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Friday, 27 May 2011

Silver dream machine

The New Bus for London Engineering Test Vehicle
at Millbrook today for the press launch with the Mayo
r how the Evening Standard described the first showing of the New Bus for London Engineering Test Vehicle at Millbrook Proving Ground today.

The bus is structurally complete but is full of test equipment. It is also unpainted which makes it a bit of a patchwork quilt of silver panels and GRP. There is a hinged front door (some asked if that was a real feature!) and the centre one is painted on! It is really just a plain unglazed panel

The Mayor and I arrived at Millbrook this morning and the press had been taken to a hospitality area on site. We took the NBfL out for some driver familiarisation whereupon Boris Johnson drove it over to the assembled press. After numerous photos and interviews he did a further few circuits for some moving shots.

The new bus is amazingly quiet, smooth and responsive. When I had a drive of it later I was able to experience its exceptional turning circle. The fully finished vehicle, with a proper interior will be even more refined.

The latest hybrid technology is already delivering exceptional fuel economy low emissions and will, for the first time in London, be able to run entirely on battery power if required. The opportunity to do so in areas of congestion and air quality hotspots will be excellent.

Whilst there is a great enthusiasm to get the prototypes on the road we are determined to get some miles on the clock and test the structure using Millbrook's various testing areas. Meantime the construction of the prototypes is underway and the first one will come off the production line in the autumn, with entry into service scheduled for the new year.

We have announced today that Arriva will operate the prototype fleet but we are not yet in a position to confirm the route. Watch this space!

It was amazing to see the NBfL in action and a real credit to all at Team TfL, Wrights and all involved in the project so far.

As you can see (below) the bus is already iconic. Real video footage on YouTube (see below in comments)

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Source London

Today has been the day of electric vehicles and this morning we had a range of them, including a sports car and a van, parked as Asda Kingston for the launch of Source London. This brings another wave of electric charging points (some 150) to the streets of London as well as in car parks, supermarkets and elsewhere.

There are already over 2000 electric vehicles registered inside London. They are fantastically cheap to run - the Government will offer a grant of £5000 for qualifying purchases, there is no road tax, no congestion charge, and the electricity is very cheap - £100 a year for using any of the charging points being introduced and whatever your domestic tariff is at home.

A very high proportion of car journeys in London are below 6 miles and 90% of all UK car journeys are under 100 miles. New electric vehicles have a range of about 100 miles and whilst this is clearly enough for most home-based users, additional charging points are considered critical for users to gain confidence in their vehicle and of course deal with people who only have on-street parking at home and cannot easily get an overnight charge.

I drove the Nissan Leaf today - it drives like an ordinary car, with good acceleration and top speed. It has a normal size boot and four good seats. The only main difference is that it is absolutely silent!

Having brought it to a location close to the venue I handed it over to Mayor Boris Johnson who drove it into the ASDA car park and one of the new charging points in front of the world's media and was featured extensively on the daytime and evening news.

Quentin Wilson was also on hand to lend his support and my photo shows him with Boris and our own electric Nissan.

Until now electric vehicles have been considered as specialist technical experiments with limited range and high and uncertain costs. They are increasingly cheap to own and use but a major barrier - the certainty of a recharging point out and about - is now increasingly being overcome. We will have 1300 charging points by 2013 and in handy places - so you can top up whilst shopping or eating out.

Anyway - that was today. Tomorrow Friday the Mayor and I get to see first hand the New Bus for London Engineering Test Vehicle in action. There will be media coverage in the usual places and here!


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The roundel

Now I hope you have noticed we are bringing the famous roundel back to London’s buses after long absence.

Of course for decades the famous London Transport fleetname adorned our red (and green) buses and in turn it gave way to the roundel which symbolised the organisation. It disappeared as privatisation progressed and by an accident of history has been missing from this hugely important mode whilst being increasingly used for Streets management, taxis, cycles and new territory such as London Overground.

