Somewhat out of the blue FirstGroup have announced the sale of eight of their bus garages in the capital. First began a rationalisation of their bus operations last year, and further sales had been expected, but eight garages is more than many expected. The full press release is below.

As part of FirstGroup’s stated strategy to reposition its UK Bus division to focus on those areas that offer the greatest potential for growth, it has today announced the sale of eight of its London bus depots.

The bus depots at Alperton, Greenford, Hayes, Uxbridge and Willesden Junction, along with 494 vehicles and approximately 1,700 employees, will transfer to Metroline on completion of the sale for a gross consideration of £57.5m. Metroline is an existing London bus operator and wholly-owned subsidiary of Comfort DelGro Corporation Limited, a Singapore-incorporated transportation company.

The bus depots at Atlas Road, Lea Interchange and Westbourne Park, along with approximately 400 vehicles and 1,500 employees, will transfer to Transit Systems Group, an Australian transport operator, on completion of the sale for a gross consideration of £21.3m.

Both disposals are subject to the necessary regulatory approvals including contractual obligations with Transport for London.

Commenting, Giles Fearnley, First’s Managing Director UK Bus, said:

“The sale of these operations marks further progress in our programme to reposition our UK Bus portfolio, recover performance and equip the business to achieve sustainable revenue and patronage growth. Our strategy is to focus on those areas of the country which offer the greatest potential and while we have been a key operator in London for many years, our focus going forward is on the deregulated market outside of the capital.

“Today’s decision is a business driven one and does not reflect on the effort, commitment or individual performance of our employees in London and we will be supporting them fully as they transfer to their new employers. Over the years we have enjoyed a constructive relationship with Transport for London and look forward to working closely with them to ensure this transfer goes ahead as smoothly as possible.”

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There are 118 comments on this article
  1. Jeremy says:

    Goodbye, First.

    Then again, what chance they buy them again a few years down the line for a much-reduced price, à la Stagecoach?

  2. ASLEF shrugged says:

    Why is this a surprise? Last year Tim O’Toole announced that First Group would be looking to sell off ALL the UK bus division as it was the only part that was making a loss and they’ve been steadily selling since then.

  3. John Bull says:

    Surprise to me – I missed that they were selling off everything. I thought they were only slimming down hugely.

  4. Andrew Bowden says:

    In Stagecoach’s case the bus group was sold to a bank at an inflated price. The recession hit, profits fell, restructuring failed. It was sold back at a massive discount.

    In First London’s case the businesses are being sold to two bus operators. Metroline is unlikely to sell back its purchases IMHO. The other depots have gone Aussie. They’re a newcomer to the UK market and they’ve paid substantially less than Metroline. Who knows what will happen long term with them, but it’s very unlikely First will ever have a Stagecoach style repurchase.

  5. Greg Tingey says:

    Bring back the LPTB!

  6. Littlejohn says:

    It looks as though the Berkshire operation and the Dagenham garage, which were both managed as part of the London Region of FirstGroup, have not been sold off and so presumably remain as First operations.

  7. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ ASLFEF Shrugged – I don’t think First have ever said they will sell the entire UK Bus Business. They set a disposals target of £100m and I believe they said they’d consider selling *any* part of their business but not *all* of it. It is pretty clear that the major urban areas are not for sale given the rebranding has started and several of the businesses have got new vehicles and are experimenting with lower fares and some service improvements.

    I am not particularly surprised to see First London go. Given the apparent reluctance to sell off places like Manchester or Glasgow and the other problems with potential competition referrals in other bits of the country it became inevitable that London would have to be sold off to reach the £100m target. Tim O’Toole also made a withering remark about the bus service in London in the recent Siemens sponsored report on London’s Transport system. That suggested to me that First had had enough of London bus operation if those words were allowed to be published (as they were).

    Rumours about the Metroline element of the sell off have been swirling around for a month or so. The Australian element is a surprise and it remains to be seen how well the Aussies manage what will be a challenging operation given the scale of the some of the services that run from the garages they are buying.

  8. Fandroid says:

    The Times covers the sale in its Business section and says ‘The big bus companies used to love the London market because of its double-digit profit margins. However, a clampdown by Transport for London on bus contracts has resulted in margins halving in recent years. FirstGroup’s London bus margins have fallen from about 10 per cent to about 5 per cent.’

    That might explain Tim O’Toole’s ‘withering remark’ !

    The Times also points out some interestingly incestuous relationships:

    Tim O’Toole is a former senior TfL director. Peter Hendy, the TfL Commissioner and Leon Daniels, the TfL head of buses, are both former FirstGroup London bus chiefs.

    Perhaps T O’T feels betrayed!

    Interesting to note the guessed margins. I always understood that Stagecoach had a rigid rule that each route out here in the sticks had to have an operating margin of 8% (I suppose that could translate to 5% profit margin once overheads are plugged in)

  9. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Fandroid – the big issue that some of the big bus groups have with TfL’s approach is the “lack of flexibility” to buy cheaper buses (TfL specs are expensive and unattractive when it comes to disposals) or to alter schedules and service levels to improve productivity. TfL have ratcheted up the level of control in recent years as well as pushing up the minimum service levels on the quality incentive contracts. They have also squashed down contract costs thus making it much harder for operators to earn the bigger margins as you say. All of this is, of course, the result of the financial policies imposed on TfL by a Tory Mayor and the coalition government. Some groups also have a philosophical dislike of the contracted structure and this is what TO’T was referrring to – First sees its future in the deregulated world. Brian Souter is also on record as disliking it but clearly was unable to resist the bargain of buying back East London and Selkent. It seems to be the case that Stagecoach have managed to restore profitability at the London business.

    The relationship issue is a bit interesting. You rightly say Peter Hendy was part of the buy out team of Centrewest from London Buses. They then sold out to First Group thus helping Mr H to have millions in his bank account. Subsequently Mr Daniels was at Capital Citybus who were bought out by First Group later on. Mr D then went on to a senior position within First Group while Mr H moved to head up Surface Transport in TfL. If you trace the footsteps of Mr Hendy you will see Mr Daniels not terribly far behind – the latest manifestation being Mr D heading Surface Transport having left First Group not long after Moir Lockhead stepped down and Mr O’Toole stepped up. And, of course, Mr Hendy was Commissioner by this time. An interesting set of parallel career paths.

    I have a lot of time for Tim O’Toole but I do think he has been handed a fairly awful situation at First Group but he must have had a good idea what he was taking on before deciding to take the top job. He was already a First Group non exec Director by this time.

  10. Fandroid says:

    @Walthamstow Writer.

    Do you know what it is specifically that the bus groups dislike about the Tfl bus spec? The Times mentions TfL’s demands that operators invest in cleaner fleets.

    What I have seen of the current fleet, I generally like:

    Two sets of doors. That’s not common elsewhere in Britain, but it does make for quicker journeys.

    Audio-visual route and stop information. Boringly common elsewhere in Europe, but only seen on good municipal operators here. An absolute boon for the occasional rider on an unfamiliar route. Essential in my opinion if they seriously want to attract new passengers.

    Is it a clash between what an operator wants and what makes good public transport?

  11. Steve says:

    @Fandroid TfL buses are generally to a more complex specification than your bog-standard crate. eg Air chill system, tinted windows, CCTV, fire suppression equipment, expensive electronically operated destination blinds and various other technical stuff which I don’t begin to understand. However, all this is paid for through the contract price by TfL, as is the current programme of fitment of NOX abatement equipment to older buses.

    Operators don’t like them because they cost a lot money to de-spec for cascading or sale. Leasing companies don’t like them for the same reasons.

    So, in answer to your question, yes. Tough!

  12. Andrew says:

    Is it also possible that operators are finding it more difficult to make money on the side by hiring their buses out? On the rail replacement front for instance, Network Rail have got enough of a grip on maintenance for less buses to be used than in the post-Hatfield or West Coast modernisation periods, also c2c at least now ask for programmable destination displays and therefore prefer country buses.

  13. jetblast787 says:

    🙁 I really like First as a company, but then again I grew up with them on their Ealing turf. Shame to see them go, never had a problem with them and they always gave a perfect service. Gonna miss the first logo and seat colours….

  14. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Fandroid – I think Steve has pretty much captured all the key issues about the TfL spec. The other one I would add is the use of automatic wheelchair ramps and usually on the centre door. Provincial spec is usually on the front door and operated manually by the driver leaving the cab and flipping it down. Operators consider the buses to be over specified and overly expensive to maintain. There is also the cascading issue which Steve has stated. Bus dealers are full of second hand TfL spec vehicles that they struggle to shift. A lot of this was stated in the Review of the Contracted Bus Network that TfL commissioned a few years ago – not long after Boris was elected. The report is on the TfL website amongst Board Papers.

    I think there is a wider clash. Some operators clearly have their own views as to what will attract passengers and many of these features are not found on TfL services. If you look at how Trent Barton, Go Ahead and Stagecoach specify some of their vehicles on high value commercial routes you will see things that TfL do not specify – longer seat pitch, wider seats, tip up seats, more buggy space, leather seats, free wi-fi, power sockets to recharge phones / operate laptops, smarter interior finishes, air conditioning. All these things cost money but operators fork out their own money to specify them because they believe they attract passengers. London has nothing like this and I personally think it is a gap – why can’t Londoners benefit from these sorts of facilities? OK we do have other things which are good or better but a more partnerly, co-operative approach with operators might actually bring in some additional quality if some way can be found for the operators to get some upside from their investment.

