crew ensued, including Bernice having a right royal rant about the inconsiderate parking of buses in St Stephen's St - there are times I'm so pleased she's a friend! Anyway in other news Enviro 200 BB11 BUS, which had a smoking time on the A146 a few weeks ago is away for rewiring, and hopefully Scania decker BB53 BUS will be going away to have padding introduced to the seats soon too - the padded seats are proving very popular. Two of the Volvo B7tl Presidents have been withdrawn and are currently donating parts. Roy's blog has details of which ones as I've already forgotten!

The timetable for the new 99A was released yesterday, and it really isn't good news for those on the route used to an hourly service. Just 5 journeys a day will operate each way between Southwold and Bungay, for connections to Norwich, not even guaranteed connections. The former BH272 school service between Blythburgh and Bungay High School has been renumbered 99H and is available for anyone to use now, though who in their right mind would want to is debatable!

No new timetable or operator for the 90 has been announced yet, although it's possible that those Halesworth residents who used to use the old 62 to Beccles but were left stranded when it was removed from the estates might have some good news.


  1. Cardiffbus have had ten E400MMCs for a couple of years now. They don't have as fancy interiors as your demonstrator (in fact they look rather bleak) and the seats aren't a patch on their Citaros even though they look very similar. But I'd certainly agree with your comments on both the ride and the creaks - they're awful, especially as Cardiff has more than its fair share of speed bumps to go with its terrible roads! The RTs of my youth weren't like that!

    One thing I wonder about is the heating and air-con. I've found the air-con to often be noisy; conversely the heating all seems to come out in one place (at least downstairs). But I doubt if either were in use yesterday!

  2. It'd be nice if the bus builders listened. But I suspect they don't unless someone makes them, and who has the clout? I suspect they've too got into their own little homegrown eco-rut. And more to the point, who will pay for it, as always? Cosmetic changes don't cost much, but anything more...

    I don't know which is worse, the mess that Konnect leave behind them (when at least perhaps the cleaners can come in behind them?) or First Essex who just cling on like some zombie for grim death. Neither seem particularly bothered. A total contrast with Borderbus, and Ensign (and, it seems, even perhaps Eastern Counties), fired by a love for the bus that makes all the difference.

    So surely the question is how do Eastern Counties get the resources they need to properly resource both their existing network, and expand it to give east Norfolk and Suffolk the services they deserve, and make the best use of their assets?

    Let's be radical, pull their ailing sister company out of Chelmsford/Mid-Essex where everyone agrees that the bus, as currently run under First, has no future (and incidentally often no present, either!) The County Council can sort out their own mess of the traffic; First can sell a vacated city depot ideally situated for housing (for which the local council is desperate) at £££s, and make the First HQ happy at "realising value for shareholders from our assets", in the only way they are ever going to in Essex; and create the best opportunity that the deserving local independents Ensign, Arrow and Stephensons are ever going to get. More importantly, and relevantly, play it right and Eastern Counties can take the choice of the Essex fleet to expand/improve and resource their network properly (though there will need to be some swopping round among depots first, as Chelmsford "survives", if that is the word, on a diet of elderly Darts, which nobody else wants!) Everyone gets what they want, including the passengers with the opportunity to "sort" out the traffic and create a new working bus network. If Konnect want to play, so be it. In Essex, at least, things couldn't get any worse.

    Sure First takes a closure hit; but that is only a matter of time. It's the benefits that matter.

    And who knows, without being dragged down by the albatross, Eastern Counties might manage to transfer a bit of their learning south of Dedham! Or even unlock the sale of the rest of the Essex operation, in manageable chunks. And perhaps knock out the rest of Konnect north of Dedham, in the process!

    Unless, of course, someone beats me to the post!

  3. Just as an indicator of how unbalanced things are: Burnham on Crouch in Essex, a town similar, even perhaps smaller than Halesworth and with an hourly rail connection too, has a half-hourly daytime (and evening/Sunday, though part subsidised) bus service, to Chelmsford; whereas Halesworth has to put up with a two hourly indirect weekday connection to Norwich that ends early! As you rightly point out Suffolk has high tourist potential too, which it is a priority to exploit economically. Go by comparison to the depressed Tendring peninsula and the comparison on connections to Colchester is even less favourable: three buses per hour from Colchester to Mersea and Walton/Frinton and half hourly to Harwich and Tiptree into the early evening. Much more than seems warranted by the passenger demand.

    I know why, it's to keep the competition away; and that's why rural Norfolk and Suffolk suffer by comparison. It's a spurious argument - see Konnect. They both run on the Colchester to Halstead and Clacton routes, and neither has driven the other out yet.

    Sadly the Councils often try to imitate commercial provision, rather than look at adding services or meeting unmet need or even as part of their economic strategy, which is heavily tourist-based. So if you don't have any commercial provision, there will never be any Council provision either.

