Leaner buses in First's sights

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Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  Paladin on Tue Apr 27, 2010 4:45 pm

Temsa is a fast-growing business with huge manufacturing capacity and global ambition. FirstGroup is a pan-Atlantic transport group which is deadly serious about redressing the seemingly ever-increasing obesity of buses.

It's an intriguing combination and clearly something which will have caused some consternation in Ballymena, Warwick and Gothenburg as those who have been favoured with First's bus orders in the past address the new realities.

First is by no means committed to Temsa of course, but the fact of the trial has given a clear boost to the Turkish manufacturer and upped the ante in terms of reducing weight of buses.
To be fair, First's search for its 'bus of the future' hardly ends with rather conservatively-styled Temsa's Avenue. But the use of composites to reduce vehicle weight is clearly seen as the way forward.

The obsession with obesity is nothing new. First's UK bus MD Nicola Shaw - now tipped in some quarters with being a favourite for the top job at FirstGroup - has been banging this particular drum for some time. Back in November 2008, Shaw told a Euro Bus Expo seminar that she was concerned that new vehicles were better on emissions, but worse on fuel economy. "My message to manufacturers is please think again and come up with a better solution.," she told delegates at the time.

And the message today from Shaw and her boss, First chief executive Moir Lockhead, is even more stark: reduce the weight of your vehicles or see future bus orders go overseas.

Indeed as well as Temsa, First has acknowledged that a Chinese manufacturer is working on a possible lightweight bus, although First may be more interested in sourcing parts from China than complete vehicles. Other global players are also possible.

Lockhead is adamant the new priority must be carbon, and that means improving fuel economy. "The whole debate has now changed," he says. "It used to be about emissions, now it is all about carbon."

First UK Bus engineering director David Liston points out that the modern bus is very inefficient in terms of payload. He calculates that a double-deck bus has an unladen weight of around 12tonnes with only 6tonnes for passengers. In leading the project to acquire lighter buses, he is aiming to get this ratio closer to 1:1, although he admits that is some way off. "We shouldn't just take ideas from the truck sector and make them into a bus," says Liston. “The use of composites has been pioneered in the aviation and automotive industries, in particular Formula 1, and its use in the bus industry is something we are keen to explore. "

"Reducing our carbon footprint is a key strategic aim for First UK Bus. In our 2007 Climate Change Strategy we made a commitment to reduce our carbon emissions by 25 per cent by 2020."
Liston points out that with the lightweight Temsa, for example, "we would make a serious impact on our own carbon footprint, not to mention the obvious savings that we could make on our fuel costs".

First is also keen to address the fuel economy of its existing fleet, according to Shaw, who points to the need to retain the carbon efficiency advantage of the bus in the wake of the efforts being made to significantly improve car fuel economy. "We need to keep our advantage and retain our 'USP'," says Shaw.

First has now rolled out its DriveGreen telematics device across its UK fleet and Shaw says that the initial results are encouraging with fuel savings of up to 10 per cent. But she points out that DriveGreen is not just about fuel savings, it also helps to improve the passenger's experience by giving drivers immediate feedback with a red light if they don't handle the vehicle properly. "A red light on the dashboard means that something has happened which the passengers will notice," points out Shaw.

First is also looking at re-engineering existing vehicles to improve fuel consumption with regenerative braking being one of the areas under investigation.

Another project which is still firmly on First's agenda is yellow school buses. "It's a no-brainer," claims Lockhead, although he acknowledges that the idea is still a long way from fruition.

Lockhead points to the success of yellow school buses in the US. But then the economics are rather different. Lockhead says that the low capital cost of a US school bus, $60,000, and the staggering of school start times so that vehicles can do two or even three school runs a day, makes it feasible there. Back at home, First's yellow school bus champion, former home secretary David Blunkett, continues to bang the drum as well, conducting a recent demonstration at the Scottish Parliament.

Given the state of the public finances however, government support for yellow school buses seems as far off as ever, although Lockhead might argue that now is precisely the right time to look at it again.