    TfL are very much in the “you are our contractor, you will do as we say” mode with the bus operators. This is clearly one way to run things in a contracted structure. There are, however, other ways to make contracts work to the benefit of everyone. I would like to see TfL try a partnership with an operator on one or two routes which could do with a refresh and see what happens. It might offer a way to take the Quality Incentive Contract regime forward to its next stage of development. I am surprised that Boris and his cohorts have not suggested this sort of thing but perhaps they’ve spent too much time obsessing about the NB4L to see where some real benefit might be gained?!

  15. The other Paul says:

    TfL’s agenda is providing consistent service provision across the bus fleet. This runs from maps and bus stops through to the buses themselves, their destination blinds, exit doors, internal displays and of course the fares and the external colour. Their reckoning is that this makes for an integrated network that’s easy to use – something which as the main sponsors of it, I would say is their responsibility. I think TfL would also reckon that their contracts are intended to cover the cost of the vehicles, so aren’t really that concerned about cascade or re-sell value. And let’s face it, with what’s purported to be the biggest bus fleet in the world, and certainly the largest concentration of double deck vehicles, you’re never going to cascade/re-sell that many anyway, there’s nowhere for them to go.

    Innovations like power points, wi-fi and padded seats are nice on longer journeys, but most London bus journeys are for just a few minutes so it hardly seems worth it. That said, like the tube and LO, I can see wi-fi coming to buses and even bus stops; TfL will be able to provide a consistent service from one provider so you don’t need a different login/password on every bus. They’ll also extract a healthy fee from the provider to help the bottom line.

  16. DW down under says:

    From Transit Systems Group Website:

    One of Australia’s most experienced transport operators, Transit Systems, has been awarded a bus-operating contract for Contract 3 in Sydney’s bus network, servicing suburbs from Liverpool and Wetherill Park up to Parramatta.

    Transit Systems CEO, Clint Feuerherdt, said the appointment of the contract by Transport for NSW was ultimately a win for residents and the community.

    “We’re excited to bring our extensive experience in running and optimising transport systems to the NSW market and look forward to delivering innovative long term solutions and value for money to the community and to the Government. We credit the decision makers involved in this process for choosing an Australian company committed to generating better transport outcomes,” he said.

    Transit Systems is a family-owned Australian company that has consistently performed well when compared against its much larger, internationally-owned peers. It employs over 1,790 people and in 2011 transported 63 million passengers.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> end of quote <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

    They operate bus services under contract to Transperth (W.A.), TfNSW (Sydney), TransAdelaide (S.Au.) and ferries under contract to offshore operators (Gladstone, Qld) and under government contract (Brisbane, Gold Coast, SE Qld). They will be familiar with the competitive tendering public/private concession arrangements such as used by TfL.

    But their areas of operation could be compared to Croydon, Gants Hill and Stevenage. They don't have experience with the isssues of low average speed, low mean temperatures, double-deck buses, icy and snowy conditions, extreme congestion – but do have experience with the political interface involving photo-opportunity pollies. Boris' place in the scheme of things will be as familiar to them as Transport Ministers in WA, NSW, SA and Qld.

  17. al green says:

    I can confirm the difficulty that owners seem to have in finding uses for ex-London buses. I was looking at Bing aerial maps a few weeks ago and spotted what appeared to be 50 bendy buses stored in a yard at Cranfield, Beds near the University. I passed that way this week and although I couldn’t see fully into the yard it still has buses in it. So it appears that high capacity buses are gentling rotting in the Beds countryside while low capacity buses in London leave people at bus stops because they’re crammed to the gills. This happened to me last year on RV1 which used to be a bendy bus route. All this courtesy of the man who makes up quotes, lies to his boss about affairs and helps his chums get people beaten up.

  18. DW down under says:

    It’s rather interesting that Australian inner urban bus administrators (ie the Gov’t entity) specify powered front door ramps (not flip down flaps) for dual-doored buses.

    The obvious benefit (I hope TfL is paying attention) is that the driver can monitor these vulnerable passengers as they board and alight, something that is harder to do using a central door (referring to duty-of-care). It’s also quicker, as it does not impede exiting passengers.

    Nonetheless, ex UK double deck buses should have a ready market in Australia, and probably Singapore, India, NZ, South Africa and elsewhere – among private stage, charter, tour and school contract operators.

  19. RicP says:

    This is an intriguing development! It makes Metroline a virtual monopoly west of the A1 / Northern Line round to the Uxbridge Road. The interesting thing is the arrival of a new Aussie operator in London, and the importance of the routes operated by Westbourne Park, supported by its ‘sort-of’ outstation at Atlas Road.
    The differences in sale prices probably reflect land values, as post-sale covenants on former London Buses depots became less restrictive after 10 years. Relocating Willesden garage is one example of this, I believe the old site is now a Sainsburys!
    Clearly First, and their London operations do not get a Wirst rating, have got big problems, but an incoming Labour Government is quite likely to press a lot harder than under Blair and Brown, for ‘Quality Contracts’ and ‘Quality Partnerships’ in order to bring some ‘order’ to the scrappy set-ups in some cities. First and Stagecoach may not get it their way ….
    In the wee small hours, I write this listening to the eulogies to Margaret Thatcher from the House of Lords. It is worth remembering the chaos of post-deregulation Britain after her ridiculous Minister Nicholas Ridley had set out to destroy cohesive bus networks in our cities under the PTEs, and some of the better NBC operators. Some aspects still have not recovered after 25 years.
    Her attitude to bus users was that if you were over 25-30 and still using buses you were probably a failure, or words to that effect.

  20. bobanobjob says:

    @Al green – Al, I’m 99% sure that only non-articulated Citaros have ever been run on route RV1. Having worked in the locality I can’t believe that a bendy bus could have managed some of the corners on the route. Perhaps you meant route 521 (Waterloo-London Bridge via the City) which was run with bendy-buses. Apologies if I’m wrong/for being pedantic.

  21. Greg Tingey says:

    The other Paul
    What is this “destination blind” of which you speak?
    London USED to have them – final destination + intermediate major points.
    Just the final destination – which, in London is a fat lot of use ….
    EG: Vaxhall to Clapham Jcn – 4 routes (all CJ terminators, I think)
    3 different intermediate routes.
    And if you want a specifric intermediate point, which buses do you go for?
    You USED to be able to tell, but not now.

    The exact opposite of their tube policy, where you get far too much & all of it 150% unnecessary “information”.

  22. Anonymous says:

    I agree with bobanobjob, having worked in the area for five years I have never seen the RV1 being a bendy.

    Currently there are a lot Hydrogen powered buses running the route which seem to have the same capacity as the normal two door single decks that also run. They are a bit taller as the whole roof is covered with gas tanks and they make an interesting noise.

    I don’t think this is the first time RV1 has had buses running on alternative fuels

  23. Anonymous says:

    The other Paul

    “innovations like padded seats”!!!!

    Since M’s were withdrawn from my local route 125, I have been unable to sit on a bus without immediate discomfort, it hurts like hell after a couple of minutes. I have a lower back injury and the old LT type bench seats were the only ones which didn’t leave a void where there ought to be sacral suppoort. Similar problem on Victoria tube stock, only worse.

    Incidentally, I thought the current batch of early replacements are because the 10+ year old buses no longer meet the emissions specs. I think you will find that they were given a few months extra by TfL dispensation until replacements could be delivered.

  24. Mikey C says:

    If London spec buses are too unique to be cheaply converted to be used elsewhere, then the Borismaster (or the Kenmaster or something similar) is the logical conclusion, a unique bus for London that will stay there!

    After all, back in the ‘good old days’ of London Buses, vehicles (unless they flopped) stayed for the majority of their life in London, and were only sold near the end of their useful life. You didn’t see Ms and Ts leaving London after 8 years.

    What’s complicated things in the last few years are the developments in emissions which has meant buses in London leaving prematurely.

    As for the fields full of unwanted bendy buses, clearly the operators around the country don’t want them either, so Boris is in good company!

  25. Fandroid says:

    I somehow doubt that the used-bus market in Britain is all that big anyway. Most operators seem keen to have brand new buses to their own spec. (leather seats and other such frippery in some cases). With the emissions regulations tightening too, it’s very likely that export is the only possibility (to a world that doesn’t use double-deckers much). The strange thing is that although Stagecoach here in Hampshire has mostly new single-deckers, it also runs some truly appalling ancient double-deckers .

  26. bobanobjob says:

    @Greg Tingey

    “The exact opposite of their tube policy, where you get far too much & all of it 150% unnecessary “information”.

    That would be a brilliant subject for an article. My personal bug-bear is when the platform staff announce that the tube train is “STOPPING ALL STATIONS” to wherever. Aaargh!!!!!!! As if this isn’t the case on the whole underground apart from the Met line beyond Finchley Road (do Piccadilly line trains still stop early mornings/late evenings and Sundays at Turnham Green?).

    If you want to hear a brilliant piss-take of this information announcement nightmare culture there is a driver on Southern – he often does the London Bridge to Victoria via Balham run – who puts on a silly plummy airline pilot voice and makes totally facetious comments in the style of an airline pilot. Does anyone know of this comic genius who always raises a laugh in the train?

  27. The other Paul says:

    Re: ex-London Bendy buses – I have seen/heard of many of these in use in Brighton, in Bath and on the Luton Airport shuttle. No doubt they’ve made it to other places too.

