Sunday, 18 March 2018

It's A Bus Depot, Jim, But Not As We Know It!

I am sometimes accused of doing nothing but moan. Those who think that are going to be disappointed in this post as the only thing I can moan about is not having anything to moan about!

One of the universal criticisms of Go Ahead when they took over Anglianbus was thus: "You cannot run a rural depot like a London depot" Ultimately that proved to be correct as Anglian no longer exist. On Friday I travelled to Reading, which although could hardly be called rural is further away from London than my old stamping ground of Gillingham in Kent is. I had been invited to take a look round the home of Reading Buses, and must confess had been counting the days.

I had the opportunity to observe proceedings outside Reading Station for half an hour and must say it is a good place to watch buses. The sun was shining for once, and I got to really appreciate the diversity of colours and liveries that Reading Buses employ, and that every single one of them is subtle, even the brighter colours. Nothing is in your face or garish, and huge credit has to go to Ray Stenning and his Creating Desire team. I also spotted a former celebrity. Remember the famous Bristol "Poo Bus"? Originally a Scania gas bus demonstrator that saw a few weeks with Anglian. it made national headlines when it was revealed tat it had been converted to run on human waste in Bristol. Now back to its original form it is just one of Reading Buses' gas fleet with the appropriate registration BU52 GAS.

Former Poo Bus in Reading
A short walk fro Reading Station is Great Knollys Street, home of Reading Buses. It is vast! But then Reading Buses operation is vast. Over 200 buses are based there, with 500 drivers and 150 other staff making sure all runs smoothly. To put that into perspective Plumstead Depot in Southeast London holds fewer buses.

From the moment I walked through the door one word was to dominate my thoughts, that word being "nice". I can't think of another occasion where the thought "oh, that's nice" went through my head more often than it did on Friday. Take the waiting area at reception, for example.

The waiting area at Reading Buses
It wasn't long before Martijn Gilbert CEO of Reading Buses came down to greet me and take me on a tour. I've worked at a few depots and visited a few depots but this didn't have the atmosphere of your usual depot, and it took me a long time to find the right word to describe it. However, the best way I can describe the atmosphere is one of equality. There was no "us and them" feeling, indeed Martijn told me that there are no restricted areas to anyone apart from the obvious, ie control room, workshops etc. This means anyone is free to talk to and see anyone, and it seems to work. One thing impressed me no end, and that was how everyone greeted Martijn as we walked round, and Martijn in turn knew the first name of EVERYONE we encountered. With a workforce of 650 that is no mean achievement. But Reading Buses go the extra mile to keep their staff happy and involved. The facilities at GKS (Great Knollys Street) include a subsidised canteen, showers, a fully equipped gym, pool tables and even a multi faith prayer room. I was shown the trophy cabinets, full of awards Reading Buses have won, that are displayed in full view of everyone, not hidden upstairs in the boardroom. There are computer bases where drivers can access their rotas and duties, and even print them off. Driver managers are all based close to the control room, which once again enphasises the easy access to management. Ah yes, the control room.

The info wall in the control room
Dominating the control room is a wall with many screens! These screens show live tracking info, live traffic cctv and social media from various sources including the Police and customers. There are 3 controllers, the Operations Manager and roster clerk, and the atmosphere was one of the utmost efficiency combined with never ending banter. I was back in the control room later and nothing had changed.

I was showed the weekly, yes weekly internal newsletter, which contains everything from route changes to fleet news, to customer feedback - positive and negative - to driver achievements, retirements, to welcoming new recruits, the forthcoming week's canteen menu and much else. Anyone can contribute and it also provides a good vehicle for those little messages that would otherwise go on haughty notices. Another really nice touch.

Martijn then took me to the workshops, of which more later, but let's just say the main workshop is gothic! Easily big enough to house a Jumbo Jet the scope for development is huge, of which again more later.

