Friday, 29 April 2016

FirstGroup places £70 million order for new buses!

FirstGroup has announced a massive order of new buses for their operations which has cost them £70 million.

This is also a follow up to Stagecoach Group announcing a £97 million order for 480 buses which I’ve previously reported.

·         All new vehicles fitted with free on board Wi-Fi
·         More customers to benefit from on board USB charging points
·         FirstGroup continues to be one of the largest operators of Low Carbon Emission Buses in the UK
·         87% of buses are DfT ‘Low Carbon Certified’ saving 4 million kgs of CO2 every year
·         First Bus is proud to continue supporting British bus manufacturers, with 98% of order to be manufactured in UK

FirstGroup, the leading transport operator in the UK and North America, today announced that its bus division has ordered 305 new vehicles worth £70m.

The order by First Bus underlines its commitment to provide high quality services for its customers and partners and brings the company’s investment over the last six years to £455m in 2,500 new vehicles.

Today’s order also consolidates First Bus’s position as one of the largest operators of Low Carbon Emission Buses in the UK. 87% of the new vehicles will be Department for Transport approved ‘low carbon certified’, which First Bus estimates will save 4 million kg of CO2 per year. The 2016/17 investment will bring the company’s fleet of low carbon certified vehicles to around 1,000, believed to be one of the largest in the UK, saving in total an estimated 14.5 million kg of CO2 annually.

All 305 new buses will be fitted with the latest Euro VI engines, which produce 95% less oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emissions compared to buses with Euro V engines and as a result will help improve air quality in the towns and cities in which First Bus operates.

The order is good news for customers.  All the new buses will feature the latest technology, with complementary on board Wi-Fi providing passengers with free internet access, and by the end of the financial year around 60% of the 6,300 First Bus fleet will be Wi-Fi enabled.  Most passengers will also benefit from leather seats, while some of the new vehicles will be fitted with next stop audio-visual display screens and around 30% with USB charging points, allowing customers to charge their phones and tablets on the move.

The investment in technology to help keep customers connected on board reflects the commitment by First Bus to deliver a customer centric service that is simple, smart and seamless.  Many First Bus customers are already benefiting from smart ticketing options and Real Time Information, while all customers can use their mobile phones as bus tickets through the company’s m-Ticket option.  The company’s drive for innovative customer friendly improvements will continue through 2016/17.

With 98% of the order to be manufactured in the UK, the fleet investment by First Bus provides a big boost to British manufacturing helping to support hundreds of UK jobs.  Scottish firm ADL will manufacture 204 vehicles, while Northern Ireland’s Wrightbus has secured an order for 91 buses, and Volvo has won a contract to build 10 coach chassis in Sweden, with the bodies manufactured by ADL.

Giles Fearnley, Managing Director of First Bus, said the order, which comprises 204 double deckers (the largest ever First Bus order of double deckers), will help encourage more customers across the UK to use the bus: “This is great news for First Bus customers.  We are determined to make the bus a more compelling proposition, attract more customers and grow our business.  Ensuring that our customers travel in modern, comfortable, fit for purpose vehicles which provide added value such as free Wi-Fi and USB charging is pivotal to our customer engagement strategy and our future success.”

He continued: “In 2015, we announced the largest order on record in the UK for vehicles with Euro VI engines, complementing efforts from our partners in local councils to improve air quality in our towns and cities.  Our 2016 order again reflects our commitment to working with our partners to reduce emissions and improve the environment.”

“First Bus is proud to continue supporting British bus manufacturers,” he added.  “Our manufacturing partners continue to lead the world in quality, innovation, fuel efficiency and value for money.  I’m pleased that we’ve again invested heavily in our fleet and our tradition of supporting the British manufacturing industry remains strong.”