    Of course, whether you agree with it or not, the removal of those from London was purely political, so is a side issue to the life-cycle of the much more significant double decker fleet.

    Re: India, Singapore, Australia etc – yes those countries could use R/H drive vehicles, but many cities either aren’t equipped for double deckers, or simply don’t have the level of demand that warrants running such large vehicles. And we also have to ask “why is London getting rid of them” – with the emissions, higher running and maintenance costs of older vehicles, many of the possible hand-me-down destinations may prefer to get new ones anyway.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Mikey C

    If buses are kept for 15 odd years, it must be worth upgrading engines to new emissions standard either by reconditioning or replacement.

  29. Walthamstow Writer says:

    The RV1 has never seen bendy bus operation. It used to have rigid 12m Citaros running on it. There were also fuel cell Citaros for a short period. The present Wrightbus hydrogen vehicles have had capacity issues as the roof mounted tanks are so heavy thereby reducing the number of passengers that can be carried. They have been modified to remove some tanks thus raising the carrying capacity.

    Former London bendy buses have ended up in Malta, Glasgow, Leicester, Liverpool, Brighton and Gateshead. I think the Luton Airport ones are from Dublin and not London.

    Singapore is going through a programme of capacity enhancement on its bus network. It is purchasing large quantities of Wright bodied Volvo double deckers. Hong Kong continues to buy huge numbers of double deckers and Alexander Dennis has made good inroads with its Enviro 500 in the USA. India is an odd one – there is a history of double deck operation but many new buses are artics supplied by Volvo and Scania.

  30. Mikey C says:

    Presumably the fleet of say 1000 Borismasters would go through a mid life rebuild to upgrade them to a new emissions standard.

  31. Pedantic of Purley says:

    Years ago I remember being on a bus in Hong Kong. It seemed remarkably like a DMS. A notice inside the bus informed me that in case of complaint I should write to 55 Broadway, LONDON SW1H 0BD. I was very temped to just to see what kind of response I would have got but never got around to it,

  32. RichardB says:

    I am only guessing but I suspect the reason TfL specified that the ramp for wheelchairs be located at the exit doors as opposed to the front door of the bus was to expedite the entry and exit of said wheel chairs. If they have to use the front the wheel chair has to make a 90 degree turn on entering the bus and then progress to the allocated space for wheel chairs in the middle of the lower deck. This already is the case for the smaller single decker buses and whilst it works it adds to the difficulties a wheel chair user encounters when boarding a bus.

    It is true the driver cannot directly observe the entry and exit if a wheelchair if the exit doors are used (although CCTV may mitigate that issue) but it has to be said that where the front door is used the driver is a trapped observer and apart from oral encouragement can do little to assist.

    If the bus operators are saying that provision of an automated ramp is a luxury then shame on them. I have to say they would not compete for the TfL contracts if there was little or no profit in them and bus ridership has declined throughout the rest of the country where the operators are able to offer their preferred type of service and vehicles. Bus ridership in London is a success story as I believe now that not only has patronage grown but that just over 50% of all bus journeys within the UK occur on TfL’s contracted services.

    I am not against further improvements and air conditioning is an obvious contender but for example leather seating does not strike me as a real step change improvement. As someone who has endured the comfort of First Great Western’s first class seating I am not convinced that a leather cover is an adequate replacement for an indifferent seating design.

  33. Alastair palmer says:

    @the other paul

    ‘Re: ex-London Bendy buses – I have seen/heard of many of these in use in Brighton, in Bath and on the Luton Airport shuttle. No doubt they’ve made it to other places too.’

    Dozens were bought by Arriva when they took over the bus network in Malta a couple of years ago. It’s fair to say they arouse mixed feelings in both those who use them and other drivers.

  34. Andrew Bowden says:

    Can you imagine the chaos in London if the driver had to get out of his cab every time to let a wheelchair on? Or the problems with even getting a wheelchair on in an overcrowded bus from the front?

    Nah, in this area TfL have undoubtedly got it spot on. And if bus companies outside London want to attract disabled travellers, they might want to consider their views.

    As for the double doors – well there are a few buses in London with single doors. A battered single door single decker owned by Abelio appeared on a bus route near me a few months ago. Getting people on and off was a nightmare – it took forever. No idea how people with buggies coped – I have a public transport friendly buggy but the bus configuration of most single deckers don’t allow it to get down to the parking area as the buses are simply too narrow. I remember Armchair running single door double deckers on the busy 65 route in Ealing when I arrived in London in 1999. I couldn’t believe buses could be so slow at loading and unloading! When the route came up for renewal it went double door.

    Surely part of the problem on disposals is that the big operators tend to buy new buses rather than cascade, and they’ve also driven out scores of smaller operators as well. The smaller operators who would buy second hand have, in many areas, simply been driven off the road.

  35. mdb says:

    The C10 route when it was operated by London Central used single door single deck buses and it was _awful_

    When Abellio won the contract they bought new buses which had a very nice ‘new bus smell’

  36. Kit Green says:

    RichardB 10:44AM, 11th April 2013
    bus ridership has declined throughout the rest of the country where the operators are able to offer their preferred type of service and vehicles.

    My only recent experiences of out of London buses may explain this.
    1) Dover – Deal (due to train problems). I thought this was a bit pricey, and the route reminded me of the convolutions of London’s G1. Noisy smelly single decker but with a newish coat of Stagecoach livery.
    2) Various local services around Southampton. I was gobsmacked at the fares in Southampton. There is almost no provision for bus segregation and so the peak hour services are awful. Some inner services are frequent but too expensive to use.

    As a Londoner I fully support the TfL style services as I can see what chaos and user cost is to be found elsewhere. I also remember the awful degradation of services around Maidstone when the local council had to stop running the buses and sold the bus station for redevelopment. Things have hardly improved in the twenty years since.

  37. Andrew says:

    Any ideas why Metroline paid so much more than Transit Systems?

  38. Stuart says:

    Talking about TfL spec and destination blinds, is there any reason why London buses don’t have digital displays on the front? It seems fairly standard everywhere else except here, the physical blind seems very old fashioned

  39. Tommy says:

    bobanobjob @ 9.25 The Piccadilly line does still stop at Turnham Green but only early morning and late in the evening or for example like this weekend when there is planned engineering work in the area. I believe the local MP, Council etc have campaigned for it to be regular stop but TFL declined as they said it would lower capacity on the Picadilly line as they would have to lower the TPH on the line.

  40. Anonymous says:


    As an ex-Tfl bus contractor garage manager, I believe it’s because the digital displays do not meet a particular standard for people with visual problems. Despite the roller blinds being hideously more labour intensive to maintain.

    The real issue to me as to why First are pulling out is that on the QICs 2 contracts, the margins aren’t there. When I was running a garge we had one route with an EWT target of something like 1.3. It was ridiculously easy to achieve, and from memory around 0.8 was our average so we were raking in massive performance bonuses while the route relatively ran itself. When the contract was re-let the target was reduced to something like 0.5 and suddenly there was no real guarantee that we could even achieve the EWT minimum even with a large increase in controller resource (with penalties applied for underperformance). Quite rightly the targets were raised once Tfl had 7 years data to analyse, but on some routes the amount of onoing roadworks, and sheer traffic means that no amount of Control can improve an EWT to be able to achieve the contract minimum.

    The issue about non cascadable buses is equally valid, and as some have pointed out London Operators would like the contract to pay for such bespoke vehicles, but the market won’t wear that price (all the time). This is reflected in a highly managed, high-quality bus service which is unbelievably highly subsidised – albeit the subsidy is rightly being reduced but at the cost of Operators who will decide that the true value of the contract is not really within their scope to improve their return on, in London.

    You can argue that it is correct that the bus services in the capital are so heavily subsidised, if only to reduce the strain on the heaving tube network by incentivising those taking short journeys (by way of comparatively high single tube fares) to make a short public transport journey by bus.

  41. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Richard B – I think we have to be a bit careful with sweeping statements. Just because an operator does not fit an automatic ramp does not translate into some antipathy towards disabled passengers. Buses are designed with wheelchair bays further forward in the bus and usually with additional space for buggies too. This removes some of the utter nonsense we see with “buggy wielding” parents in London who jam up buses and end up having slanging matches when yet another buggy wants to get on or, heaven forfend, someone in a wheelchair. Buses in HK and Singapore have front, manually operated wheelchair ramps and I would certainly rank KMB, Citybus and SBS Transit as decent, customer focused bus operators who also have to deal with far worse crowding than London does.

    We also need to be very careful about making top level aggregate patronage comparisons and just condemning buses outside of London as failures. There is plenty of evidence that certain locations / operators who do invest in their services consistently and offer good service quality manage to grow patronage very successfully even where fares are higher than London. London has £480m of revenue support each year to offer comprehensive service coverage, good frequencies and early till late service hours. If there was proper funding outside of London for socially necessary services and full funding of the national concessionary travel schemes I expect we would see a very different picture indeed.

    I am not a huge fan of deregulation as I had direct personal experience of using *and* designing the Tyne and Wear integrated bus and Metro network which was very successful. However I am pragmatic enough to recognise that some private bus companies do deliver good quality, value for money services and do that with little call on the public purse. Equally there are some dreadful operators and lacklustre local authorities who see next to no value in having good public transport – it really does become a distress purchase.