Just one side of the main workshop.
Martijn had something he wanted to show me. If you remember from a few posts ago the Purple route 17 has had some new E400Citi gas deckers. This means that the older E400's are to be redeployed on a new Berry route, which is replacing the Pink route. However before returning to service these E400 are having a complete refurbishment to "as new" standard. Martijn was eager for me to see the comparison as an example of both before and after were in the yard. The difference is quite remarkable, with the refurbished ones boasting new floors, USB chargers, and new seats, with tables upstairs. See the comparisons for yourselves.

the contrasting liveries

Before and after interiors

Added features
Martijn took the refurbished one for a spin round the yard to see if anything rattled - it didn't, although he did spot a couple of things to his dissatisfaction, which he noted for attention. He explained that as Reading Buses replaced with new, those replaced would receive the refurbishment to "as new". It's hard not to be impressed.

It was lunchtime, and Martijn had a full engagement diary, so he left me in the capable hands of - hang on need to get this right - Head of Engineering & Innovation, John Bickerton. Not before organising lunch though, and if you ever wondered what a dynamic bus boss has for lunch I can tell you it's a fish finger sandwich! Seemed right, somehow. John and I plumped for chicken and chips and retired to his office, where we were looked after by the lovely Linda, who put up with my extreme fussiness (no beans/peas/custard please) with a big smile on her face, masking whatever she was thinking. Just something else that was nice!

I had got to know John a little on Twitter, but there is nothing like a face to face chat, and John is one of those people you like instantly, and could just sit back and listen to. John previously worked for Cosworth developing Formula 1 engines and confesses to not being a "bus person" though who he was trying to kid is anyone's guess! He maybe a bus person in a totally objective way, but if you're not interested in the objects you care for you couldn't do anything like the job John does. His attention to detail borders on the obsessive, which is no bad thing. He despises rattles, which makes us blood brothers anyway, and wants everything perfect, yet goes about it in a jovial, relaxed and seemingly stress free way. Again it could be swan syndrome (all seems calm to the eye but don't look under the water) but I don't think so. It gave the impression of someone loving his job, with full confidence in his workforce to get the job done, knowing he has the scope and freedom to utilise the innovation side of his role. A happy bunny!

John gave me a more extensive tour of the engineering side, and again demonstrated the way employees are made to feel part of the team. There is a machine shop, where anyone is permitted to bring in projects from home, as long as they can be carried in. That keeps the machines from suffering from under use, which John said was a bigger threat than any damage that might be caused. The team are happy to refill staff's car air conditioning, a gesture of goodwill that in turn generates goodwill, which reaps its own benefits. Just another way staff can feel they're not restricted to just their particular department.

The other side of the main workshop.
I hadn't intended this to be a 2 part post but there is so much more to write about I'll be up all night, so I'll post what I have now and do part 2 over the next couple of days, including why I spent an hour riding around Reading on an out of service E400MMC!

I'll take this bit down once I think everyone's read it but my apologies for the lack of posts over the last few weeks. The main reasons are I haven't been out much, other things have precluded me from blog activity but the main reason is my laptop is rapidly giving up the ghost and it's taking longer and longer to write posts - indeed what you have just read has taken me the best part of 7 hours. I'm therefore making an appeal. I cannot afford a new laptop, indeed keeping this blog running costs money - the blog makes no money whatsoever so any travel costs come out of my pocket, which is fine, I accept that. However if anyone has an old laptop in the cupboard, or is just about to upgrade then please consider me! As long as it connects to the internet and the keyboard is intact that is all it needs to do! That will help me create posts more regularly and quicker. Many thanks - I don't like to get the begging bowl out but every idea to raise money/sponsorship creatively has met with a brick wall. You can email me at

Friday, 23 February 2018

Megabus Drop a Megabomb on East Anglia

That sounds a bit drastic doesn't it but I'm convinced they have. Let me explain. Last year Megabus reduced their London - Norwich service by 25%. Monday - Thursday. The very useful early journey to London was scrapped, as was the equally useful 0930 return, and the late 2200 from London. In short they got rid of their most useful services. They also introduced a new stop at Stratford which added to journey times. However it was still good value.

