‘The future is here’

A new double-decker has hit London’s roads, and it marks a first for the capital

The launch of London’s first 100% electric open-topper is ‘just the beginning’

The open-top bus is a classic London icon; it’s one of the must-dos for many visitors to the city – arguably a sight in its own right.

With Westminster Abbey as its backdrop, open-top bus tour operator The Original Tour, launched its latest fleet addition on Thursday (11 October): London’s first 100%-electric, hop-on/hop-off open-top sightseeing bus.

Speaking at the launch, Jane Lewis, MD of The Original Tour, says: “The Original Tour has been bringing the capital’s iconic sights to life for longer than anyone else, but today we can point to a landmark of our own. This new 100% electric hop-on hop-off open-top sightseeing bus represents the future, not only for our brand, but for sightseeing here in London.”

All-electric future

This zero-emission vehicle has been hailed as the future and is a concrete result that started seven years ago.

It’s clear that the RATP Group subsidiary is strongly focusing on its fleet renewal programme with this half-a-million-pound investment.

Paul Perry, Head of Safety and Engineering at The Original Tour, explains to routeone that the company will not have any option in the future but to have an all-electric fleet, and the launch of this bus is just the beginning; there is plan for three more electric buses to be added throughout 2019.

This new addition to The Original Tours’ 80-strong fleet, comes as it prepares for the world’s first Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) set to take force in central London on 8 April 2019, with the ULEZ area being expanded to include the inner London area bounded by the North and South Circular Roads from 25 October 2021.

Mr Perry adds that the company will be fully compliant with the air quality regulations when it will be enforced.

“We have just the one electric vehicle at the moment, but in the future we will need more. We have some Euro 6 buses and are in the process of retrofitting other vehicles in order to be compliant,” he says.

Green in colour and concept

Following in the footsteps of Paris, the new double-decker is the sister bus to the first 100%-electric sightseeing bus for Open Tour Paris, which was launched in April last year. Open Tour Paris, we are told, has placed another order of the electric vehicles.

The new silent-running bus, wrapped in a unique green edition of the brand’s Union Jack livery, has a range of 150km. To put that into perspective, it’s the equivalent of six loops of The Original Tour’s Yellow route.

Seating 66 – 50 upstairs and 16 down – it can accommodate a total of 75 passengers, including a wheelchair.

It will run seven days a week, and on an average day will make 125 stops on a single charge. Being charged overnight at the operator’s Grade II-listed Wandsworth depot, the battery will take just 4.5 hours to fully charge, after which the bus can run for up to 11.5 hours.

And the charging of the buses seems to a key issue regarding an instant fleet upgrade.

Alex Lecompte, Director Commercial at UNVI – the bodywork and chassis specialist for the vehicle (both for London and Paris) – discussed with routeone about the prospect of additional zero-emission vehicles.

He, along with Mr Perry, highlighted that the biggest issue an operator could face will not necessarily come from the vehicles, but from the charging infrastructure in the operator’s depot. Currently, The Original Group has a single charging point, but with more vehicles will come a need for more electric points, and therefore more space will be required.

The experience

At the launch, delegates were able to enjoy a short tour of Westminster. Once on board and grabbing the best seat in the vehicle – on the top deck – there was no arguing that it was a better ride than conventional fuelled buses. There is no sound or vibration, just a smooth glide throughout the whole tour. It means the tour guide is not having to battle to be heard over the hustle and bustle of the city, as well as an engine churning its way along the road.

Seating 66 – 50 upstairs and 16 down – it can accommodate a total of 75 passengers, including a wheelchair.

The first driver of the vehicle, Martin Barrow, who has been with the company for eight years, described it as “effortless driving”. As well as being a bus driver, Mr Barrow delivers a two-hour electric-bus training session that all drivers must do before taking to wheel.

It officially enters service from Saturday (13 October) and will run on The Original Tour’s Yellow route, taking in sights and scenery from St Paul’s to The Shard and Shakespeare’s Globe to the Gherkin.

Did you know that there are hundreds of schools situated in illegally polluted areas? A fact that was presented to delegates at the launch by London Deputy Mayor for the Environment and Energy, Shirley Rodrigues.

As Clean Air Zones, Low Emission Zones and Ultra Low Emission Zones set to change the way vehicles travel around the country, there’s really no time to waste for operators choosing which form of energy to power their vehicles.

Even though retrofitting is a cost-effective way to ensuing vehicles are up to the required standard, it’s only a short-term solution.

With the way air quality is vastly changing – and not for the better just yet – it was highlighted at the launch that eventually, like it or not, cities will become zero-emission zones.

Operators can either conform now and invest in electric or wait it out until they have no other option. But one thing is for sure, it’s time for operators to test the water and find the right fuel to suit the operation – because not all methods of power will suit all services.