    Government has put through changes to BSOG and concessionary reimbursement and this coupled with local authority cuts means there is much less or even no funding for reversing cuts over many years. At some point TfL and London local authorities will face financial pressures that mean big cuts to our bus services and also the scope of the Freedom Pass. Several London authorities are on the record that in a few years all of their expenditure will be devoted to social care for old people and children. Nothing else will be funded.

    Until we have a debate as a country as to what public transport we want then I suspect we will carry on with an overall decline in bus services even with the very best companies because they cannot carry on being squeezed forever by cuts to BSOG, inadequate concessionary reimbursement, rising fuel and insurance prices. At some point we will face a crisis where private transport becomes unaffordable for a significant minority of the populace and there is insufficient or inadequate public transport to provide alternative mobility. We need to have a transport and land use policy that recognises this potential outcome.

  42. Anonymous says:

    To add to my last comment, (09.04) what some bus companies outside London wouldn’t do for a return of 8%, or some PTE areas anything like 1/10 of the subsidy!

  43. Lew Finnis says:

    Regarding Kit Green’s comment about Dover to Deal. Stagecoach in East Kent have doubled ridership in the last 8 years through some pretty good marketing and service enhancements. Individual journeys can be pricey but the various day and longer period tickets are very good value, e.g. £19.50 for a week’s ticket that takes you anywhere in Stagecoach South-East’s territory.
    True, we also have ex-London P-reg Olympians, but they have a fair old turn of speed on the A2 between Dover and Canterbury! And they don’t rattle as much as newer buses…..

  44. MH Redbridge says:

    Throughout the period of its existence First has been an unsatisfactory operator on any routes in East London for which it held contracts. There will be no tears over its disappearance. Stagecoach is way ahead in its service delivery.

  45. ChrisMitch says:

    The destination blinds on buses are much more readable than digital displays, and regardless of what Greg said earlier, most still also include waypoints, as well as the final destination, at least in my part of South London.

  46. DW down under says:

    Re: markets for ex-London buses

    When you consider that private operators (including one late closing bar/music lounge) in Perth are still running ex-Sydney Atlanteans of c.1968 vintage, and Alexander bodied Atlantean imports; also recycled ex-metro operator artic Volvos, Renault/Macks, MANs and Mercs – there’s a market there. Maybe not for thousands of buses, but that’s one city in one right-hand drive country. Ex-London buses are always an attractive proposition for city tour operators. And ones that are genuinely Red and have a roundel, even better! (There are many pretenders out there!)

    I estimate that sales of 100-200 a year in Oz might be achievable; maybe 50 to NZ; 100s to Singapore and HK; if the price is right, thousands to India; 200-300 to South Africa. Indonesia and Malaysia, east Africa, Nigeria and so on.

    Maybe I should set up in business? 🙂

  47. DW down under says:

    Re: Dot-matrix displays vs blinds

    I’m inclined to agree that the quality of dot-matrix displays is woefully short of what it could be. We can manage large screen TVs with 1920 x 1080 resolution in mass volume production, and these are roughly the size of an “intermediate stops” blind on an RM/D/M etc. Yet those fitted to buses and trains can border on unreadable. And it seems they’re getting worse, not better.

    I also agree that motorised blinds would be a maintenance cost of some note.

    A question: train departure boards at major stations used to use a “flip-board” type of display. Z series trams in Melbourne did likewise for route numbers. Is this technology less maintenance intensive? Can it meet the visibility requirements?

  48. DW down under says:

    In the world of mergers and takeovers, that would be recognised as a “control premium”. They must consider that there will be economies of scale, and a stronger negotiating position arising out of the purchase, to justify the price paid.

  49. DW down under says:

    Oops, forgot to direct that last comment: it was in response to

    Andrew @ 07:13PM, 11th April 2013

  50. MikeP says:

    Re: Automatic/manual wheelchair ramps.

    I’m reminded of an incident on the 51 when the automatic ramp jammed, of course causing the bus to be taken out of service ( I suppose either that or leave a crease along any cars on the nearside…..).

    The wheelchair user was mortified at the inconvenience they saw themselves as having caused to the rest of the passengers. It seemed this happened rather often and was very much putting them off bus travel. Of course, the rest of us were adamant that they shouldn’t take on board any responsibility for our delayed journey.

    This was some 4-5 years ago now, and I have no idea if ramp reliability has improved. If not, maybe TfL should examine this aspect of the apparent convenience of automatic ramps and whether they are, in reality, discouraging wheelchair users from using the bus.

  51. Greg Tingey says:

    Chris Match
    Yes- but they are being phased out – hence my comments re Vauxhall – CJ services

  52. Anonymous says:

    [email protected]:

    What do QICs 2 and EWT mean?


    Solari-type flap indicators, being mechanical, are heavy & require maintenance – most people outside TfL seem happy with electronic indicators.

    I wouldn’t place any bets on selling any ex-London double-deckers to NZ, since there are very few d-ds in the country, only one (so far) in normal bus service. Auckland’s started using new (Malaysian, I think) ones on the Northern Busway, but the only other place that has sufficient passenger flows is Wellington, where I suspect the trolleybus-wired tunnels could be a problem with normal-height d-ds (the NZ height limit is 4.2m).

  53. Anonymous says:

    @ MikeP

    The problem with w/c ramp ime is that drivers don’t check them on the first-use check (which they are obliged to do). Therefore when they come to operate them for the first time, they find that they don’t work and the bus goes VOR.

    The problem with underfloor ramps/lifts etc. is that they get absoultely coated in road filth, oil, [email protected], grit and stones, and hence are notoriously unreliable. There are obviously the lesser-seen bookleaf type ramps which do operate on some London single entry routes, which are more reliable (as they are inboard), but they require whomsoever is boarding to take a step back while they fold out. They can also be deployed manually relatively easily if they malfunction, without causing the vehicle to go out of service immediately – if you can convince the drivers to leave the sanctity of the cab. Bookleaf ramps are not appropriate on the high-frequency routes though due to people who would be stood on them around the door.

  54. Andrew Bowden says:

    Anonymous – Most bus operators are happy with digital destination boards, but has anyone asked the customers? Like many I find them awful to read – especially in bright light – and I’ve got good vision (with my glasses on.)

    The old fashioned blinds may be more expensive but for my money they’re a lot easier to read. Like DW Down Under, I feel we can do much better on the digital display front. So if the bus operators want to get rid of the blinds, it’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is and find a better solution. They’ll be the ones making the savings – they have the incentive.

    Lothian Buses have been making some experiments in this area – they too were blind renegades (and notably too, they’re publicly owned) – but it looks like they’ve been experimenting with improved digital displays.

    But the current digital displays are – for many people – simply not fit for customer purpose. I don’t care one bit that it makes life more difficult for the operators. As a customer, I want what’s best for me, thanks. And thank goodness TfL supply it.

  55. Anonymous says:

    Andrew Bowden

    Agreed that there are bad electronic displays (just as there are bad blinds), but this particular customer (without perfect vision) is perfectly happy with many electronic ones.

    To my mind it’s not the technology, it’s the way the technology is used (as so often is the case).

  56. Anonymous says:

    Some operators are in a better position than others – for example Arriva London North has critical mass with a group of garages at Wood Green, Tottenham, Stamford Hill, Clapton, Palmers Green, Enfield, Lea Valley, Edmonton & Ash Grove – the only competition is the Go-Ahead garage at Northumberland Park, Metroline at Holloway, King’s Cross & Potters Bar, Hackney Community Transport & Sullivans – everyone else is on the other side of the Lea Valley, the next garages in the west are Cricklewood & Edgware, Abellio or Go-Ahead could put in a bid for the 29 or 141 from Walworth or Camberwell, and Arriva at Garston can put in a bid for routes that are not too far from Watford Way. Go-Ahead also has critical mass in south London with garages at Putney, Sutton, Merton, Mandela Way, Plough Lane, Waterloo, Stockwell, New Cross, Peckham & Camberwell – Bexleyheath & Metrobus are a handy bonus, in south London the Arriva garages are sort of in a line at Brixton, Norwood, Thornton Heath and Croydon and Abellio at Walworth & Battersea – but garages have capacities – if Holloway is full is there much point bidding for the 29 or 253 or 254, the point about critical mass is that you are far more likely to already have the route going past your front door, everyone else has to spend time getting the buses to the route in the first place.
    One the other hand Stagecoach doesn’t have critical mass – it has isolated garages in Selkent – Plumstead, Bromley & Catford – the other competitors have garages on or near the same routes – same in East London – although Stagecoach have more garages – Arriva have Barking and Grays, Go-Ahead have Silvertown and Rainham, Transit Systems now have Lea Interchange – the future of Dagenham is uncertain as First have lost the 165, 179, 252 & 365, but Metroline now have critical mass.

  57. JM says:

    Regarding the electronic displays on buses as used by Lothian, I was up there recently and can confirm Route 10 uses front and side (I think) digital LED style displays and very good it looks too. Certainly believe rotating ‘Sky Sports News style ticker ‘indicating main points en route underneath the terminus ‘blind’ as used in Manchester would be welcome and would allow more flexibility in how much information on the route you can advertise on the front of the bus.

    Have a pic from the Scotsman here although you only see the front.

    Plus you have the possibility of interior and exterior LED advertising as a means of revenue in the future. I’m sure I’ve seen some live examples in London already, can someone confirm if thats true?

    Always been curious as to why destination blinds on the reverse of buses stopped being used when the OPO fleet came in. Still used in Edinburgh and Brighton and are very useful.

    RE WiFi, I don’t even think there will be a debate in 5 years. Given the popularity, can see market dictating every transport operator will offer it free on all services before long.