But yesterday Megabus announced that from May 7th the M16 Norwich - London service is to be changed again. It will, from that date no longer serve Victoria Coach Station and will terminate and restart from Stratford. What???? Honestly???? Can you imagine if Greater Anglia suddenly announced that they weren't going to bother serving Liverpool St anymore, but would terminate at Stratford and customers could make their own way into Central London. Just think about the outcry for a moment.

This is what Megabus are shouting from the rooftops:

"Our Norwich to London service is changing! Instead of our final stop being London Victoria Coach Station, we’re now stopping at Stratford International. But the great news is you can now get to Central London even faster! And it’s all low cost – so heading into the heart of the capital has never been easier!"

Hang on a sec - get to Central London even faster/ How do we do that Megabus? 

"So want to know how quickly you can get to Central London? We’ve got the lowdown for you…"

 Looking forward to this - do tell us!

"You could be in St Pancras in 6 minutes when you’re catching the High Speed services from International Station. Or you can catch the Central Line from the regional station to Oxford Circus and be shopping up a storm in 20 minutes."

"Payments can be made quickly on both routes using contactless and Oyster. Or you can hop on the Central Line or red line to Londoners!"

Ahhh I see! Ok let's check the small print for any catches. No small print? What none? This calls for some research. Let's start with cost shall we?

Megabus proudly emblazon all over their coaches "fares from £1 + booking fee" and indeed currently on May7th there are some £1 fares available. But not on the first trip up to Stratford. That's now shot up to £6.55. You leave Norwich at 0630 and arrive at Stratford at 0900. Then you have to get into London. As Megabus state HS1 into St Pancras is the quickest way, although if you actually want Victoria it's of no use whatsoever as the walk from the HS1 terminus to the Underground network is enormous. Nevertheless it's quick, and if you have an Oyster card, as all people travelling from Norwich do, you can use it on HS1. However beware. Oyster cards have daily caps, which means you can travel as much as you like but won't ever have to pay more than just below the corresponding Travelcard fare. Except HS1 doesn't count as part of the cap, so the single fare of £5.90 will be added to anything else you use your Oyster card for. Either way that £6.55 has turned into £12.45 and you still have to get to Victoria, which will cost you £2.00 with an Oyster card on the tube or £4.00 without. So it could cost you £16.45 if you book today to get from Norwich to Victoria.

But of course if you want to go to Victoria you won't go that way if you know of the catches. you'll follow the other advice and jump on the "red line" - I have never, ever heard it called that before - and change onto the Victoria Line at Oxford Circus, humping your heavy suitcase. The Oyster fare is £2.90, cash £4.90. Oh hang on though, the Central Line goes absolutely nowhere near Stratford International Station so you'll need to get a Docklands train to Stratford regional station, up some stairs to the Central line platforms. But don't do that - stay on the DLR to West Ham, then switch to the District Line straight to Victoria - the journey shouldn't take more than an hour.

Then repeat on the way home. You have GOT to be kidding! This is how Megabus end their promotion..

"Fast and cost effective – what more could you ask for? Book your next trip now!" 

Regular readers will know I use Megabus a lot when going on long journeys. I have praised them to the skies, they have made it possible to get to places I could never have gone to otherwise. I travel up from Norwich to Victoria and CHANGE COACHES. I will travel back overnight from wherever I am then catch the first Norwich coach out of Victoria. I tell you this, Megabus - if you think I'm going to get to Victoria after a 10 hour journey, then have to muck about on buses, tubes and trains to connect with the Norwich coach, at significant additional expense you have another think coming, and I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking this. I assume this decision has been made because of the London congestion, and on that you have my sympathy, but to kick your customers off at Stratford without arranging ticket acceptance with other providers just smacks of not giving a damn about your customers and gives the impression you can't wait to get rid of the route altogether.

