Wednesday 21 August 2019

Electric Deckers Spark Into Life

Of course, fully electric double decker buses are nothing new in this country, except all previous versions have required a pantograph and overhead wires. Now, in London they have gone wireless and pantless with their electric deckers, and they are out in service doing their bit to reduce emissions in the Capital. Yesterday I went to sample them, with a great degree of naivety in places too!

The first fully electric double deckers to enter service are on the 43, which runs from London Bridge Station to Friern Barnet in North London. After the total embarrassment of getting lost in the underground labyrinth that is now London Bridge trying to find the bus station (I blame misleading signage and I'm sticking to it) I found what I was looking for gleaming in the London sunshine.

BDE2628 pn the stand at London Bridge
This is the electric bus built by BYD in partnership with ADL, and using the E400 Citi body. Very nice they look too, I think I prefer them without the glass staircase. Inside they are light and airy, and the airchill works well. Seats are comfortable, and I boarded with an open mind and high hopes. I wasn't disappointed.

Upstairs in the BYD
We pulled away in silence. Well almost silence. The lack of engine noise makes the airchill seem even louder but that was a minor detail. I sat back and enjoyed the ride, and I mean really enjoyed the ride through Islington, Archway and Muswell Hill - first time for me there and it really is quite a hill! The BYD took everything in its stride, with startlingly rapid acceleration. They are seriously nice places to be. However, one thing niggled me. All seats have USB chargers except the most popular seats right at the front upstairs, and the seats immediately behind the stairs, and I admit I got a bit grumpy about that. However, thanks to the most chatty London bus driver I've met in decades all was revealed. As usual I wanted to get the driver's view, and at Friern Barnet terminus a rather decent Kosovan driver named Tim was more than happy to wax lyrical about the bus, how quiet and smooth it was, and such a pleasure to drive. He showed me that despite being out on the road since 5am - it was 1230 by this time - the bus had only used 27% of it's battery life. Mind you there are 3 tonnes of them, of which more later.

Friern Barnet terminus
Then I asked Tim about the lack of charging points in the most popular seats. I hope Roger French knows someone in TfL who can confirm this highly believable reason Tim gave me, that it's a decision made by TfL deliberately not to have charging points at those seats so they aren't hogged by passengers for hours taking videos while charging instead of getting the tourist buses. Not sure that applies to the 43, but as they are rolled out across London you can see the reasoning. If that is the true reason then it's well thought through. If not and they just couldn't be bothered then not so good. Anyway thank you, Tim, for the chat. I hope I have the pleasure of seeing you again when I return to see how the BYD's are faring. Tim told me they are the best bus they've ever had at Potters Bar depot. Praise indeed,

Sorry, Tim, you are wrong as they have already been beaten! This is where my naivety and lack of research comes to the fore.

I knew another route was getting electric deckers, the 134 between Warren St and North Finchley, a route that much of it shares with the 43. However all I had seen on the route were MCV Volvo Evosetis. Tim confirmed there were some electrics on the 134, and I assumed they were electric versions of the Evoseti. Even when I finally, after they had done their best in evading me for a couple of hours, boarded one I still had it in my head they were Evosetis, until I looked at the picture I had taken before boarding and realised what a prize chump I was. I should mention at this point I was already blown away by the ride and lack of body noise, believing it to be an Evoseti. But it isn't. Oh no!

Not an Evoseti!

Now, in my defence I have had an exhausting couple of weeks, had spent the previous day taking my 80yo mother shopping (90 mins in Aldi alone) and had had little sleep, so my brain wasn't at its most alert. However I really should have worked out what OME stood for! So I hang my head in shame for not realising it was an Optare Metrodecker Electric. But actually, thinking about it, the fact I thought it was an Evoseti meant I got on it with no preconceptions. Everyone knows I adore the Metrodecker diesel version, and I'm pretty sure I'd have got on expecting to be blown away. As it was I was blown away before I realised what it was. What it is, is truly phenomenal.

There is no body noise. None. The suspension gives a ride superior to that of the BYD/ADL. The airchill isn't as noisy, the acceleration could launch it into space. Windows that don't have to be unlocked to aid ventilation. True, it's not quite as light as the E400Citi, but the interior uplighting is far better, I imagine especially after nightfall. I shall return to check that one out.

Upstairs interior complete with LED up lighting
Is it as good as the BCI Enterprise? No, but they are for entirely different markets. The Enterprise is for interurban routes that require a heavyweight big powerful vehicle. They would be wasted on the likes of the 134. But the Metrodecker Electric, in my opinion, is the best local bus I've ever been on. Certainly my driver thought so. Didn't get as long with him as I did Tim, but he was just as gushing in his praise, apart from slightly heavy steering. What really spoke volumes though, and remember this is London where you're lucky to get a grunt out of a driver, when I was lining up the photo below, another driver came up to me, grinned, and said "they're bloody brilliant, mate". A driver approaching an enthusiast to praise the bus, in London? That's how good they are.

The Metrodecker at North Finchley terminus
Oh - notice anything about the destination display? London is famous for still insisting on roller blinds. However OME2654 has an LED display that is being trialled. Looks convincing enough to me - here is normally blinded OME2655 to compare.

