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January 11 2018
By Mel Holley

A former routeone editor, Mel has more than 30 years’ experience in road and rail transport journalism.

Major upgrade for Reading’s busiest bus route

Reading Buses’ purple 17 route between Tilehurst, Oxford Road, Central Reading and Wokingham Road is set for a major upgrade with a fleet of brand new state-of-the-art low carbon bio-gas buses.

The route is Reading’s flagship bus service, which has even been referred to as “the backbone of Reading”, and is seeing the introduction of 17 Scania bio-gas double deckers fitted with the latest style of Alexander Dennis Enviro400 City bodywork, including a stylish glass staircase design.

This continues Reading Buses’ successful strategy in upgrading main road bus corridors to keep pace with modern travelling demands, stimulate additional growth and make buses the very best way to get around and keep Reading moving.

The buses have a number of new features including:

- Natural gas power – the buses run on low carbon bio-gas, rather than diesel, and meet the latest stringent Euro 6 emission standards

- Comfortable high back seats

- At seat USB charging points and coat/bag hooks

- Free superfast 4G Wi-Fi

- Space for two wheelchairs users, instead of the mandatory one space

-  ‘Next stop’ audio and visual announcements

- A group seating area upstairs with a table and ‘air charge’ mobile phone charging dock

- Exterior lighting to make purple buses easier to identify at night and help illuminate pavements and roadsides for customers when the bus stops

- High quality on board ambiance including coffee shop style wood effect flooring, mood lighting and styling.

What’s more the buses feature two doors, one for getting on and one for exiting the bus. This arrangement, similar to London buses, will provide a huge benefit at busy stops by speeding up the time it takes buses to pick up and drop off, as both can happen simultaneously.

This, along with the Council’s forthcoming red route scheme, will provide a dramatic improvement in bus journey times along the route and have the added benefit of reducing how long buses are stationary at stops, some of which are on the main carriageway and will therefore benefit all road users.

Commenting on the upgrade, Reading Buses’ Chief Executive Officer, Martijn Gilbert said “It’s important that we continue the evolution of Reading’s bus network to meet demand and keep our compact and congested town moving.

“Popular services such as the 17 rightly justify this sort of investment and it’s long overdue as the current fleet of 17 buses has been on the route for 6 years now, the longest of any fleet in recent times.

“The previous buses will now be completely re-furbished for use elsewhere on our network.

“We’re delighted to have been able to work with Scania and Alexander Dennis on a pioneering high specification for these city buses.

“These provide users with modern and eco-friendly travel including a range of features to aid customers’ journeys, with the latest digital connectivity and extra features for wheelchair users.

“This will be the first frequent bus service in the UK to be able to carry two wheelchair users at once, reflecting the accessibility of Reading’s Bus network and its wide scale use by everyone regardless of their mobility”. 

The company are particularly keen to advise customers about exiting from the middle doors.  Around 90% of bus stops along the route are suitable and on-board announcements will advise when only the front door can be used.

Martijn added that “it is also great news that this substantial upgrade to this busy route comes alongside the Council’s soon to be introduced red route scheme, which will provide much wider benefits. We’re playing our part by not only making the bus a more attractive choice, but also speeding up waiting times at stops by bringing back dual door operation.

“This is something Reading had until the late nineties and today’s technology means it now comes with a whole host of safety features. London has continually operated dual door buses since the 1960s and we’re now seeing city regions such as Brighton, Oxford and Bristol return to this type of bus. They’re a good fit for the 17”.

“The purple 17 continues to provide a 24/7 service, yet another benefit for users. Also Reading’s Bus fares, some of the lowest in the UK, have not been increased like rail fares so with affordable, frequency and now faster buses, there really has never been a better time to get on-board”.

Many of the new buses are on the road now and this £5.1m investment will be complete when the final new vehicles enter service in February.

Commenting on the investment, Reading Borough Council’s Deputy Leader and Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Transport & Planning, Cllr Tony Page said: “This major upgrade of the Route 17 buses by the Council-owned bus company will bring even bigger benefits to passengers of what is already Reading’s flagship bus route.

“Reading Buses has always been at the forefront nationally of clean fuel technology and the new fleet continues with that tradition.

“The return to dual doors also means even quicker and more reliable journey times for passengers, which sits alongside the introduction of Reading’s first red routes along the length of the 17 route which will help keep key public transport moving, minimise delays for bus passengers and improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists by preventing dangerous or illegal parking.

“Reading continues to grow and the Council is responding by creating quick and reliable alternatives to the car. Key new bus lanes have already been opened along the A33, and a new bus, pedestrian and cycle only route is also planned for the east of the borough. It is only by investing in this type of public transport infrastructure that we can absorb the planned level of growth in future years.”

Regarding the vehicles and their environmental credentials, Mark Oliver, UK Bus and Coach Fleet Sales General Manager from Scania (Great Britain) commented, "Scania is firmly committed to driving the shift to more sustainable transport systems. 

“When operating on biogas, the carbon dioxide emissions of Scania buses are reduced by up to 84% compared to regular diesel. 

“They are significantly quieter too, making them an ideal choice for urban operations. 

“As the first UK bus company to take delivery of our latest generation gas-fuelled buses, Reading Buses has led the way and benefited from this technology since 2013.”
From a vehicle body work and customer ambience perspective, Stefan Baguette, Group Product Manager at Alexander Dennis added “Reading Buses are at the forefront of innovation in the UK bus industry and we are delighted to have collaborated with them on a bus that will give all customers a journey experience of the highest standard.

“We are particularly happy with the inclusivity offered by the provision of two wheelchair spaces and extra features for their users such as additional information screens. Operational efficiency is improved too with the two doors on our stylish Enviro400 City body”.

An official launch event will be held on Reading’s Broad Street, opposite The Oracle entrance, this Saturday 13 January and there will be a photo call at 10.30am with Martijn Gilbert, Cllr Page and others involved in this major upgrade.

Reading Buses is also working with the Broad Street Mall and Brick Galleria to hold a follow on ‘build a bus’ LEGO brick event at the Broad Street Mall on the 14th, 15th and 16th February where people can build a purple 17 bus out of LEGO bricks.

This follows the success of last year’s similar activity as part of the Reading on Thames festival where a LEGO Reading Bus was the top prize and proved extremely popular.

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