I urge Megabus to have a rethink on this as I cannot see any way these changes will increase patronage or improve the route and customer experience. It has certainly put me off using the service, and I will seek alternative ways to connect with coaches at Victoria, even if it means a white Levante.

Monday, 19 February 2018

37407 Returns To Service

Now I know I'm a bit bonkers about Class 37's  There is nothing about them I dislike. Their look, their presence, their awesome soundtrack, their history. In my view they are up there with Routemasters, Jumbo Jets and not much else. The difference is that apart from the heritage part of the 15 in London there are no RM's left in regular service. The end of the Boeing 747 is sadly all too soon approaching thanks to the 787 Dreamliner and the A380 Airbus. But the Class 37 loco? They just keep going, and far from numbers dropping more keep coming back to life.

The latest is 37407. Built in 1965 before England won the World Cup, and your faithful blogger was but a glint in the sailor's eye it was withdrawn from service in February 2000. After languishing for 7 years she was bought for preservation, but never saw service. In 2015 our heroine was bought by DRS, along with celebrity 37558 (424). A 2 year overhaul has taken place, undertaken by Loram UK, a shiny large logo BR paint job, and 18 years after last hauling a passenger train 37407 is back on the rails. On Saturday she arrived at Norwich from Derby, and Tim and I were at Harling Rd to see her rumble by. Instant new header pic, and this one passing the old signal box.

37407 at Harling Rd
Monday saw her put to work with the shy and retiring 37425 on the Greater Anglia Even Shorter Set, being only 2 coaches while the normal set is serviced at Crewe. However, the sun which bathed 407 on Saturday had taken its leave and steady rain and mist was the order of the day. Never mind that, the opportunity to witness a superb loco on her first day back after 18 years doesn't happen everyday, and so I was out first thing with the intention to see he in as many different locations as possible.

The set's first trip is light from Norwich to Lowestoft, and so I was at Somerleyton to see the set glide past.
407 pulling coaches for the first time in 18 years
It doesn't take the train long to get from Somerleyton to Reedham. However by road you have no choice but to go via Great Yarmouth, due to the Broads getting in the way. So while the set made its way to Lowestoft and back I had to race the rush hour traffic to get to Reedham. It was close, so close I didn't have time to get to my desired platform, and just caught her as she left. Well worth the 40 min race though!

The set at Reedham
I'm sure you will remember the photo of green 37057 with the Network Rail test train at the Acle Straight that was my header picture for months. It was an obvious place to return to, although the weather conditions were completely different.

Just Another Murky Monday
After doubling back to Acle to watch her go the other way the next port of call was Lingwood. I urge anyone interested in vintage railway operation to visit Lingwood before the old signals go. No signal box as such but a portakabin and a ground frame that really should be in the Science Museum. If this piece of railway history isn't preserved for future generations to learn from it will be criminal.

The vintage signalling at Lingwood
The level crossing is 50 yards or so from the station which means a decent soundtrack, and a seriously close up view!

What a machine
Finally it was off to Brundall, firstly to snap her going over a bridge in the woods, then to recreate the picture you can see bordering the blog, which I took on the first day of Class 37 operation. Both turned out well.

Passing through the woods in Brundall

Unique sight

I will have to try and do it all again when the sun shines! All the pics of 407 are stills from videos, which is just as well as that last one looks distinctly photo-shopped, which it isn't! So enjoy the video, it's not BBC quality, but the weather was truly awful. The Lingwood video is last, for reasons I can't work out! Enjoy.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

As Clear As Mud

Long time readers of the blog - God bless you - will recall that prior to the 2015 General Election I sent emails to all the prospective candidates for my constituency, inviting them to meet me to discuss their public transport policies. Only one took the trouble to respond, and a few days later Russel Whiting, the Labour candidate was sitting on my sofa answering my questions - you can see that post by clicking here.