    Mid Essex too has half hourly commercial connections to its neighbouring towns, where in similar circumstances Stagecoach in Cambs and Eastern Counties only have hourly connections; and indeed Arriva on the single route they operate between Harlow and Chelmsford. Why the great discrepancy, and seeming over-provision, even between neighbours? In some cases (Chelmsford to Braintree and Basildon) even quarter hour timetabled services, which can never be maintained because of the congestion anyway! (Many services also run together over lengths of route so that the over-provision is magnified). And First chuck services at the small towns in south-east Essex from all directions like confetti! Lots of near empty buses.

    So there are plenty of buses which could (and should) be going spare in the Essex operations of First Eastern England to improve things in Norfolk and Suffolk if the Tweedledee Tweedledum management down here got off their backsides for once, or were taken by the scruff of the neck and given a good shake to get them out of their inertia. Though I can't say much for the fleet in Essex; which is probably why; if First HQ take the same dim view! Sheer inertia.

    What really is the point of timetabling and then routinely cancelling high frequency buses in a commercial network? Why not just set a realistic timetable in the first place? Of course cancelling public contract services and usually you still get paid for them anyway. No one checks, especially out of office hours. We have that trick too! Why though tender aggressively for unprofitable contract services at the expense of the commercial network? It all makes no sense.

  4. A quick win. Stop shadowing Ensign's successful commercial 31 through Brentwood estates, with First's 37 and it'd release 3 buses for North Suffolk. Nothing that Eastern Counties could come up with could be more of a lost cause. As they clearly can afford that sort of money to burn!

    Do it now and they could catch up by mid-April. OK, a bit late, but anyone got a better idea?

    A homemade vinyl and a few pence off an exorbitant fare to compete with Ensign. I don't know what planet Essex management are on, or what they've been smoking; but they should give it up!

    1. I was really hoping to give you something positive today, Smurf, which is why I haven't replied earlier, but sadly I haven't. Because of that I fear that within 5 years, even less perhaps, bus services outside major towns and cities in East Anglia will be a thing of the past. It has been proved to me that the massive majority of operators couldn't give a flying fig about their customers, or the communities they serve. In other words live in the sticks and you are royally screwed.

  5. The main aim of bus builders seems to be to cram as many seats in as they can which is just daft as over 90% of the time huge double decker's are going around with half a dozen passengers . Why the obsession with bus companies as well with buying buses far bigger than needed and to compound it the struggle to get around many rural routes

    The other problem is buses seem to think people want to go on a grand mystery tour rather than going from A to B

  6. A bit of Nostalgic Rail news

    Iconic Brighton Belle train is restored to 1950s glory after £6m revamp

  7. Just a quick comment. You mention the good service in the "depressed" Tendring area. Isn't it generally the case that buses in poor areas do better at the farebox than those in wealthier areas, simply because working-age people have to use the bus as they have no, or less, access to a car? I know that sounds mercenary; but when I lived in Ipswich it was noticeable that there were far more paying passengers on the 9/10 to Whitton and the 8/8A to Whitehouse then on the 19 to Castle Hill which was a more prosperous area (and eventually got taken off before being reinstated in its present form as the 7).

  8. Can't agree more Steve on the suspension of ADL buses. Surely if that was improved, it would to do the body justice too. Maybe they need to look into how MAN suspensions were circa. 2009 (not been on any newer).

  9. I lived in Lisbon in the late 1970s/early 80s. The older buses were all AEC and Guy (including some real vintage Regal IIIs) but there was a large fleet of Volvo B59 and some MAN SL200 single-deckers. Lisbon's roads at the time were terrible, with lots of cobbled stretches - yet the ride was generally very good although the soft suspension did give a fair amount of body sway (Portuguse drivers didn't go slowly!). Apart from one batch with awful moulded plastic seats the seats too were generally very comfortable although I missed London moquette gripping my trousers to stop me sliding around! Admittedly these were fairly heavyweight high-floored vehicles, but they certainly provided a more comfortable journey than the E400MMC. I don't think I'm just being nostalgic!

  10. I see First have registered service 4 again from Tower ramparts to Bixley. Commencment date 31 March. Including Sundays and Bank Holidays .
    From: Tower Ramparts, Ipswich
    To: Broadlands Way, Bixley
    Via: Broke Hall
    Name or No.: 4 /
    Service type: Normal Stopping
    Effective date: 31 March 2019
    Other details: Sundays and Bank Holidays

    1. It's only on Sundays and BH's, so clearly a sponsored service

    2. Ah thanks Steve. I saw the Including Sundays and bank Holidays. Didnt digest the whole script.

  11. Conversely the 202 Sunday and Bank Holiday bus to Shotley is being withdrawn at the end of March.