    Given previous comments about capacity on the NB4L and double deckers replacing bendys, is there any reason why tri axle buses can’t be used in London operationally the way they are in Singapore/Hong Kong? Lots of sightseeing buses are tri axle and use the same streets as the standard fleet.

  58. Greg Tingey says:

    RE WiFi, I don’t even think there will be a debate in 5 years. Given the popularity, can see market dictating every transport operator will offer it free on all services before long.
    Tell that to the ROSCO’s! Some still don’t err.. seem to have got the message yet.

    3-axle buses in London?
    Like most of these you mean?

  59. Fandroid says:

    Digital displays are near universal on new buses outside London (and outside the UK). The examples JM has seen in Manchester combine all the best features: Route number, destination and a scrolling band showing all main intermediate points. That’s just about exactly what the best platform indicators show on the railways. It’s amazing how the obsession with ‘competition’ means that some customers are lumbered with the worst. It’s not enough to make a difference in terms of route viability, but it’s enough to make some bus routes only really available to regular travellers. We need public transport authorities throughout the UK with the power to insist that best practice is taken on board by all operators when they buy new or refit their fleets. In London, you have to remember that the fantastic ‘spider maps’ are available at most stops. Those show the principle intermediate destinations of all buses coming through, and a glance at the route number is then enough to tell you if the bus is OK for your trip. Once on board, that bossy lady then tells you when your stop is coming up.

    The man/woman who invented spider maps deserves a medal.

    As for wifi, it’s available on the free shuttle bus (Bluestar ie Go-Ahead) that runs between Southampton Central station and Town Quay. My kids always laugh at me for desperately trying to tune in within the 10 minutes that the bus takes for its overall journey.

  60. RichardB says:

    @ walthamstow writer 9:07 a.m. 11 April

    I take your point but I think you may misconstrued my point. I am sure all the operators intend there to be adequate provision for disabled travellers but the idea that a manual ramp located at the front door is a good idea is absurd in London. Apart from the further delay incurred in having the driver leave his cab to insert the ramp the problem still remains that a wheel chair user has to make a 90 degree turn in order to progress to the space allocated for wheel chairs. This brief journey would be further complicated when you have standing passengers who have to either move out of the way or if they cannot they then have to disembark to allow the wheelchair through. In the absence of exit doors this is an additional nuisance. Granted if we still had conductors thus might help matters but we don’t so provision of exit doors which are conveniently opposite the space for wheelchairs makes a lot of sense. In the absence of conductors to wield a manual ramp a powered ramp is preferable. The argument from the bus lobby does not hold water and I suspect it was a comment that was rolled up into a general criticism of the specification imposed by TfL.

    It would appear from the comment made by their spokesman First Group has an ideological objection to the concept of centrally regulated bus services managed through contract. I accept that some services out of London may be well run but the problem outside of London is the inconsistency in service provision. De-regulation initially offered a huge amount of choice which in metropolitan areas led to excessive provision as the companies fought for patronage but the apparent gains have diminished as the bigger companies squeezed out the competition and in many places only one operator is available. The conservative government of the day recoiled from imposing de-regulation on London probably because the bad publicity attendant on traffic jams in London that was seen in other cities might damage them electorally.

    TfL may not be perfect and I think they should seek to have additional improvements included in the specification such as air conditioning but the services they specify give London a much better service than is generally obtained elsewhere. More importantly is the consistency of provision which makes the service so appealing. Essentially the contracts are concessions and it is possible that this approach may become more common for some if the railway services as demonstrated by London Overground.

    One good example of the quality of London’s bus services is the provision of evening services. In many towns the bus services start to evaporate after 7:00 p.m. I accept that the larger cities probably are better off in this regard but as a bus user I have to say bus services in London are remarkable and the fares are far more affordable. I acknowledge the element of subsidy is considerable but I also think London needs the services it has as mega cities such as London rely on efficient public transport to survive. It will be interesting to see if central government finance does diminish to see how the GLA and the mayor respond as one if the key performance factors for the mayor is the quality of public transport.

    Finally I should say I’m not hostile to the operators per se and to my surprise I have grown to esteem Stagecoach in particular as the service they provide through South West Trains I think is the best of all the franchised rail services. Others will doubtless disagree.

  61. Andrew says:

    One downside of insisting on a consistent passenger experience is that there is little room to experiment with alternative amenities.

    Another one is that TfL insist on practices that are wrong for local circumstances. The single deck buses that cross Hammersmith Bridge for instance have a standard suburban seating layout even though they do the work of double deckers and regularly leave people waiting at bus stops. An even more egregious example is the destination indicators on the Harrow circular routes H9, H10, H18 and H19.

  62. DW down under says:

    Anonymous @ 08:08AM, 12th April 2013

    Re: flap type displays.

    Of course, I realise they’re electro-mecanical and require maintenance. What I was asking was in the context of TfL contracts: would they meet the visibility requirements while reducing maintenance cost?

    I appreciate that without contractual obligations, operators would choose the cheapest life-cost dot matrix displays.

  63. Anonymous says:

    QICs 2 – the second round of Quality Incentive Contracts. The mechanism by which Tfl buses procures bus Operators to provide services. The second contracts (from memory) were more than simple on time measures, including some subjective criteria such as bus cleanliness etc… QICS1 also had subjective criteria I.e. quality of driving, lack of etching etc.

    EWT -Excess Waiting Time. On a high frequency Tfl bus route (12 minutes or less between buses) the theory infers that passengers will not go to catch a specific bus, but stand at a bus stop and not expect to wait more than a particular time for a bus. Theoretically no more than the headway, but a bit of Maths (which I can’t remember) leads to a calculation which measures the EWT. What is interesting is that the Maths is devised in such a way that even by throwing extra buses (more than your Peak Vehicle Requirement (PVR)) at a route, it is incredibly difficult/impossible to even slightly up your performance.

    Low Frequency routes are measured in terms of minutes early (1) and minutes late (up to 5 from memory) and come up with a different calculation. It’s been 5 years since I did any of this though, so my memory may be a little hazy!

  64. Steve says:

    Apologies for quick off-topic comment:


    “South West Trains I think is the best of all the franchised rail services. Others will doubtless disagree.”

    You serious? Yes, I do disagree! But then maybe TOC performance should be the subject of a post in its own right.

  65. JimJordan says:

    Bendy buses – also Norwich P&R service.

    Destination displays. Many provincial operations involve buses changing routes during a day. Digital displays are set from a keypad or similar in the cab and change front, side and rear at the same time. In the old days of blinds many drivers just set the front blind and left the side and rear blank – a frustration fir those approaching the bus in the “wrong” direction. LT used to have buses on dedicated routes with very short blinds which were set by the garage, Only the ultimates had to be wound at the termini (and sometimes were not).

  66. Anonymous says:

    I think on high frequency routes TfL has an ‘official gap’ which is two and half times the headway – so on a x10 minute route not more than 25 minutes, also if the gap between buses was less than 3 (?) minutes it was counted as one bus – also you couldn’t ‘crowd the hour’ to lower the figures – so on the x10 minute headway not more than six buses, because observation periods were fixed (both in start/finish time and location) some operators would hold a bus back at the top of the hour in case an observation period started, then they could run the service with a reserve, generally controllers would keep a running average whilst they were being observed – you would be surprised at the number of times you would have a 3 minute gap – this was insurance – remember the observation times were fixed – with i-bus I think its now the average waiting time at each stop all day (& night) on high frequency, on timetabled routes I thought it was not more than two and half minutes early (better not early at all), I don’t know how this applies on i-bus as traffic conditions mean that a bus can vary between on time and late throughout the journey.

  67. Greg Tingey says:

    TOC performance should be a regular occurrence with compare/contrast & our own benchmarks for consoderation.

    Anyone up for it, out there?

  68. Fandroid says:

    It’s very difficult for us mere passengers to tease true TOC performance out of all the external variables. Serious timing problems are often Network Rail’s fault, or due to passenger problems such as suicides, illness etc. Age and comfort of rolling stock will often have depended on what DfT was willing to pay for in the franchise agreement. Design of rolling stock even has an influence. Bombardier products all have a dip in the roof line just where the overhead luggage racks are, hence they are mostly useless except for small and soft items, hence the seating and standing areas get cluttered up with bags.

    SWT has an alliance with NR. Before that they were quite good, now they are going downhill!

  69. Greg Tingey says:

    [needless gratuitously offensive comment deleted  PoP]
    There is NO EXCUSE AT ALL for the thin, hard hideously uncomfortable “seating” we get on new stock.
    [Comment about fire hazard removed as bordering on the libellous  PoP]
    How can I tell?
    Because new commercial coaches/buses have the same fire-regs, that’s how!
    About 5 months ago, I got into a new ( 2011-2012 plate) Mercedes small coach – the seats (cushions) were at least 5cm (2″) deep, if not more so & the seat-backs were similarly padded.

  70. Steve says:


    Exactly. SWT were in the previous franchise, then the rot set in from 2007 with the current franchise. Things have really fallen apart since the alliance with NR was formed. The SWT MD is the MD of the alliance and staked his reputation on it. Oh dear!

    It’s actually an interesting point. For years pundits have been saying that vertical integration is the right way to go, but the one effective example we now have appears to be a complete disaster.