So when, in November, all the talk and rumour was about yet more bus cuts I wrote to Jeremy Corbyn, who is a transport enthusiast, to ask what Labour's official policy regarding sponsored bus services was. Here is what I sent;

Hello Jeremy
I am writing to you with two hats on. firstly as owner of Steve;s Bus & Train Page, a pubic transport blog attracting over 15,000 page views a month. Not huge, but not bad for a niche topic either.
Secondly I'm writing as a bus passenger living in the country, who has seen so many bus services cut over the last 7 years, leaving so many people with no links to the nearest town or city.

In recent days the local news around the country has been of County Councils having to find yet more savings, and bus budgets are once more in the firing line, which will leave thousands more people trapped in their homes. While recent emphasis has been on mental health and loneliness future cuts to vital community links will do nothing to aid mental health, indeed many people will find it tough to attend hospital appointments etc. It will also impact negatively on congestion etc.

I am aware you are a transport enthusiast, and would be extremely interested to hear what your views are on this subject, and how Labour would help those people affected by transport cuts re-establish their local links. I do have potential solutions myself which I'm positive no one in Government would have the courage to implement, but it's not rocket science.
I would be delighted if you could find time in your busy schedule to address these issues, either in writing, or I would be happy to meet you at Westminster for a natter. Please take a look at my blog, and you will see I'm serious and not a time waster.

Btw my local MP is Therese Coffey, so you will understand why I have approached you rather than start locally.

Steve W

Yesterday I finally received a reply from Labour Party Central Office, and I eagerly opened the email to find out what the policy regarding sponsored bus services was. To be honest I never expected a personal natter with himself, but if you don't ask etc.. Anyway this is what I read;

Dear Steve,

Thank you for your email regarding Labour’s transport policy.

The Tories are failing to stand up for passengers, road users and pedestrians. Costs are rising, public money is being wasted, and promised investment is not being delivered.

Under-investment is leading to chaos and cost to commuters. Since the Tories came to power rail fares have rocketed by 27 per cent - that's a rise three times faster than the growth in wages. Some season tickets are up by over 40 per cent and bus fares have also risen by 27 per cent on average.

We were told that higher fares would fund investment, but vital projects have been delayed for years and passenger satisfaction is in decline as commuters are paying even more for increasingly overcrowded and unreliable trains.

Labour will put passengers’ first, bringing rail into public ownership. Routes will naturally return to public ownership as private contracts expire, meaning profits can be re-invested to improve services & hold fares down.

We have consistently been in favour of building an additional runway in the South East of England. But this support has always been conditional on four tests being met: on capacity, climate change, noise and air quality and the wider national benefits.

In 2010, the Government cut £4bn from the strategic road network, scrapping schemes that were later reinstated at a huge cost, and have failed to invest in council maintained roads, which have an estimated repairs backlog of £12bn.

Labour will stand up for passengers and road users by reforming our transport networks and delivering major projects that have stalled under the Tories.
Kind regards,
Membership Services and Correspondence
The Labour Party

Erm, yes, George. Thanks for that but what about your policy regarding sponsored bus services! If anyone reading this has contacts within the Labour Party perhaps you can point them in this direction and try and get an answer. Alternatively if Jeremy Paxman is reading this then put your knuckledusters on and get me answers! I have sent a reply asking for an answer to my question and will report back if I get a reply, but don't expect it soon!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

A Day Of Excellence

Ok, I said I'd combine my two trips to London into one post. Forget I said that, and to confuse you even more I'm going to do Friday's first! You'll understand why as you go along.

It made a pleasant change to get the train up to London thanks to a decent deal on an Off peak Return from Greater Anglia. I'd forgotten how comfortable those Mk 3 coaches were, and it certainly beat driving down the A12 again.