Recognising the commitment by First Bus to its partnerships, by way of many examples 14 new buses will enter service in Doncaster this month (April) marking the start of the ‘Doncaster Bus Partnership’ in May.  The successful Sheffield Bus Partnership will benefit from a further 10 new vehicles. The strong developing partnership in Cornwall will see First Bus invest £7.1m in 30 new vehicles.  Meanwhile thanks to high profile partnerships in the West of England, particularly Bristol, 68 new vehicles worth £18.1m are earmarked for its operations.

Full details of the First Bus order:

10 ADL/Volvo Plaxton (ADL) body / B11R (Volvo) chassis coaches
71 ADL Enviro 200 MMC single decker
80 ADL Enviro 400 MMC double decker
8 ADL Enviro 400 MMC Gyro double decker
45 ADL Enviro 400 double decker (exact spec to be confirmed)
71 Wrightbus StreetDeck double decker
20 Wrightbus StreetLite Max single decker

It's interesting how large bus operators in Britain are starting to invest in new buses with Euro VI engines and hopefully in the future they will phase into zero emission buses.

Speaking about engines, Arriva London have issued a press release on retro fitting diesel engines with a hybrid system.

Arriva London Engineering assists in trial to turn older diesel engine powered buses green.

Arriva London is always striving to improve its green credentials, with over 25% of its buses already hybrids and more to come, plus running the only all electric route in London on route 312, any new ideas and technology that can accelerate these green goals is always welcome.

A new idea to turn older diesel engine buses into much more environmentally friendly vehicles has been developed by Vantage Power Ltd based in Greenford, West London in association with Ensign Ltd, the largest reseller of buses in the UK.

The new unit will start trials in July, when two of Arriva London’s 2005, Volvo B7TL, Euro 3 buses, with Alexander Dennis bodies, VLA99 and VLA100 will resume service following their conversion. The trials are fully supported by TfL.

The basic idea behind the unit, is that the old diesel unit that currently drives the wheels is removed, and a retrofit diesel/electric hybrid is fitted. In the new unit, the smaller diesel engine charges the batteries and this power is then used to drive the wheels. Further efficiencies are realised by using the motor that drives the bus in normal operation, as a generator when the bus is slowing down, having the effect of putting more power back into the battery pack, enabling the diesel engine to stay off for longer.

The new system will be tested to see how well it performs against its targets of 40% reduction in the use of fuel, 80%+ reduction in emissions, and a cost saving for the unit which is estimated to be 80% less than a new Hybrid bus.

Jon Harman, Arriva London’s Chief Engineer said:

“London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) requires all double deck buses to be hybrid/electric by 2020, so the challenges of reducing emissions when running such a large fleet are significant.

What’s particularly exciting about this initiative is that Vantage Power have developed a retrofit hybrid pack that has the potential to extend the life of conventional diesel vehicles, that would otherwise become non-compliant.  The system they have developed is packed into a cradle and fits into the same space and fixes to the same mounting points as the outgoing powertrain, thus negating the need for any cutting, welding or relocating of components in the vehicle.

As well as testing of the hybrid retrofit system, the trial will also test another key feature of this system, which is geo-fence technology.  This technology, uses GPS information combined with route information, and can enable the vehicle to ensure its batteries are at full charge before entering certain areas (such as the ULEZ), or past schools, or libraries, and upon entering these areas, the engine can shut itself down and the vehicle then operate as an almost silent ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle). Any new initiative which assists us in achieving this target is very welcome, and we look forward to being involved in this trial in a very practical way, by converting two of our buses and running them in service for the trial”.

This reminds me of the Enviro400H MMC Virtual Electric when it comes to the engine turning off in built up areas and hopefully in time we may see a large percentage of zero emission buses operating around Britain.

I should also mention that there’s a recent photo of ST812, the short 3 door 2 staircase New Routemaster at Perivale Bus Garage, which is set to move to Holloway (HT) for route 91 operations. I’ve also found out that route 91's conversion will be a full blown conversion, utilising a mix of short and normal size NRM’s and is due to commence in May. Those 3 door 2 staircase hybrid buses will be operated by Metroline for London Buses.

That’s all I have to report on today.

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