  71. Anon5 says:

    Bus related news tweeted by BBC London’s Tom Edwards. @BBCTomEdwards: Tfl says no date set for end of bus cash fares. Briefing note to Mayor FOI’d by Sunday Politics recommends “in 2013”

  72. Greg Tingey says:

    “Comment on fire hazard”
    Because that is the, erm, err, …faint & thin excuse repeatedly trotted out every time someone, quite rightly moans about thin seats.
    Ian Walmsley in “Modern Railways” has a;so complained of this & he’s a senior railway manager.
    Does anyone listen?
    Of course not.

    Anon 5
    Because YOU CANNOT REFUSE CASH – that is the law – it is “coin of the Realm”.
    Unless, or until you get a specific Act of PArliament to say so – & that would be a very very slippery slope.
    It was got away with with the central London pre-pays – because you had ALREADY PAID cash for your ticket – & they were available at every stop …..

  73. Anonymous says:

    This is taken from the love money website

    Here in the UK, the limit for paying in 1p or 2p coins is 20p, while 5p and 10p pieces are legal tender up to £5 and 20p and 50p pieces are acceptable for payments up to £10. Gold sovereigns are also legal tender with a face value of £1. But in reality – due to the high value of gold – they are usually bought and sold as bullion.
    In England and Wales £5, £10, £20 and £50 notes are all legal tender for payment up to any amount. However they are not legal tender in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

  74. Fandroid says:

    My totally unscientific observation about the SWT/Network Rail alliance was really only about the Network Rail half of it. in that signalling and other track problems have caused some fairly major disruptions during the winter. SWT operations seem to be about the same on the mainline as they have been for the last 10 years. In defence of the alliance, I was present at Basingstoke station, when a lorry hit a bridge in Basingstoke. All local SWT mainline trains were halted. However, the problem was diagnosed as not serious and the services were being put back to normal after only about 15 mins. However, on a line as busy as that one is, 15 mins of stopped trains can have enormous knock-on effects. My feeling is the alliance worked well that day.

    I’m not sure what the argument about seats is about. Many modern buses outside London have reasonably well upholstered seats, and I find the ‘luxury’ of high backs and leather to be a total nonsense. Although they are relatively thin, I also find the standard seats on SW Desiros to be quite comfortable. In fact I find the deeper seats on SWT 158s and 159s to be uncomfortable, because their extra depth means a sacrifice of legroom. I’m tall enough to cherish legroom.

    Ever since my doctor told me my back/leg pain was due to me not sitting up straight, I have been fine.

  75. RichardB says:

    TOC performance would be an interesting topic if only to read about contributor’s perceptions and differences of opinion. In many ways it is also a highly subjective issue as my perception of a TOC is viewed through the lens of my direct interaction as I think it is for most users. For example Chiltern is in some quarters highly praised and yet my direct albeit limited observation of their service (the networkers and their descendants) is that the trains are too short for at least some of the services and that the interior ambience is very average and I feel that the interiors are not especially clean (something I would acknowledge could be levelled at other TOCs)

    Greg mentions the poor quality of seating generally adopted in most trains and it is significant that if you compare the first class seating on a Grand Central Intercity 125 with that of an East Coast or First Great Western Grand Central win ands down and they retained the original seating and layout. Here a BR design which is now about 30 years old is clearly superior. The Other TOCs would disagree and would cite consultants research which demonstrate the efficacy of their approach which strangely does not square with most passengers perceptions. The real problem lies in the commercial approach which is to squeeze as many people as possible into a coach which then reduces the options for comfort. DfT are also guilty here as it was they that pushed for three and two seating on commuter trains when everyone I know loathes having to sit in the middle seat of the rows of three seats. One of the reasons I prefer SWT’s metro trains (the 455 stock) is that following refurbishment the seating was changed to two and two unlike Southern who I think unfortunately retained the original layout. I realise this reduced the number of seats overall but the original idea was to lengthen the trains from 8 to 10 coaches which having been initially prevented by the savants at DfT will now happen in 2014-2015. Would that we could have moved to 12 coach formations!

    The trouble is that DfT and the TOCs view passengers more like cattle and unfortunately the air travel paradigm which is the benchmark used is to pack them in ignore the potential for alignments with windows and then offer “compensations” such as wifi etc which to my mind misses the point when this approach is extended to rail travel. I recall one consultant’s report which advocated removing all seating from commuter stock to increase overall capacity by enforcing passengers to stand. Uncomfortable seating is often seen as a necessary requirement to conform with health and safety which is nonsensical. We need advocacy for comfortable seating and improving the overall ambience for passengers. Passengers note not customers.

    Incidentally I know this is personal opinion but I find SWT’s Trains interiors more brightly lit and generally more cheerful than their competitors some of which are frankly drab (South Eastern for example). It s notable that some have argued that all TOCs should adopt a common livery and it is noteworthy that DfT and others have advocated grey as the preferred colour both inside and out which tends to reinforce the unimaginative approach to the travelling ambiance.

    I have seen dirty and littered coaches on all TOCs but South West Trains seem cleaner on average than their rivals. I was very gloomy when Stagecoach won the original franchise years ago and the initial service was awful with late running being the norm and cancellations occurring at short notice. However following the timetable reorganisation the service improved dramatically and generally this has been maintained. As a user I have to say for me travelling on SWT Trains is normally a positive experience and this extends to both peak time as well as off peak services. I recently travelled to Portsmouth on 444 stock and my assessment struck me as being consistent across the various rolling stock (159, 444, 450 and 455) I have also noted the same appears to be happening on East Midlands as well which suggests Stagecoach is a beneficial presence. I also recognise that some will have a different view. The interesting counterpoint to this is that TfL have imposed a consistency of product and service onto London’s buses I think this has been beneficial but the operators cavil as they would probably prefer to cherry pick by improving services levels on some routes by offering additional enhancements but probably let others languish.

  76. peezedtee says:

    Not only are passengers’ views of TOCs bound to be subjective, I also doubt whether there are all that many people who use many different TOCs often enough to make a comparison between them. I have had few complaints about Virgin or SWT, while I seem to have had a succession of bad customer experiences with FGW. But others (Barry Doe in his RAIL column for instance) are very positive about FGW.

    But I would suggest the one thing we can all agree on is that First Capital Connect is the crappiest of the crap.

  77. Greg Tingey says:

    Getting around, as I do in the course of my (part-time, seasonal, extra-money-in-retirement) work on London stations, I get to see the operations, day-to-day of quite a few TOC’s
    The ex-GER lines (now part of NS) Trying rally hard, cleaning up the stations, trying to refurb the trains – I’m impressed.
    GW – slowly getting better. Suburban trains unbeluevably crowded in rush – thius showing proposals to turn trains round @ OOC as totally Upney.
    GCR – superb
    SE&CJtcommitte – not as bad or as clueless as a year ago. Strugghling though
    LTSR – Given the amazing huge recovery times built into their lax schedules (outside the rush) it isn’t suprising their punctuality is soo good!
    LBSCR – no comment
    LSWR – a vast improvement since privatisation – they finally seem to have learnt, though I keep hearing rumours regarding their employment policies, shall we say?
    Thameslink – struggling badly. The engineering work doesn’t help, nor does the much-discussed Womldeon-loopy “service”
    LNWR – I used to use this one daily, but can offer no opinion – haven’t been there for years ….
    GNR – long-distance recovering, suburban much better than the parallel ex-MR services

  78. RichardB says:

    @ peezedtee

    I agree about the subjectivity and I had deliberately not mentioned the FCC service which I again used the other week to go to St Albans. I know the 319s are elderly but the overall impression is shabby. This is especially notable when compared with Southern’s and SWT’s 455s which are of the same age. However the predilection to cancel services at short notice is really irritating. I concur with your assessment

  79. DW down under says:

    @ Richard B: regarding 3-abreast seating. I suspect the major problem with such seats is the lack of an armrest between the aisle-side seat and the middle seat. This is primarily to do with the psychology of personal space as anything – and has a practical side in providing a means to assist middle seat passengers in sitting down and standing up.

    I challenge any TOC lurking and still using 3-abreast seating to trial armrests and see what happens to the utilisation rate of the middle seats.

  80. Pedantic of Purley says:


    The deep alliance may handle bridge strikes well but you don’t need a deep alliance for that.

    Chiltern had a serious problem with bridge strikes many years ago. The solution was for Network Rail to train up various Chiltern staff so that they could do an initial assessment of the bridge and permit, if appropriate, resumption of services with a speed limit imposed.

    Nowadays with the ability to take and send photos by mobile phone I really would have thought it possible to rapidly carry out a remote assessment sufficient to get traffic moving again.

  81. RichardB says:

    @ DW down under

    The real problem is the seats are too narrow or rather the overall width of the coach is the problem. Given you have to have an aisle the remaining space is really tight for three seats and the inclusion of armrests would compound the problem. Having used these seats myself you have to sit rigidly upright so as not to encroach on others space. Simply put five seat layouts are problematic and SWT reacted to passenger feedback in designing the current layout of the 455 coaches and generally there has been a really positive reaction as the aisle is also wider which makes for easier movement and the trains are much more fit for purpose.

  82. Mark Townend says:

    @Fandroid, 04:58PM, 14th April 2013

    Leather is presumably easy to clean, although I find it uncomfortable for a number of reasons, not least because I’m slightly allergic to it; any direct skin contact can cause me irritation and on hot and sweaty occasions it can even affect me through clothing. I agree standard seats on SW Desiros are very good. I disliked the old 442 seating, mainly because the back seemed to be raked to an almost semi-recumbent position, not ideal for any activity other than sleeping. Once the 444s started to appear, if possible I would always choose one over a ‘Wessie’ to travel between Basingstoke and Waterloo.