90004 at Ipswich
My first mission was to ride the latest bus route in London to be converted to fully electric operation. The 153 runs rather confusingly from Finsbury Square in the City of London to Finsbury Park Interchange which is miles away north of Islington! But hang on, I hear you cry, you hate those electric buses so why voluntarily go on another one. Well they have improved. I ventured on one last week on the 360 in Vauxhall, of which more when I finally get that post up, and I was much impressed. Quieter, smoother, fewer rattles, all in all not bad, so I wanted to try one fresh out the wrapping. I'm delighted to report it was a very nice place to be. These BYD E200e's are so much better than the original examples on the Red Arrow routes, and an added bonus is these actually have USB charging points at most seats, which is unheard of in London as was enthusiastically demonstrated by the sheer glee of a group of college students when they discovered them!

The U\SB charger in action and the BYD E200e at Finsbury Park. note the very low roundel
A trip down the driverless Victoria Line to Victoria was next, and the irony isn't lost on me that the only crew member on Victoria Line trains sits at the front and his/her sole job is to open and close the doors!

A stroll through Victoria Station and its shopping arcade and I was back at the Collonades Bus Station to catch the 702. I had been asked to give my opinion of the BCI Excellence which is on trial on the route, and I jumped at the chance. As I've ridden the Excellence during the day I thought I'd catch up with it for a ride after dark, which gave me time for other things.

Waiting on the stop was Reading Buses 1212, an ADL E400 in all over Vamooz livery, not what I was expecting. However a quick message to Reading Buses supremo Martijn Gilbert and all was made clear. Because this bus has a high ratio differential it is used as the official spare bus for the route. Perfectly acceptable for a 7yo bus, minimal rattles and it certainly moves.

Reading Buses 1212 at Victoria Collonades Bus Station
This was my 3rd time on the route in the space of 6 weeks, and the first time the cloud had been high enough to see the planes approaching Heathrow from the A4. On Chiswick Flyover I looked up to see quite a large plane. This photo of the Emirates A380 Airbus was taken from a moving E400 and I'm quite pleased with it as keeping anything still on a moving E400 is a challenge in itself!

Emirates A380 approaching Heathrow
So to Slough, and with time to spare I sampled the new service 2, operated by Thames Valley Buses, part of Reading Buses, who have just taken over from First Berkshire, hence the ex Berkshire E200's arriving at Lowestoft. TVB are using Scania Omnicities on the route, with very comfortable seats, and if mine was anything to go by extremely courteous and friendly drivers. I hope the route is a success. It was noted that no one has to wait for TVB services in the cold at Slough Bus Station - the drivers stay on the bus and let passengers on up to 15 mins before departure. That's good.

Thames Valley Omniciti YN56 FBK at Windsor
Returning to Slough on one of First Berkshire's awful Volvo 7900's there was time for half hour on Slough Station which was enough to catch a few HST's hammering through, and my first look at one of the new Class 800 Hitachi IEP trains, that are basically Javelins in green! I'll save the train stuff for the next post as I want to concentrate on the Excellence.

Due to Friday afternoon congestion in Hammersmith made worse by a broken down vehicle the Excellence was delayed by half hour, but Lordy was it worth the wait.

BCI Excellence in Ensignbus demonstrator green arrives at Slough
Before I boarded I noticed that despite the delay the driver was still taking time to advise customers and dish out timetables, not seeming the slightest bit stressed. That was an impressive start. I settled near the front upstairs to be greeted by a familiar face. Fellow enthusiast and Reading driver Jonathan Berkolds had done the round trip from Bracknell, and we spent the journey commenting on how good the Excellence was and what would suit the route.

Since I last rode an Excellence, when Borderbus had one last year I have been on just about every new bus in production there is. Scania MMC's, electric buses, gas deckers, hydrogen buses, Streetdecks, Volvo B5LH's, the lot. The BCI Enterprise is head, shoulders and torso above the rest. I was impressed last year, but you will know I tend not to really judge a bus until it's 6 months old. Well this demonstrator is, and I fell in love with it all over again. The ride is amazing. Nothing but nothing rattles, it is astonishingly quiet, the seats I'd happily sit on all day, and then we come to a feature I didn't know it had, because I'd only ridden it during the day - the lighting.