And on the subject of investment, First is not alone in having cut back its own fleet renewal programme in the wake of the recession. The dearth of orders from the major groups has been the main contributing factor to a slowdown at UK bus manufacturing plants and a return to pre-recession investment levels is clearly something that the whole supply chain is awaiting in earnest.

First has reacted to the recession in part by reducing its operational fleet and now has a significant number of spare vehicles, around 10 per cent, according to Lockhead.

This spare capacity obviously means that First is in a position to react quickly to increase frequencies in areas where there are signs of recovery. Shaw points out that this is something that needs to be done by analysing each local area as the 'green shoots' are somewhat patchy.

The elephant in the room of course is the forthcoming deadlines for compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act's requirements for low-floor buses. First estimates that it needs to be investing at around 700 vehicles a year which would require a return to an annual capital investment programme of around £100million. Lockhead believes that this is not likely for another couple of years.

Meanwhile the group's programme for cascading vehicles out to the provinces now includes accessibility modifications where possible.

A more pressing priority perhaps is the Competition Commission inquiry. In somewhat of an understatement, Lockhead says: "It is something we could have done without," adding that it is proving a mammoth task and has already generated literally thousands of documents.

The competition inquiry comes on the back of years of conflict between operators and metropolitan authorities over the shape of industry regulation. Lockhead believes that this environment has meant that the core messages about the need for bus priority measures have been overshadowed. "We still believe that in the way we work with local authorities, partnership is the best option," says Lockhead.

"We tell them that we are here to do the same as you - serve our passengers - but we need your help to do it."

He is reluctant to be drawn into criticism of those seeking to gain local government control over bus services, but points out: "The alternatives won't deliver better performance and will be very expensive".

A better return on investment is being seen in First's Greyhound project, according to Shaw. Praising the energy which Greyhound UK manager Alex Warner has put into getting the initial routes launched successfully, she is now keen to emulate that elsewhere. "We are now looking forward to where we can take Greyhound next."

It is a little ironic that when First embarked on its acquisition of its parent company Laidlaw in the US, it considered that Greyhound would be sold off as it was not core business. Just goes to show that even when you are a global player, you still have to retain the flexibility to exploit new and emerging markets.

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How long do we give this before it starts dropping to bits? I wouldn't be surprised if Arriva are having fun with theirs now Laughing
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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  Bristol LH on Tue Apr 27, 2010 4:49 pm

First are a company that seems to be all confused and doesnt know what it is doing. That Temsa is a cheap bucket of scrap that will recieve thousands of complaints for its hard, plastic seats, and its noise..It will also spend most of the time back at Arriva in Gomersall who are supplying said shed

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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  Paladin on Tue Apr 27, 2010 4:55 pm

From the video I found on youtube it is very noisy compared to say a B7RLE or even a MAN or E300...

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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  Bristol LH on Tue Apr 27, 2010 5:00 pm

The seats have less padding on than an Urban 90

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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  WOLVERINE /// on Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:16 am

Hope First up here don't bring them in and stick with the Volvos.
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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  freedompaisley on Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:20 am

Bristol LH wrote:The seats have less padding on than an Urban 90

Less padding than a Urban 90!!! what is it just a bit of cloth on the plastic

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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  WOLVERINE /// on Wed Apr 28, 2010 3:32 am

When i have a bit of recovery time i usually sit on the seats that face each other with the legs stretched out lol!
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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  Daisy Dart on Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:19 am

WOLVERINE /// wrote:When i have a bit of recovery time i usually sit on the seats that face each other with the legs stretched out lol!

Naughty boy!!! lol!
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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  pupsikky on Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:21 am

you know what will come next dont you?fat drivers loose weight we are using to much fuel......if you dont you will be sacked.
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Re: Leaner buses in First's sights

Post  Daisy Dart on Wed Apr 28, 2010 5:02 am

pupsikky wrote:you know what will come next dont you?fat drivers loose weight we are using to much fuel......if you dont you will be sacked.

In that case they should ban those lard arse passengers that get on Laughing I'm not kidding but on the route I used to drive I used to pick up this huge guy and when he stood on the boarding platform you could feel the bus leaning alarmingly!!
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