Not with a bang, but with a high-pitched electronic whine, Stagecoach launched the first of Greater Manchester’s electric hybrid buses on the Wilmslow Road corridor today in low-key fashion. The double-deck Enviro 400H buses are painted in a special green version of the Stagecoach livery and are operating on service 42 to Stockport via East Didsbury and service 43 to Manchester Airport via Wythenshawe. With season ticket in hand, I took a “test drive” to the city centre and back to see how they compare to the standard double-deck buses previously in use.
Any regular commuters are in for a bit of a change on Monday morning. The new electric hybrid buses are in a green version of the standard Stagecoach livery, complete with “electric hybrid” branding reminiscent of Labour’s 2010 manifesto – except this time the sun is rising (or setting, dependant on your outlook) from behind a stylised Town Hall. I certainly noticed a number of turned heads and raised eyebrows from people we passed along the way.
The interior is strangely familiar but at the same time quite different. Passengers on many of Stagecoach’s routes in Manchester will be used to the standard Enviro 400 double-deck bus – after all, there are over three hundred of them in operation in the area. The seats are all in the same position but the colour palette has changed. So instead of orange handrails, there are yellow. And instead of blue panels and seat coverings, the hybrids feature green: it really does seem to be a greener bus for a greener city in more than one way. Check out Chris Lowe’s collection of photos from the press event on Friday for more pictures of both exteriors and interiors.
The other noticeable difference to passengers will be the noise. I sat on the upper deck on a busy service 43 heading into the city centre, and on the lower deck on a less busy service 42 on the return leg. The diesel engine is quieter, sounding more akin to the smaller model used on modern single-deck lightweight buses. This does not seem to go over a certain level of revs but runs constantly (often idling) in order to top-up power to the electric motors. To top-up the sound level, there is a high-pitched electronic whirr that sounds like a modern washing machine on spin cycle, the pitch of which increases as the bus accelerates. Presumably this is from the electric motors: overall noise levels are less than those from their diesel counterparts. Omnibuses blog reports that a 30 per cent reduction in fuel & emissions is claimed but that in practice expectations don’t always live up to reality. Acceleration seems lively, which should suit the stop-start nature of these busy routes where there aren’t many opportunities to put the pedal to the metal.
|Service||Mon to Sat||Sun||Overnight|
|42||10 mins*||30 mins||30 mins||30 mins||–|
|43||10 mins||30 mins||20 mins||30 mins||30 mins|
* every 10 mins to East Didsbury, continuing to Stockport every 20 mins
There were lots of comments about that “new bus” smell from my fellow passengers, and many seemed fairly impressed by the new vehicles. Some passengers had their cynical hats on, claiming that the new buses will lead to higher fares. Others wondered whether the buses were here to stay (which they are) and it even led to a discussion about greenhouse gases and CO2. Perhaps the best compliment that can be given to the vehicles is that once past the external differences they don’t seem all that remarkable. Does this mark a turning point for hybrid technologies in public transport in the UK, and maybe the point at which such exotic solutions start to become standard?