Electric hybrid double-deckers enter service on Wilmslow Road

Electric hybrid bus at Piccadilly GardensNot 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.

Branding and destination display for hybrid bus to airport

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.

Interior shot of the lower deck of a hybrid busThe 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.

Frequency of hybrid buses along Wilmslow Road, September 2010
Service Mon to Sat Sun Overnight
Daytime Evenings Daytime Evenings
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

Normal and electric hybrid double decker buses

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?

About James McCollom

Web geek and public transport user
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14 Responses to Electric hybrid double-deckers enter service on Wilmslow Road

  1. Rob says:

    They look great, and most importantly, very eye catching. Can see them turning heads and getting people talking. Haven’t seen one for real yet, but will keep a look out next time I’m in the city centre. Don’t like the interior though – looks like a dated 1980s pattern with the dark green seats, and I’m not sure about the yellow grabs/rails.

    No mention of this on the MEN website, nor did I see any mention of the ‘bus company of the year’ that Stagecoach won rcently. I have a feeling the MEN are anti bus/Stagecoach for some reason?

    I have a feeling that, now low floor is commonplace, ‘green’ buses will become the next big selling point.

    On the green theme, I see First have registered on VOSA for Metroshuttles 1/2/3 for later this month – I though I read somewhere they were going to Stagecoach, unless both companies are jointly operating them?

    • There was a bit of rumour flying about but nothing concrete other than First deregistering the existing routes – and of course that doesn’t mean that they couldn’t register new routes nearer the date, which it now transpires they have. I hope we emphasised that point sufficiently in our original item!

      There were a few cameras at the “press event” on Friday, but it seemed rather low-key, taking place in the bus lay-by on Princess Street as Albert Square was busy being transformed into an athletics track. And it was damp. I had prior plans so merely loitered in the background for five minutes, but long enough to get in the background of one of Chris’ photos – doh!

  2. Liam Gilmore says:

    They look great – but they hide a serious service cut. Just a couple of years ago the 42 ran through to Stockport every 10 mins – now the new ‘green’ timetable has halved that. Every 20 mins is pretty lousy for the people of the Heatons as well as anyone wanting to connect Withington/Rusholme/University to Stockport.

    • I can sympathise Liam, as I used to catch the bus between East Didsbury and Stockport on a near-daily basis. The only consolation is that you can also catch the 23/23A (every 15 mins) and 370 (every 30 mins) and change at Didsbury village – not that the combined frequency fits together very well! I suspect many people are on day tickets, season tickets or free passes so won’t lose out financially.

      (Certain Heatons also benefit from the 197 to/from the university, hospital and city centre.)

    • Chris says:

      Liam, although I agree with you that only a few years ago the 42 ran through to Stockport every 20 mins. The Green timetable did not in itself reduce the frequency by half, as by April 2009 the frequency had already reduced to every 15 minutes over the full length of the route. It has slowly been reduced over the past couple of years.

      Also the University section is also covered by the 197, I think this has been brought about because of an increase in the number of Magic Bus vehicles between Manchester and East Didsbury has shown that not as many people as thought are now being carried from points such as Rusholme, Fallowfield and Withington. A fair number of passengers, not all admittedly, boarding at the Stockport and Heaton Mersey end hardly use the bus to go past either East Didsbury or Didsbury Village.

      The lack of passengers over these sections is also what has caused the 42A service to be diverted, as the majority of passengers which used that service do so between Reddish and East Didsbury during the day, those that were travelling to Manchester mainly get on from East Didsbury and have a choice of vehicles there. The number of times I have travelled on this myself from Reddish down to Didsbury it would have been empty at East Didsbury.

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  4. Mike says:

    Funnily enough, I was in Stockport just last week and decided to head into Manchester, but instead of hopping aboard a 192 (the quickest route into town) I opted to do the more scenic route through Didsbury on the 42, precisely so that I could take a ride aboard one of these new, hybrid electric buses.

    I had heard that they only have a top speed of 40 mph and was a little worried that the bus may lack acceleration but have to say that I didn’t find it to be any slower than a normal (ie diesel) bus.

    In reality, other than the green seats and the cream coloured upholstery I didn’t find it to be any different to a ride on one of the ordinary enviro buses and as for the contributor who speculated that it may lead to higher bus fares I would have thought that these new ‘greener’ buses are presumably cheaper to run (ie consume less fuel) and so I can’t really envisage this being a problem. Also, I believe that the purchase of this first batch of hybrids was partly funded by either the Government or GMPTE so as well as being a good PR exercise I would have thought it was a win win situation for the bus company.

    May be this is the way to go and we will now see these buses being rolled out across other routes in Manchester.

    The only other thing is that heading through leafy Didsbury and down Oxford road into Manchester I was also surprised at the sheer number of hybrids already in operation on both the 42 and 43 routes. I must’ve spotted about 20 in total.

    Where are these buses based?: Is it at Princess road depot or Hyde road (or do both depots share these routes and each have a number of hybrids allocated to them?)

  5. Liam Dixon says:

    They look great ! We had a Manchesters 12050 in Newcastle yesterday and we have just ordered 27 of them for route 39/40 which is already E400 operated.

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