So surely it must be right to bring it back for use on buses and we are doing so now on all new vehicles, joining its slightly quiet introduction on hybrids and other special products. It is only on new (and refurbished) vehicles so there is no new cost.

I was rather surprised at the reaction to this reappearance. Some operators and enthusiasts were not at all supportive. 
It seems only a short time ago people were bemoaning its disappearance. Hmm – was that really over 25 years ago?

Well, we couldn’t have London’s most famous icon, the red bus, the ONLY transport mode in the Capital without a proper roundel now could we? So it is back. We should be proud it is now once again on London’s buses and it does symbolise the great tradition and achievements of Transport for London, London Transport and its predecessors.

As my old conductor, the long-departed Harry Cook, veteran Croydon Corporation tram driver, bus driver, inaugural P4 minibus driver, and route 100’s ST922 conductor would say as he pointed to the enamel London Transport insignia on his peaked cap (which he always wore, even on his days off) – “this symbol, my boy, is a passport to international recognition, friendship.......... and free travel”


Monday, 23 May 2011

Private preservation

RML2323 back on familiar territory 45 years later at
Langley Village Harrow on 22nd May. (Photo: Jeff Lloyd)
Well this weekend you had a huge range of activities to choose from, the 1938 tube stock and Sarah Siddons at work on the Underground to Amersham and Rickmansworth, the Slough Running Day, and several others so there was no shortage of interesting events.

So what is the future of these type of events? Certainly the advent of digital photography has brought out very many more people keen to record the events and then in many cases post them on the internet for worldwide consumption.

People also enjoy their ride on old vehicles - many of them ordinary folk who chance upon them by accident.

But what is the future of private preservation? Individuals or groups who have acquired a vehicle which is special for them face extraordinary costs - maintenance, storage and running costs. However as they get older they are not able to devote anything like as much time or energy, and indeed sometimes funds. There are often no replacement members or owners as each younger generation has its own era of preferred vehicles.

There are those in professional museum circles who regard private preservation as "deferred scrapping" which is a bit harsh but sometimes actually the case.

Some of the capacity has been taken up by businesses such as EnsignBus and London Bus Company who have taken worthy vehicles into their care when their original owners wanted to dispose of them.

But apart from these, where will the privately-owned fine vehicles be in another 10, 20, or 30 years' time? Many owners rather trust their vehicles will be taken in by museums or collections but the truth is that vehicles without funds are often a liability rather than an asset.

Time therefore to consider the longer term future for privately-preserved vehicles. Tremendous that they have been saved and restored; essential that arrangements are made for them to be preserved for the longer term as well.

Now keep a look out for more news this week. A couple of interesting stories coming up!


Sunday, 15 May 2011

Heritage Running Day routes 9 and 15

Peter Hendy and me with RM1005 -
and a recently-repatriated
Canadian RTL in the background

Well you would expect a blog tonight after our highly-successful Heritage Running Day on routes 9 and 15.

About a dozen special vehicles in service, perhaps the largest number of Leyland engined vehicles (RMs and RTLs) in London service for a very long time. And it was fine enough for two open-toppers!

For me the sight from the cab of RT8 and other roofboxes queueing in the London traffic in the other direction was the best.

We also did a special job. The District Line was closed Dagenham East to Embankment so route 15 was especially busy.

Thanks to all the owners - private owners plus EnsignBus and London Bus Company for coming out today and doing what our preservation movement is all about in my view: running in London service and carrying real people.

One day it might be harder legally and further on even not enough oil to power these fine vehicles. This is a good time to do all this and bring a smile to the faces of ordinary folk in the street - a phrase I lift from the late Prince Marshall's TV interview in the 1970s when explaining his mission to secure and preserve old vehicles. Having been 'on the back' of RM1005 today I know how much pleasure we have brought to unsuspecting souls.