  83. Malcolm says:

    I’m sure RichardB is right about overall width making 5-across layouts inevitably uncomfortable.

    It seems to me that a few extra centimetres could make all the difference, which set me wondering where to get them from. I expect the structure of the coach sides has already been trimmed by evolution down to its minimum.

    Which just leaves coach shortening. And you might then lose just as much capacity then from the wasted space at the joins as you have gained from the 5-across.

    Or you could drop the constraint of straight sides on the coaches. If they were wider over the bogies, you could get 5-across seating there, and reduce to 4-across in the middle and ends (where the encroachment on curves happens).

    Probably cost a lot more to build then. But set that against platform-lengthening, or building more tracks….

  84. timbeau says:

    Greg 1457 yesterday

    No-one is obliged to sell you anything, even if you offer coin of the realm. “Legal tender” only applies to settlement of a debt, for example an excess fare, or a pay-on-exit car park. If TfL wanted to abolish cash fares, they could.

    As for the 2+3 v 2+2 seating debate, the middle seats may be the least popular, but I for one prefer them to the real alternative on SWT’s 455s, which is standing for half an hour with nothing to hold on to or lean on

    Even if I do get a seat, SWT’s seat pitch is also too close for my not-particularly-long legs (I’m 5’10”) – I cannot use the window seats in the face-to-back layout)

    What a relief it is to switch to Thameslink at Wimbledon, with seats which are ample in both quality and quantity. SWT (who run Wimbledon station) make it very hard to find these trains though – until you are already on Platform 9 there is no indication as to when the next Thameslink service is expected.

  85. NLW says:

    @ Malcolm

    Which just leaves coach shortening. And you might then lose just as much capacity then from the wasted space at the joins as you have gained from the 5-across.

    I’m struggling to see how this improves carriage width – sorry!

  86. Mark Townend says:

    @NLW, 03:49PM, 15th April 2013

    A carriage is a fixed width ‘tube’. The bogie pivot points are near the extremities. It follows that the point of greatest overhang on any given curve is halfway along its length. Reduce length and the overhang is also reduced. For a given overhang on the same curve a shorter carriage can be wider.

    The joins between carriages traditionally take up a lot of space, although an articulated design with full width gangway could be developed like the abandoned London Underground spacetrain concept.

  87. Pedantic of Purley says:


    Because the longer you make a carriage the narrower you have to make it so that it can go around the bends without fouling the kinetic envelope – unless the track was built with generous clearance margins. In reality it is nearly always the bends that cause the problems. The new Stadler trams in Croydon are slightly wider which meant that they had to trim the edge off some of the platforms. But although they are the same length as the older ones they are in five sections so supposedly this doesn’t cause a problem on the tight bends despite the extra width.

    One of the advantages of the proposed articulated EVO train for the deep level underground is that it will be have more sections (or carriages) than a conventional train. They will therefore be able to make the stock slightly wider and at the same time reduce “the gap”.

  88. mdb says:

    Has the EVO train been completely abandoned or has it just been “back burnered”?


    > Because the longer you make a carriage the narrower you have to make it so that it > can go around the bends without fouling the kinetic envelope

    Is it not the “kinematic” envelope?

  89. peezedtee says:

    “Kinetic envelope” is the term I have always seen used in this context.

    For an extreme example of a “short but wide” articulated train, see the Danish S-Tog:

  90. Pedantic of Purley says:


    EVO train project is alive and well as far as I am aware. Probably not publicised so as not to needlessly antagonise Bob Crow. I do not believe that there is currently any plan B. I think some of the people due to work on it are currently busy with the Northern Line Upgrade.

    As I understand it, kinematics is the mathematical study of movement in classical mechanics. Kinetic merely relates to motion. In the real world you would have a kinetic envelope. I suppose if you derived the envelope entirely from mathematical principles and not from real world testing it would be correct to call it a kinematic envelope.

  91. Steve says:

    @timbeau 01:20PM, 15th April 2013

    It just shows how subjective seat comfort is. I’m 5’9″ and find the seat pitch in SWT’s 455s adequate and seat comfort quite good, but find the seats on the 319s (& 321s etc) awful – the worst seats on the UK rail network, in fact. They’re so low down you may as well be sat on the floor!

  92. Kit Green says:

    I agree about the 319 seating. Far too low, but at least most line up with windows.

    Someone commented earlier that South Eastern’s trains are dark. If it is too dark to read there are effective reading lights. I prefer their light level to the over bright SWT lighting that makes it impossible to see where the train is after dark. I also find SE’s 375s very comfortable with the obvious exception of the 375/9 variant. A pity that the well designed interior has now been disturbed by the over obvious and toy like “my first CCTV” cameras.

  93. Anonymous says:

    Here we go, I’ve sent everyone off topic again.

    On Thursday I had a quiet rant about badly designed seating on buses and the Victoria Line.

    I come back to the website this evening and everyone is sounding off about seats.

    DW – If they are not bulky and strong, armrests will just get vandalised and abandoned. Look at the 1982 Central line stock.

  94. RichardB says:

    @ Kit Green

    I think I said the interiors of the South Eastern trains are drab and yes I think the light levels are not ideal. I think we will have to differ on that point. However I do have a real criticism of South Eastern’s stock specification. When the franchise was taken away from Connex DfT appointed their own directly employed organisation similar to the current East Coast operation. I believe it was they who specified the 378s currently in use on the inner suburban lines. I recall they specifically opted to exclude air conditioning as it was not felt appropriate for such stock as the doors would be opening frequently due to the number of station stops and therefore it was not considered cost effective. This ensured the commuters in summer months will endure the usual sweat box environment of yore. I think I recall an Alan Williams comment in Modern Railways which indicated he too was not overly impressed by this decision.

    It struck me then that this decision seemed more reminiscent of the old BR management approach in their regard for the comfort of their commuting passengers. In contrast Intercity of course as a flagship would have such amenities but it was not considered appropriate or necessary for the likes of short haul passengers on the old Southern region. I know that some engineers at BREL disapproved of the 442 stock specification for the same reason. Compare this decision with TfL ordering the same generic stock for London Overground but insisting on air conditioning which demonstrates it is a viable technology for such journeys which is appreciated by passengers in the summer months.

    I know this post is off message as it relates to trains as opposed to buses but I also think these days all new buses should be so equipped.

  95. DW down under says:

    @Richard B

    You’re absolutely right about 2+3 seating. By my calculations, the minimum external car width for 3+2 should be 3050mm with thin car sides at width critical points. That put Britain 220mm too narrow in general.

    My point was, fitting armrests makes the seats (if they are retained) more useful and would thus raise their utilisation rate. Armrests don’t reduce useful width as they are below shoulder height and placed at elbow height. Consider the type LU used on perimeter seats in the 1980s, eg 62ts on the Central Line. With them present, you could relax more. I know what you mean about the middle seat: I was generally around 16st (102kg) during my commuting days, went down to 80kgs and now about 112kgs.

  96. DW down under says:

    Anonymous @ 09:40PM, 15th April 2013

    Was that 62ts or 92ts? The 62ts didn’t seem to me in the best part of six months commuting from Gants Hill, to have a particular problem. I can’t consider the 92ts – haven’t been in Britain since they entered service. Can you cite some sources to help me?

    But AFAIK, strong does not necessarily correlate with bulky – especially with modern materials. The 92ts is consistent with most things selected on first price, not whole-of-life cost.

    Finally, are the main line EMUs subject to the same level and intensity of vandalism (and attempts thereat) as compared to tube stock?

  97. DW down under says:

    And finally – to bring the discussion back to buses. If 3+2 seating is now too narrow for trains at 2820mm wide, is 2+2 seating still OK for buses 2.5m wide?

    My guess is that the answer is NO, not if stop dwell time is important.

    So, what should be done?

    (1) make the buses wider: 2600mm, 2650mm?
    (2) Change the seating layout to 2 + perimeter on both decks
    (3) Provide more headroom, higher and more widely spaced seats on the lower deck or forward section, where wheelchairs are also accommodated, and continue with 2+2 and 2.5m elsewhere.

  98. DW down under says:

    Kinematics, sweep, curvature, etc

    The maximum cross-sectional profile for a train is determined on straight plain track. The infrastructure provider offers an external envelope within which the train builder and operator must contain their vehicles.

    The actual size takes into account the stiffness on each of the degrees of freedom of the suspension, and factors such as sway from passenger movement and crosswinds. This is the stuff of the engineers, to which I do not have access. The result is a maximum possible cross-sectional vehicle profile.

    The infrastructure provider also makes additional volume available on curves, and these provisions are usually based on set vehicle lengths and bogie centres for passenger stock.

    Building cars significantly shorter than that allowed for by the infrastructure provider yields no width benefits. For many years, there has been a trend to longer cars – so that there are less vehicles for a given capacity: less bogies, less maintenance, less capital, less weight. We have discussed above that 3+2 seating has passed its use-by date. But 2+2 seating doesn’t need the full width. So it’s possible to design longer, narrower cars.

    It’s these longer, narrower cars where the relationship between the width, length and swept area compared to the infrastrure provision becomes critical. A similar issue arises with tilting stock, hence the profile of the APT, the APT-derived MkIV rolling stock and the newer tilting units class 390, 221 and family members.