When the bus doors are open the interior lights are bright. However 10 seconds after the doors close they dim, meaning you can look easily out of the window and see something other than your own reflection. Not great if you want to read the paper I'll admit, but most people are on their phones these days so the majority will love it. At Bracknell there was just enough time to grab a couple of photos before Peter, our driver loaded up for the return journey, taking no layover whatsoever except a quick trip to the loo, but after he had loaded up, getting customers out of the cold before he did.

The Excellence at Bracknell
With lighter traffic on the return journey the Excellence came into its own, gliding along effortlessly and by time we reached Legoland all the lost time had been made up, and while waiting time at various places I was able to chat to Peter and find out his opinion. 9/10 was his verdict, the best demonstrator he had driven by far and he loved it. However, nothing is perfect and he pointed out one or two minor niggles. Firstly, and I reported on this last year, the bell sound is the same as the indicators, which mean eyes have to leave the road and check the dash to see if the bell light was on. Ross Newman at Ensign told me that would be looked into so I'll be interested to see if there has been any progress on that.

Secondly while waxing lyrical about the lights dimming Peter pointed out that the door lights stayed on for the same 10 seconds after closing, which does make the cab area very bright while pulling away. Could those lights be on a separate circuit to just come on and off with the doors opening and closing?

But that was it. The nicest driving seat he had ever had, and on the motorway the Excellence still felt like a coach whereas all the others "turned back into buses and were affected by wind noise".

Drivers like Peter Cotton are priceless in their value to an operator. I have never had a more detailed or thoughtful analysis of a bus from a driver before, and it appears there is a great amount of discussion among the Greenline drivers as to what will suit the route best.

Quite simply they want Enterprises, big brother to the Excellence. Peter explained that they would give extra capacity for Legoland, which will be required in the Summer months, and the rear wheel steering would mean the tighter places at the Bracknell end would be manageable - after all, as he pointed out, there are Scania tri-axles already on the route. Put 4 tables upstairs, and you have a great selling point. But if not Excellences will do just fine. Peter tweeted the day after we met "Stunning bus to drive, best demo so far". Peter, it was an absolute joy to both meet and be driven by you, and I'll try and ensure you are driving any future demonstrators I check out!

So what are my conclusions for Martijn and his team. Well, an ideal bus has to tick many boxes. Will the passengers like it? Overwhelmingly yes, especially after Reading Buses have personalised it in their own customer friendly way. The ride is very quiet, even downstairs which puts it miles ahead of anything else, It doesn't rattle and seats are great. Will the drivers like it? In this case the drivers don't just like it they want it. Is it affordable? The Excellence is in the same price band as the E400MMC and so, so, much better so yes. Unfortunately the boxes I can't tick are the engineering ones - fuel economy, availability of parts, reliability etc, but I know John Bickerton at Reading will be poring over data as I type. I also spoke to Ross Newman the other night who told me he will buy BCI again over anything available from the UK market. Says a lot.

It was a bold, some might say very risky move to call a bus an Excellence. Asking for ridicule and it to come back to bite you. However BCI knew what they were talking about and have been vindicated. A few years ago Malcolm Robson asked me what I thought of the Mercedes Citaro demonstrator at Ipswich Buses. I rode it, and emailed him one word - "invest". They did, though sadly not to the same spec, which I'm guessing was taken out of Malcolm's hands by how much IBC would cough up. My advice to Martijn and John at Reading buses is the same. You have found your bus. The only bus that could top the Excellence is the Enterprise. I suggest you both ride it in service to see what your customers will see, and listen to your drivers. I didn't want to get off it, and no bus has done that built in the last few decades!

The day didn't end there, as I had my first ride on an IEP back to Paddington from Slough, but that can wait for the next post. Today belongs to this wonderful bus that proves it can be done if enough thought goes into it, and all the complaining about body noise is justified.

Rear view at Bracknell