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Trendy bendies - artics in the UK

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The delivery at the end of May of the last of the current orders for articulated buses for London has brought to almost 400 the number in service in the capital. At the same time, and in another capital, the first articulated buses for Wales entered service in Cardiff.

There are now well over 500 articulated buses in service in the UK – most of them Citaros and the remainder primarily Volvos with Wrightbus bodies, or Scania OmniCitys.

Arriva London is not only the UK’s biggest operator of artics, with 137, but it is also Europe’s biggest operator of articulated Citaros.

Artics were a key part of Transport for London’s strategy to increase capacity on major corridors when it decided to introduce congestion charging in the West End. They are now operated by four of the major groups serving the capital – Arriva, First, Go-Ahead and Stagecoach.

And while they have often attracted a hostile press – after all they’re the buses that killed the Routemaster – London transport commissioner Peter Hendy defends their use and argues that they are popular with passengers, and that’s what counts.

Taking delivery of the last of Arriva’s Citaros, Arriva London managing director Mark Yexley noted: “Bendy buses have helped to cater for the significant growth in passenger numbers on the trunk routes they are used on and have improved services overall for passengers. They are more comfortable, have superb accessibility levels, and our drivers love them.”

And Wolfgang Presinger, executive managing director of Mercedes Benz Buses and Coaches, stresses the environmental benefits of high-capacity buses: “A vehicle capable of carrying up to 150 people dramatically reduces fuel consumption per passenger, which is a benefit. In times of high oil prices and environmental concerns, bendy buses represent a very attractive solution for the passenger and at the same time are extremely cost-efficient for the operator.”

And they are attractive for the passenger. They may offer fewer seats than a double-decker – 49 against 67 in London – but at least all of the seats are accessible without having to climb stairs, and with an ageing population that is an issue.

Vandalism is also less of a problem than on a double-decker.

The key issues, which weigh against the artic, are its higher capital cost – say around £200,000 compared with around £150,000 for a double-decker – and higher running costs. Fuel consumption in London is quoted by one operator as 4mpg, against 4.5mpg for double-deckers – roughly 10 per cent poorer, although in terms of fuel consumption per passenger, as Presinger points out, artics are well ahead.

Road space can be an issue too, with 18m artics taking up rather more room than 10.5m double-deckers. Often the challenge may be more about allocating kerb space at busy bus stops, rather than road space as such.

In Wales, Cardiff Bus has just taken delivery of 19 Scania OmniCitys valued at £4.5million – that’s £235,000 each, reflecting a very high specification.

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Cardiff Bus has recently taken delivery of 19 high-specification
Scania OmniCitys.

Most are being used on services to Ely, where they are increasing capacity on a route previously operated by Super Pointer Darts, and now being operated on the same frequency by the artics.
“We operate every five minutes and the choice was either to up the frequency or run the same frequency with higher capacity vehicles,” explains Cardiff Bus commercial manager Peter Heath. “We carry a large proportion of concessionary pass holders, people who would be loath to go upstairs on a double-decker.

“This was the only option we had. If we had increased the frequency we would have provided more seats but the costs would have gone up.”

Branded “Capital City Red”, the artics are being launched as the city council improves infrastructure on the route, and the aim is that the Ely corridor will become the first Statutory Quality Bus Partnership in Wales.

Rodney Berman, leader of Cardiff council, describes the investment in artics as “a key contribution” to developing the first SQPB in Wales.

The SQBP concept might not be as glamorous as First’s ‘ftr’, but the aim is the same, and the vehicles are rather more affordable. The ‘ftr’ is, of course, being considered for Swansea, where work starts this week on new bus priority measures in the city anticipating the arrival of ‘ftr’ in 2008.

Four of the Cardiff Bus artics are operating on the Baycar link which runs every 10 minutes between the city centre and Cardiff Bay, and on this route the new vehicles were operated free of charge in their first week, to encourage people to try the service.

However, Heath questions whether there is scope to run artics on other city services. “The road network doesn’t permit the artic option. Most of our routes end in housing estates where there is barely enough room for a conventional bus.”

The introduction of dramatically different buses is an opportunity to raise the profile of a service, and one of the ways in which artics can help achieve that – in Cardiff and elsewhere – is in the packaging and promotion. The Cardiff fleet uses a striking livery by Ray Stenning of Best Impressions – so there’s the double impact of articulated buses and a new look.

The air-conditioned OmniCitys also feature automatic vehicle location which broadcasts bus stop information, have a Digibox automated passenger information system and 12 CCTV cameras which show live feedback through on-board monitors. Live news broadcasts are shown on the same monitors.

Of course all of these features can be specified on any bus, but bring them all together on a swish new artic and the promotional value is immense.

Artics also offer scope for fresh approaches to fare collection – off-bus ticketing in London, for example, which allows passengers to board and alight by any door. For drivers it removes the need to collect fares. First has done the same with its ‘ftr’ in York. Measures like this could be introduced on conventional buses, but again the artic brings with it the opportunity to promote a step-change in service levels rather more easily than can be done by substituting a new double-deck bus for an old one.

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First runs the UK's largest fleet of artics, 193 in total,
including 12 StreetCars in York.

Promotional value underlies First’s ‘ftr’ and despite the hype, when all is said and done, the StreetCar is still a bus, even if it is the ultimate in articulated buses.

The ‘ftr’ concept did not have to be built around an articulated vehicle – but could you imagine local authorities embracing the idea of dedicated rights of way and additional priorities if First had come along with a double-deck bus, no matter how stylish it was? Of course they wouldn’t.

So is the double-decker dead? Certainly not. But it is perhaps no longer the automatic choice for high-capacity routes. Elderly people are daunted by the stairs. Vandalism and anti-social behaviour can make the upper deck, especially at the rear, an unappealing travelling environment. Some operators now shut the top deck off in the evening, to address this issue.

And double-deckers are – dare one say it in the face of striking designs from Wrightbus and Alexander Dennis? – old fashioned.

The artic is cool, air-conditioned or not. And coolness is a quality not often associated with travel by bus.


Outside London

While artics are perceived very much as a solution for London, they are used in a variety of other locations in Britain, as recent launches in Cardiff and York demonstrate.

While Arriva London has the country’s biggest single artic fleet, First as a group actually runs more – 193 in all – and is the biggest user of artics outside London. In its provincial fleets First has almost 150 artics (including York’s 12 StreetCars). Locations where First uses artics include Aberdeen, Bath, Glasgow and Manchester. Most are Wrightbus-bodied Volvos, but the Manchester fleet includes Scania OmniCitys.

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The majority of First's bendy buses are Wrightbus-bodied
Volvos, but the Manchester fleet includes Scania Omnicitys.

Go-Ahead uses four Scania/Wrightbus artics to provide high carrying capacity on the Metro Shuttle service between Gateshead Metro station and the Metrocentre shopping and leisure complex. Nottingham City Transport uses five similar vehicles on its Unilink service, running every 15 minutes between the city centre and Clifton campus of Nottingham Trent University.

Travel West Midlands operates Citaros in Coventry and OmniCitys in Birmingham, and Truronian is introducing three Citaro artics to serve the Eden Project in Cornwall.


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