Normal blinds
So, what are the conclusions. Well. the BYD/ADL is very impressive, and nice to travel on, at the moment. What does worry me with them, though, is body noise. The lack of engine noise means any rattle or creak is augmented, and there were plenty of them now, so it will be interesting to go back in 6 months to see, or rather hear what deterioration there has been, if any. I do not predict any such issues with the Optare, but they will get the same review in 6 months to check.

I mentioned the BYD has 3 tonnes of batteries. I don't know how much weight the Optare carries in batteries, but overall the Optare is over 2 tonnes lighter than the BYD. I assume that makes a big difference in power consumption, perhaps someone more technically minded than I can confirm that.

The weight of the Optare

And the heavier BYD/ADL

I'm in no doubt that electric buses are the future, and before long London will be flooded with them. Not East Anglia, obviously. If there are any buses still running in 50 years we might get some second hand electric ones if we're lucky, but in the real world where buses still have some importance we could be on the brink of a revolution, and the wireless, pantless trolleybuses will become standard in towns and cities across the land.

Rear view of the Optare


  1. Andrew Kleissner21 August 2019 at 20:19

    Of course the great performance advantage of electric buses is that they develop maximum torque on starting - absolutely ideal for nipping away from stops! I noticed this on Glasgow's electric buses (not deckers) a couple of years ago.

    By the way we have some (diesel) E400MMCs in Cardiff and they rattle appallingly! Admittedly they are well-used and our roads are bad even so ... So I'm not sanguine about the BYD/ADLs unless they are very well maintained.

  2. Andrew Kleissner22 August 2019 at 07:10

    PS Trolley buses never had pantographs (not did trams, in the old days, though they do now). They had trolley poles - not quite the same.

    1. Poetic licence, Andrew! How could I have used 'pantless' otherwise!!

    2. Andrew Kleissner22 August 2019 at 16:56

      Love it!

  3. I believe that a ADL electric single decker could be heading to ipswich as a demo soon.

    1. Ah yes, and precisely how many demonstrators to come to Ipswich have resulted in purchases? I can think of 2 - the Omniciti and the Citaro.

    2. A large fleet of Enviro 200s came after a successfull demo. Its a shame we have so many second hand units running about. At one time Ipswich always had new and sometimes unique those B21s were fab

    3. No they didn't! They got those E200's on the cheap as they were some of the last non MMC E200's to be built!

  4. From the outset of the design process Optare were adamant that they would stick to the standard UK maximum weight of 18 tonnes rather than avail themselves of the extra tonne derogation allowed for electric vehicles which BYD/ADL have used. This has meant that Optare have had to be more concentrated on taking out weight but it will also compromise the range as they will not be able to fit as many batteries. Bus manufacturers do seem to be a little reticent to quote ranges for electric vehicles, I assume that range of electric vehicles is so dependent on service cycle that they worry about misleading in one direction or the other, but the figures that have been quoted in the trade press do indicate that BYD/ADL are claiming a greater range than Optare (though not necessarily as big a difference as you would expect with the weight difference you highlight). Currently the quote ranges are at the bottom end of the range of cycles my employer has in a medium sized provincial city with very limited early & late work so they are still a way off being useful across even urban networks without careful planning - unless you have such crippling congestion & consequent low average speeds of London all day..

    1. Remote charging is a must as has been demonstrated at Greenhithe Station in the past, for example. Compared to the billions invested by n rail the infrastructure costs would be minimal yet the benefits far reaching.

    2. The issue with remote charging is it generally requires the installation of infrastructure on someone else's property (the roads or bus stations owned by the councils), even London is struggling with this one. Also in most cases it requires extra vehicles to allow time for charging which increases costs, most UK centred manufacturers (the Chinese suppliers would be included in this as they have special UK spec products) acknowledge this issue and all state they intend a full days cycle on an overnight charge. The Volvos in Harrogate work well but they are very specific circumstances, a relatively small town network using big buses with a central terminus point owned by the bus operator to work from where special infrastructure can be incorporated and time & space can be put aside to allow this to work. Only one place in my employers network do most of those circumstances apply (we don't own the bus station) but that is a location that couldn't support the investment commercially (the last new buses for the town were funded by the council when they had money). Whilst we serve a number of bus stations, most are modern sites with that modern curse of being too small for the number of departures and so horribly congested making it difficult to spend that long on stand charging.

  5. The extraordinary acceleration up the hills of Highgate is even more pronounced now the 214 has BYD/ADL E200 MMCs - but slightly shorter (10.2m) than their sisters elsewhere.

    Went on one on Sunday, the day after Go-Ahead had taken on the route, and it romped up the 12.5% Highgate West Hill without flinching. The old E200s on the route were absolutely hammered on it, and struggled the hill every time.

  6. Interesting that you point out about IB not buying anything new after the demo buses , Border Bus seem to have done exactly the same in the past . Is it more for the vehicles to be evaluated in service by the manufacturer ? If your local car dealer offered you a car for free for a few weeks would you refuse?

    1. Absolutely not, which is why you should never assume or hope the presence of a demonstrator as an intention to buy

  7. Another daft piece of Government Legislation

    It now appears that dedicated school bus service need to be wheelchair accessible which is just daft as special needs pupils would not be traveling on these services . All it is doing is added to cost and in fact in Cardiff it seem to have worked against students as the council is no longer offering t parents to buy spare seats on these buses