People were amazed to have been driven by the Commissioner Peter Hendy and to have him take their photo!

Yes, this was Transport FOR London!

Send me your photos - I didn't have much chance to take any!

Hard to believe but this is 2011 !

Saturday, 14 May 2011

14th May 1966

RTW467 back in 1979 celebrating
that year's Shilibeer anniversary
This is just a reminder of the anniversary this weekend which is significant in London bus terms for a number of reasons but specifically the last day of operation of London's first 8' wide motorbuses, the RTWs, which occurred on this date and which was, of course, also a Saturday.

This class of 500 had been progressively withdrawn over the past couple of years as part of not only a general plan to remove the non-standard elements of the fleet but also to extract the Leylands first.

Thus it was that on this day in 1966 RTWs finished their duties on route 95 and the very last in passenger service was RTW467. This vehicle was quickly secured for preservation and has remained owned by the same entity for the last 45 years (almost three times as long as its original owner!). As a result is must surely represent one of the longest surviving vehicles in private preservation and helping diffuse a suggestion that such activities are merely 'postponed scrapping'.

I have of course been associated with this vehicle for an equally long time and it has in the past month or so returned to its birthplace of Leyland to celebrate more than 60 years since it was built. It was there having most recently been at the BusWorks facility at Blackpool for its own Class VI test certificate and acting as a pattern for the restoration of RTW335 which a small number of us repatriated from France a few years ago and is now being restored for the Ensign Bus heritage fleet.

There are many other 14/15th May anniversaries in London bus history as it happens but this one is special to me and this Sunday we are celebrating a running day on routes 9 and 15 between Tower Hill and Kensington High Street overlaying the existing heritage services with guest vehicles. You will have to wait until tomorrow to see what they are but they are being provided by their owners at their own cost to allow Londoners and visitors the chance to ride on vehicles of the past.

The internet will be awash with pictures and one or two of them will be here!


Saturday, 7 May 2011

A new bus for London

You will I am sure periodically click the link on this page and read RouteONE Magazine which is featured here. If you did this week you will get a bit of deja-vu as half of page 7 is devoted to the content of my blog from a couple of weeks ago. Well you read it here first but it is now being read by the entire circulation of that noted trade journal which has found an important place in our industry - which I should add is almost certainly the most crowded for trade journals. I don't think any other country has as many devoted to buses and coaches.

I know therefore they won't mind if I summarise another story which they are carrying this week which I know will be of interest to those of my readers who don't get RouteONE. That is the new London double-decker from MCV which was launched this week and is soon to enter service with Go-Ahead in East London.

It is a 63-seat vehicle built on the Volvo B9TL to the latest TfL specification. This new addition to the Volvo chassis range started life when Volvo lost ground in the capital being unable to live within the prevailing weight limits at the commencement of Euro 4. A London prototype was delivered in 2010 which was still too heavy - that vehicle was subsequently reworked and was the one which appeared at the NEC Show last Autumn now in one-door configuration and in the colours of Wessex Connet, which is where it has entered service.

You will recall I was critical of the finish of that vehicle at the show even taking into account the conversion work.

Now a much better vehicle, numbered VM1, and also built in Egypt has been unveiled and this time meets all the requirements. It is built to the latest EC Regulations which makes mandatory better seat pitch, suspension driver's seat and allows on two-door buses, the elimination of the lower deck offside emergency door. It is currently below TfL's 87 passenger requirement due to the new regulations' higher specification of nominal passenger weight but this is expected to be resolved from further weight-saving during the development of the design. A further design improvement incorporated removes the intrusion of the air-cooling unit at the top of the stairs.

I am looking forward to seeing and sampling this latest addition to the range of vehicles suitable for the London market. The features all seem very good and I have every reason to believe that the build quality is far superior to the vehicle shown at Birmingham last year.

VM1 on show at Volvo. For Mike Morgan's full article with photographs (including this one) click on the RouteONE link just over on the right.