Back to top of page
Transport Benevolent Fund - 2019
Back to previous page
August 08 2018
By The routeone team

The routeone team is dedicated to bringing you the latest bus & coach industry news, views, jobs and more.

Agent for change: Reading is no
stranger to innovation

Advertising Feature

Located in the heart of Britain’s ‘Silicon Valley’ the town of Reading is no stranger to innovation. The same goes for its bus company

“The only way emerging technology can progress is if people are prepared to give it a try.” So says Martijn Gilbert, Chief Executive Officer of Reading Buses, the council-owned-but-stand-alone bus operator serving Reading and the greater Berkshire area.

“For us, innovation is vitally important if we are to remain at the forefront and continue to win business from our competitors – by which I mean cars, taxis, cycling, walking and so on – and that’s why we’re always keen to embrace technology we believe will benefit us and our customers.

“But, of course, it has to be the right technology; you have to be watchful and evaluate the options carefully.

“That said, when a company like Scania comes to us and says, ‘we’ve got something new to show you’, we have the confidence to think it must be well thought through and therefore worth considering.”

Gas fuelled

The most recent example of Reading Buses’ adoption of innovative technology from Scania began in 2013, when the operator introduced the UK’s first dedicated gas-fuelled Scania buses into service.

That original fleet of 20 single deckers, equipped with bodywork by Scania’s gas bus partner Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), has now been increased to 62 with the addition of further gas-powered buses, including double-deckers from Scania and ADL.

CEO Martijn Gilbert: “Reading is a fast growing town with the local economy being driven by the area’s technology firms and the fact that Crossrail is coming here soon”

“These vehicles are just the latest incarnation of our relationship with Scania, which goes all the way back to the late 1970s when we introduced Scania Metropolitans into our fleet,” says Martijn.

“Those buses were quite something at the time. They were very advanced with state-of-the-art technology throughout – in fact, their sophistication led the local newspaper to run the headline, ‘Reading’s Space Age Buses.’

In operation, the Scania Metropolitan was a tremendous success for Reading Buses, an important part of the evolution of the company.

“Scania sold into us originally on the basis of its global history – the company had an impressive CV – and today the organisation offers global experience structured locally.

“That brings a lot to the table for us; Scania’s extensive research and development programmes result in high quality products which are developed specifically for the market sectors for which they are intended.”


“Take the double-deck gas buses, for example. We believed in Scania’s ability to deliver gas-fuelled vehicles from the outset, which is why we committed to becoming the country’s first adopter with the single deckers.

“By the time the option for double-deckers came along a couple of years later, we had thoroughly proven our gas buses in service and also the concept of gas as a viable and sustainable alternative fuel. The other part of the equation is local service, which together with the technical support underpinning it, is excellent too.

“So we were once again happy to be the first to place an order for double-deck Scania gas buses. We began with five, to which we subsequently added a further 17.”

The 95 Scania vehicles in service with Reading Buses, a mix of diesel and gas vehicles, account for approximately 50% of the vehicles in operation with the company.

While integrating gas vehicles into the fleet proved a relatively smooth process – apart from being quieter and cleaner in operation than traditionally-fuelled vehicles, there is very little difference from the driver’s point-of-view – the arrival of gas into Reading Buses brought with it a second challenge: Refuelling.

“Here we worked with Scania and its gas-partner, the Gas Bus Alliance, to evaluate our needs and the result was an on-site refuelling station,” says Martijn.


The refuelling station is constructed to what is now evolving into a standard installation format where gas is fed from the national grid into storage tanks via a system of compressors and dryers.

These convert the damp, low-pressure mains gas into a dry, high pressure fuel source which is used to charge the buses’ on-board gas storage tanks to 200-bar, sufficient to give more than 200 mile range on a single fill for the latest vehicles.

Reading Buses’ customer-friendly application of science includes free wi-fi and USB charging points

“The refuelling station works extremely well for us,” says Martijn. “It’s an essential part of the process which enables us to reduce our ‘well-to-wheel’ carbon footprint by up to 84%.

“The way that works is that all the gas we purchase is bio-gas produced in anaerobic digesters. This is pumped into the national grid to replace the gas we take out, so every kilogramme of mains gas we use is replaced by a kilogramme of bio-gas paid for by us.

“This model for biomethane replacement of natural gas is accepted within the framework of the EU’s Renewable Transport Fuels Obligations.”


All of this is good news for the citizens of Reading, who are made well aware of the company’s achievements through its frequent and eye-catching promotions.

After all, this was the company that set a world speed record for gas-powered buses.

More recently, Reading Buses promoted the upgrade of its core Purple 17 route by staging a town centre event featuring one of its bright purple buses, an eclectic collection of street entertainers and Daisy, a full-size model cow who was there to show the public where the sustainable fuel for their buses comes from.

Sustainability is a message which goes down well with the public, and together with Reading Buses’ customer-friendly application of science – which includes complimentary onboard wi-fi and USB charging points and a smartphone app to make ticket purchase and bus travel easy – has resonated with the community.

Such has been the success of its various initiatives that Reading Buses finds itself a member of an elite group of bus companies which have not only increased their passenger numbers, but have also upped their share of journeys made within its area.

However, the increased demand which led to fleet growth also led to space pressures at the company’s principal Great Knollys Street bus garage.

More innovation

Time for another innovative solution: “We had to create some extra room and the way we did it was by relocating the gas-refuelling station onto an elevated platform to give us more area in which to park our additional buses,” says Martijn.

“The expansion of our fleet bodes well for the future. Reading is a fast growing town with the local economy being driven by the area’s technology firms and the fact that Crossrail is coming here soon – that’s really put Reading on the map in terms of being near to London and Heathrow. So we have to look ahead and develop our strategy for the future.

Reading Buses is one of an elite group of companies that has increased passenger numbers

“A key part of that will be using innovative technology to deliver robust solutions.

“We already use telematics to improve efficiency, the passenger experience and scheduling and we’re looking to build on that to help us keep improving.

“Autonomous aids, such as systems which enable our buses to get as close to the kerb as possible, are also of interest, as are platooning and dynamic services which work in real time to help us deploy our resources more efficiently.

“Gas will definitely be part of the plan going forward.

“Not only are the vehicles super-reliable, head and shoulders above the diesels in our fleet, they also provide a better environment for our drivers to deliver an excellent customer experience.

“We’ve trialled other alternatives such as hybrid, but gas has been transformational. In addition to the well-to-wheel benefits, for example, the way in which gas itself is transported through pipelines is carbon-neutral.

“There’s no question that bio-methane equals sustainability.

“That’s vitally important for the future, which means gas is here to stay for the long term – no question about it.”

More like this...

Imperial engineering - May