    If you’re really interested, go here:

  99. The other Paul says:

    @DW down under – Bus seating

    I often find the London double deckers awkwardly crowded downstairs – I’d prefer to see perimeter (longitudanal?) seating between the doors opposite the stairway so as to give more room for standees and those getting on or off. Getting between the stairs and the exit doors on some services can feel like a bit of a fight!

    Otherwise though, there is less of an issue with a narrow aisle with 2+2 seating on buses – I think the 3+2 on trains is more down to the nature of having 3 seats together rather than the width alone. The middle seat traps you between two other people whereas on the 2 seat block you can at least encroach onto the aisle or squirrel into the corner and look out of the window.

    The middle seats on planes are also annoying for similar reasons, despite being much larger.

  100. DW down under says:

    @ToP – I was envisioning perimeter seating except right against the stairwell, in the forward half of the lower deck, up to the centre exit. Same for SD and for the driving part of an artic.

    With aircraft, at least you get armrests, but the seat pitch is too tight and the seats are face-to-back.

    For rail application, I’ve suggested armrests between the aisle and middle seats – but I should have made clear that this can only help with face-to-face seating bays.

  101. Greg Tingey says:

    Most of the other trouble with seating is that it is far too thin & hard.
    The “official” reason given for this is fire protection.
    [Comment partially removed.  PoP] [ Note to pedantic: I have NOT named ANY identifyable person or organisation ] – as, incidentally, Iam Walmsley in “Modern Railways” has also spotted.
    Modern coaches & buses have the same fire-regs (AFAIK) & last year for a short trip (provided by temporary employer) I got into an ’11/12-plated Mercedes coach/bus. The seats were comfoprtable, & more to the point considerably deeper than the meagre apology for padding that is foisted on to us in most buses & trains now.

    Isn’t it time something was done about this?

    [Note to Greg: I don’t care if no identifiable person or organisation is mentioned. The tone is still unnecessarily inflammatory and does nothing to aid civilised discussion.  PoP]

  102. Mark Townend says:

    @DW down under, 01:25AM, 16th April 2013

    Ah I understand now, thanks for that. So you can’t shorten vehicles below a nominal standard value to gain width on curves, as anything gained would likely be out of gauge on the straight. The newer DSB S-Tog trains in Copenhagen are often claimed to take advantage of shorter cars to provide extra width, however if this is truly the case then they must have also carried out physical gauge clearance work on the straight parts of their (presumably fairly limited) route network. These trains are certainly ‘fat boys’ with a rather large waist level bulge over the platform edge, in a similar but exaggerated manner to a UK profile, unusual on the continent. This presumably provides useful additional elbow room for seated passengers.

  103. Pedantic of Purley says:

    I appreciate the average person won’t get the opportunity to experience this but the effect I think DW down under is describing is very apparent if you drive a long wheelbase land rover at speed along a straight narrow road (easy) and then try to do the same with a short wheelbase land rover (very hard).

    Mechanical engineers always have to compromise with stiffness and stuff in the bogies. The reason why the DLR is so brilliant on short tight curves at a reasonably slow speed is the same reason why the fast ride through the Woolwich tunnel is absolutely abysmal. And one reason why extending the DLR from Lewisham down the largely straight track to Elmers End and on to Hayes is absolutely bonkers despite Network Rail once suggesting it.

    I believe that the underground section of Crossrail will be entirely on gentle curves except at stations. I understand the reason for this is because if you have the same stock running at the same speed you can give the line a very slight cant and create a much smoother ride with little chance of “hunting”.

  104. Mark Townend says:

    @Pedantic of Purley, 10:05AM, 19th April 2013

    Interestingly I think fast roads have also been constructed deliberately without straights for many years, in that case to ensure drivers are always engaged in actively steering, rather than having nothing to do and possibly falling asleep.

  105. Pedantic of Purley says:

    I am sure I remember reading that that was the deliberate design brief for the M4. For what reason I cannot say.

  106. Greg Tingey says:

    One of the very first Autobahnen when constructed, had a very long, dead straight section.
    They got a huge number of people driving straight (!) off it … and the lesson has been learnt – for roads.
    The extreme advantage dispayed by an LWB L-R (like mine) compared to a “smart” is very noticeable on fast roads … I really don’t think they (smarts) are safe above about 80kph ….

    Sorry – but – the excuse trotted out EVERY SINGLE TIME about thin hard public transport seats, especially in trains is: “Fire Safety” and it quite simply IS NOT TRUE. It’s an excuse not ot do something, because the paying customer can just bloody lump it. (Except, of course it’s too thin to have any lumps!)

  107. #Busfanlondon says:

    I wonder how the Caetano Nimbus will look like when metroline obtain it

  108. ronb says:

    Willesden Bus Garage is still a bus garage….not a Sainsburys.

  109. Sima says:

    Many thanks for the useful content in your write-up on FirstGroup Announces Sale of Eight London Bus Garages | London ReconnectionsLondon Reconnections.

  110. Anonymous says:

    TFL may have their faults but at least their is a decent bus service and they are operatoring with fairly modern clean fleet and are holding companies to account for any failings. The service 38 in London was a bendy route but when the bendis were withdrawing they had to put extra buses on the route to cope with the demand hence why there are now buses going as far as Hackney. The bendis brought their probelms due to thir size and the road layouts in centrel London I remember when the 73 went bendy the probelms that caused on a busy Oxford street. At least TFL control the bus network it has to be a big improvement from any of First operations in Scotland were they keep rocketing the fares, changing the networks and brining in worse buses than we had before hardly wanting people to leave their cars at home. Firsts biggest probelm is they are too top heavy in management and have an arrogrance to anyone who questions them so if TFL want to come to Scotland and do what Transport Scotland have failed to deal with regulate bus services in Scotland and Tackle First for their poor performance in their operations in Glasgow,Aberdeen and Scotland East whoose management teams could not run a bath never mind a bus company. This is why passengers are leaving the buses and using their cars and why First are loosing money in Scotland we need an orgasation that will tackle First and not cosy up to them.

  111. Ted says:

    All part of First’s desire to get out of the regulated bus business. It is buying Finglands in Manchester which is unregulated – makes more money I guess

  112. rodjames says:

    I live in the London borough of havering, first had a virtual monopoly round here on routes, then, totally without warning, everything has transferred to stagecoach? the garages mentioned above do not make reference to their disposal of fleets/garages etc around here?

  113. Graham H says:

    @rodjames – First have got to find the cash for their extraordinary approach to franchise bidding and certain vanity projects (FTR…) from somewhere. The list of places where First is vanishing as a bus operator gets ever longer. They were relying heavily on buying the West Coast cash flow with their highball bid and now the consequences of failure are manifest.

  114. timbeau says:

    “totally without warning, everything has transferred to stagecoach”
    What warning do we need? As all London bus services are contracted in by TfL, it is of little relevance or interest to most people who actually owns the buses, and most people will not even notice when the operator of their route changes – at most they will remark that there are new buses on the route. I doubt if many people have noticed the ping pong that Stagecoach and Macquarie have done with their London operations in recent years.

  115. Graham H says:

    @timbeau – the benefits of the London system! Here in darkest Surrey, where commercial operation predominates, we have twice in recent years had local operators cease trading in the course of the service day, leaving punters – especially schoolchildren – stranded and the county scrabbling around on the telephone to find emergency cover.

  116. Jargon-hater says:

    “The sale of these operations marks further progress in our programme to reposition our UK Bus portfolio, recover performance and equip the business to achieve sustainable revenue and patronage growth. Our strategy is to focus on those areas of the country which offer the greatest potential and while we have been a key operator in London for many years, our focus going forward is on the deregulated market outside of the capital.”

    A very belated comment, I’m afraid, but at least I’ve now realised that I’ll never make MD of any bus company because I could never think up such a lengthy wriggle out of admitting that I’d totally messed things up.

  117. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Rod James – as others have said it rarely matters when contracts change because the buses are still red and frequencies are usually maintained or sometimes improved. I would accept that bus times will change but with I-Bus and Countdown people can check before leaving their front door as to when the bus is due from every TfL stop. TfL do publish and update a list of service changes –

    @ Jargon Hater – well I doubt any MD in First actually wrote those words. The press and pr department will have crafted it but I take your point. The current management at First Group have a poisonous legacy to deal with inherited from the “cut costs, shove the fares up, sweat your assets until they break” ethos from the Moir Lockhead era. To their credit I always found First London to actually be pretty good and I used routes they ran for many years. The current management is slowly but surely getting rid of those operations which they mucked up (e.g. Northampton) or which had value that someone would pay for (e.g. Wigan and London). The remaining operations are beginning to show some signs of positive change with new vehicles to a good spec, fare cuts and service increases. In other words the sort of things that Go Ahead, Stagecoach and some others have done for years to attract passengers and retain them. If they can actually sort out the bus side of the business and get revenue and profits up then it will give them a solid basis before they have any more expensive adventures on the rail side. It will be interesting to see if they retain franchises or gain them and what sort of commercial arrangement will apply. One wonders what the financial arrangements are for the short term FGW franchise extension.

  118. Krystina Baker says:

    As I had indicated to Tim O’Toole some time ago, the only ‘Transforming Travel’ they seem to be good at, is in size reduction.Whereas Stagecoach presents a consistent image to the UK travelling public, regrettably the First image is patchy.In London, however,an effort had to be made due to the TfL contractual obligations.I don’t think they will return to the lucrative London bus market, either.

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