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August 01 2018
By Mel Holley

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

The waiting is over: Harrogate
delivers the way forward

High-tech buses powered by revolutionary ‘opportunity charging’ revealed as Harrogate becomes Britain’s first low emission bus town

If you’re going to make a splash then where better to do so than in the attractive Yorkshire town of Harrogate?

Better still, line up three of your smart new pure-electric buses in the centre of the town (thanks to help from the council), opposite the world-famous Betty’s Tea Room.

Andrew Jones MP, Buses Minister Nusrat Ghani and The Harrogate Bus Company CEO Alex Hornby at the launch

And, get Buses Minister Nusrat Ghani and her predecessor and local MP Andrew Jones to ‘do the honours’ at the launch.

Add a ‘confetti cannon’ and you do much more than simply attract the attention of passers by.

That’s exactly what Transdev Blazefield’s subsidiary - The Harrogate Bus Company - did to launch its £4m fleet of eight Volvo electrics.

Crucially, not only are these the first full-size opportunity charged buses in the UK, they are also a key part of the operator’s goal, with the buses destined to create Britain’s first low emission bus town, with only zero-emission or Euro 6 buses.

Part of story

The buses, to operate under the name ‘Harrogate Electrics’ will enter service in mid-August on the spa town’s three urban routes, as soon as upgraded power supplies are connected.

Clever use of body styling with livery. Cantrail flags to be displayed on special occasions

The Transdev-led initiative is a joint investment of almost £4m, after it won a £2.25m grant from the Government’s Low Emission Bus Scheme, to add to its own £1.7m investment.

Harrogate Bus Company CEO Alex Hornby says: “We’re immensely proud to be first in the UK to introduce these amazing new buses and in the process, achieve our vision of creating Britain’s first Low Emission Bus Town right here in Harrogate.”

The 76kWh buses represent a step-change to with their technology. They do not need overnight charging. Instead, the layover at Harrogate bus station - where three stands have been fitted with overhead masts - enables a full charge to be delivered in six minutes, but typically only four minutes will be needed.

Expected to deliver around 1.2kWh/km, Volvo has put in place a package to support them throughout their whole first life, expected to be around 12 years. Maintenance will be carried out by Transdev.

The bus company and its parent, Transdev, have worked closely with Harrogate Borough and North Yorkshire County Councils and the electricity infrastructure owner Northern Powergrid to install the infrastructure for the new buses.

Each charging mast has a built-in transformer converting uprated power at 1,600v AC into 600v DC supply, delivered via a pantograph on the roof of the bus. The charging masts would be made available to any other operator who wanted to use them.

In addition, each bus will receive an overnight charge at the depot every two days to maintain peak performance.

Mr Hornby explains: “Each bus will receive a rapid power charge at the bus station as customers board the vehicle, providing enough power from a seven minute charge to complete 35 miles – which is ample to support the three routes on Harrogate’s urban bus network where these buses will run.”

Smart inside too

With a striking red and black paint scheme, externally the buses create a ‘wow’ factor, even down to details such as an illuminated electric ‘spark’ logo on the front of the bus.

Creative use of rear wheel boxes to create ‘super seats’ with extra legroom, footrest, table and charging points

With styling by Best Impressions, naturally the rear of the buses have friendly promotional messages and the design studio’s magic has been sprinkled inside too.

With an eye on the European market, whose internal requirements are quite different to the UK, Volvo’s base vehicle is already robust and a cut above the standard European base vehicles.

But to woo UK passengers, Volvo, the operator and Best Impressions have come together to create one of the best thought-out and most attractive interiors.

Transdev has rightly decided to trade a handful of seats to create an optimum result that meets the needs of all groups. It still seats 34, with a maximum of 53 including standees.

Naturally, there’s air conditioning, wood-effect flooring and a lighter version on the ceiling, along with cheerful seat moquette.

Flat floor to rear, hand-holds on seat backs mean only two upright poles and ‘strap hangers’ at front

And, as you’d expect, the ride is smooth and quiet.

There’s a wheelchair space, with buggy space opposite, free 4G wi-fi and top-class automatic next stop announcements (voiced by a local person) along with external ‘countdown to departure’ destination displays, and a high quality TFT route/next stop internal display.

You’d expect USB ports on every seat back, or the side-walls (where appropriate), but you wouldn’t expect the clever use of snazzy up-lighters, to combine with down-lighters that will make these something quite special at night.

With full size wheels, the tricky areas over the wheelboxes have been cleverly dealt with. On the front pair are luggage racks, and behind the offside one is a pair of large rubbish bins. Ahead of these is a pair of double seats - likely to be very popular with adults travelling with children.

The cove panels have a typically high-quality Best Impressions ‘journey story’ with messages about the buses and what they do.

The bus is low floor all the way through to the back row of seats, with just one step to access those behind the rear axle.

And here comes the really clever bit, the rear wheel boxes have a leather-faced narrow table on their rears, and a bar for a footrest, while passengers in those seats enjoy not only USB ports but also Aircharge pads if they have the latest smartphones.

Rest of the plan

A £3.8m investment in its flagship 36 Ripon-Harrogate-Leeds service in 2016 and 2017, plus £750,000 to add extra buses and increase the frequency of the route up to every 10 minutes between Harrogate and Leeds, means that the service is Euro 6.

Charging masts (to be painted black to blend in) at Harrogate bus station

An additional £250,000 has been invested to bring 10 buses on the busy Route 1 between Harrogate and Knaresborough up to “better than new” standard, and will also be Euro 6.routeone comment

It’s been a long time coming - this project started in 2015 with bid preparation - and now Harrogate will be the place to come and see not only ‘what good looks like’, but how electric buses really do work in a commercial urban environment, outside of London.

Transdev has delivered continuous growth with its flagship route 36 that runs through the town, and intends to make a similar step change on the three town services.

On route 36, already 65% of users have access to a car, but choose the bus. That’s why, by delivering high-quality services at normal prices, Blazefield CEO Alex Hornby believes there is huge potential in the town too.

It’s been a genuine team effort, and we wish the project well.

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