Welcome to Electric Waterloo

The London bus industry has developed extravagantly since its birth in 1829 with the introduction of the George Shillibeer Omnibus.

EB1 (LC63 CYA), a BYD eBus K9 allocated to route 507.
York Road, Waterloo. ©London Bus Breh.
The new generation motor-buses were created in the early 1900s and buses a couple decades after saw diesel come into great use. To this day we still have diesel buses roaming our streets, however advanced modern technology from the mid-noughties has decreased pollution and increased acceleration with hybrid buses, consisting of a diesel and electric combination, and a few hydrogen powered buses which emit harmless water vapour.

Waterloo is already well-known for its luminous electric screens which makes up the IMAX Roundabout. To assist the electric feel around the area, Transport for London have now stepped up a level further as Friday 20 December 2013 saw London's first electric bus come into service for route 507, a former Red Arrow route which runs from Victoria Bus Station to Waterloo Station.
Two prototypes, EB1 (LC63 CYA) and EB2 (LC63 CXY), have been manufactured by Build Your Dreams (BYD) from China, respectively for Go-Ahead London: London General routes 507 and 521.
These buses are the newest of  bus technology, worldwide being the first of their kind aiming to provide environmentally-friendly and efficient transportation for urban areas around the world, offering an approximate of eighty per cent city transport requirements. For the more scientific readers, the bus runs on a 324kWh BYD iron-phosphate battery pack and uses regenerative braking to recharge the battery when the bus has been called to a halt or stalls; this also reduces brake wear.

The bodywork design, especially the rear, is a beautiful piece of art and BYD have stated that 'communities around the world would love [their] electric bus as it quietly cruises past its noisy polluting competitors'. The operator's logo, written in white text, suits the buses secondary black painting as the rest of the bodywork is greeted with the usual red paintwork, embroidered with the return of the green leaf livery (except the leaves now have pointier edges and the bus displays "I am an electric bus" as opposed to "Another red bus going green for LONDON".

Are we forgetting about the trolleybuses when we say the BYD eBus is London's first electric bus? No. Although they are classed as electric buses, the source of electricity derived from overhead wires attached to roadside posts using spring-loaded trolley poles. These wires were connected to the roof of the buses and were positioned so that the bus need not require full control from the driver. Today, when referring to an electric bus, the electricity derives from battery packs and electric motors found in the bus' internal system. Just to spare any confusion, there.

EB2 (LC63 CXY), a BYD eBus allocated to route 521.
Seen on a trial run on a day prior to EB1 (LC63 CYA) beginning London's first electric service.
Waterloo. ©Hertsman.
As the weekend passed, the arrival of EB2 (LBC3 CXY) into service was highly anticipated for route 521. However, on Monday 23 December 2013, route 507 consisted of its usual allocation of Mercedes-Benz Citaro rigid O530G (MEC) buses and two electric buses (EB), meaning not only had EB2 commenced service but the second prototype had not yet officially operated on route 521 yet (excluding trial runs from the previous week). The bus only served route 507 for three hours in the morning, hence people being unaware of it entering service.
And on Christmas Eve, these allocations remained ... and I managed to jump on the second prototype ... three times, as the route is like ten minutes long with two minute breaks in between. So, I took some photos as per usual before alighting the electric bus. Except for the light blue and yellow Go-Ahead London colours and the small seating capacity, the norm for the Red Arrow routes, the interior lacked any intrigue.

EB2 (LC63 CXY), a BYD eBus allocated to route 521.
Seen on route 507, the 521 yet to operate an electric bus.
York Road, Waterloo. ©London Bus Breh.
An aforementioned statement by the manufacturer Build Your Dreams said how the bus "cruises past its noisy competitors", but true say whilst on what was a cruise-like journey - in other words, pretty slow but relaxing nevertheless - all three times, the whirring of the electric motors and the momentary vibrations of the regenerative brakes reminiscent of a lion's calm roar as it strolls was just as "noisy" as its "noisy [hybrid] competitors"'  engine turning on after gaining acceleration or a modern day diesel bus on the move.

Do you know when you are at the self-service machine at a supermarket, as you swipe the barcode of the product you are purchasing onto the scanner it makes a beep or bwop sound? Well, whenever the exit doors of the eBus closed it would make an annoyingly reiterative beeping sound, much like a self-service machine, until the doors had fully shut; it was so reiterative that I could not even count each beep. One passenger was slightly alarmed after boarding the bus, then shook his head and smiled to himself in jest. Another startling factor of the BYD eBus was the iBus System; if the atmosphere inside the bus was accompanied by the humming of an engine then maybe this would not be a problem, but because the bus was so quiet every time Emma Hignett's pre-recorded voice played she grabbed my immediate attention, making me lose focus on whatever I was doing on my phone or whatever I was analysing of the bus. What made matters worse was that the iBus System would only work every few stops and there was no pattern for when she would and would not speak to expect her voice to come. I advise not to try and doze off on one of these buses or you will be woken up almost immediately by the iBus System!

I also would not advise you to sleep on an eBus because, albeit short, route 507 is a very scenic route, even at night where most of the roads it serves are quiet. En route Victoria from Waterloo, the bus cruises along the Horseferry Road and passes the prestigious Channel 4 Studios before heading towards Lambeth Bridge, with the London Eye and the Millbank illuminating the night's sky, the sea a beautiful shade of light blue-ish purple. As you engage yourself into this blissful atmosphere, loosening your body, allowing it to extract any remaining thermal energy in the cold air and begin to create more stunning images in your head  ... you've abruptly arrived at Victoria Bus Station. And you're annoyed that you have to alight and join the cold.

Build Your Dreams (BYD) branding.


BYD eBus branding.

What are the public views of these new buses, then? A pedestrian walking past the bus as it stood in Terminus Place (Victoria Bus Station) made a link between the Build Your Dreams eBus and the Wright Electrocity buses allocated to route 360, referring to both as "pretty sick" whilst another was against the buses saying how they are a waste of money and unnecessary.

Aubrey Morandarte also seemed not to take a liking for the BYD eBus when he mentioned 'obscured visibility on-board', a point in which I could relate to. If you were to sit on the left side, you'd have this plastic wall behind the entrance doors open (conventional buses have a glass wall) blocking view of the road ahead and on the right side, even though you could see slightly more, the driver's cab was also in the way. Aubrey also said, 'The door noises are annoyingly whiny and weird, the iBus clearly does not work and the overall bus looks hideous at various angles.'

He went on to conclude: 'All-in-all though, TfL should compare this to an Optare product to see if British-built electric buses are better.' Instead of Optare, however, a manufacturer named Williams which conceived the nostalgic Williams F1 Team are designing a new hybrid electric system which will be introduced by Go-Ahead London next year, rumours are based on the Wright StreetLite bodywork for route 100 when they gain the route in September. Look out for that, especially London-based Formula One fans like myself!

Feel free to leave a comment below: have you been on London's first electric buses yet or have you just seen the bus and just don't want to board them? What are your thoughts on the BYD eBus?

9 comments:

  1. Are there photos of the interior of the bus

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    1. A photo can be found on Aubrey Morandarte's Flickr here, but it is only the front half of the bus.

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  2. More Interior (and exterior) shots taken on 3rd January of EB 2 here:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hertsman_images/

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  3. Great photo! Really appreciative of your contributions to this article, sir.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/39678100@N00/11734446245/in/photolist-iSW73H-is37H7-is1Gsg-is4bEp

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  4. The "plastic wall" behind the doors and the driver's cab, above the wheels, is actually the battery compartment. The predecessor of this type has battery compartments above all four wheel arches, blocking passengers' view of the space and creating blind spots, which was deemed to be unsafe. The rear batteries have been transferred to the space behind the rear axle for this new version.

    The ebus in Hong Kong did not receive positive comments such as yours during its test. Its performance, such as the battery life and turning abilities, was not up to standards and the bus was returned to the manufacturer. Your article surprisingly is quite approving of the bus. I would have thought that "traditionally", western commentators and enthusiasts generally take a more critical approach towards Chinese products.

    There are many differences between the example in Hong Kong and the ones in London though, given there are different operating environments. The style of the windows, for example, is already different. There are also examples delivered to Macau and MTA in New York for testing, to name a few. I am not sure of the people's reaction towards the bus there. You can search for "KMB BE1" for the BYD in Hong Kong.

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    1. The pending appearance of our two BYD electric buses on the twice as long route 521 has been linked to the insufficiency of battery life. The bus was driven quite slow so I was not able to notice any noticeable issues in turning.

      Indeed, "traditional" western views have indoctrinated critical statements about the Chinese manufactured electric bus, however none that are significant for improvement. These buses did ignite excitement amongst the bus scene when introduced here but soon after excitement and views gradually neutralised, maybe because the buses don't operate as frequently during the week as we'd like.

      I appreciate the extra information provided, enhancing my knowledge and understanding on personally interesting innovative buses.

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