Buses of the Current

BYD continue to make a presence with the new built-to-TfL spec K8SR, London's first fully electric-powered double-decker bus.

Chinese manufacturer BYD have added to our new generation of buses with the 10.2m long zero emissions K8SR. Challenging claims that an electric double-decker bus was not realistic in the short-term due to the large battery size required, BYD have taken only two years to prove this project possible. Using Iron Phosphate batteries, like the two single-decker eBuses in Waterloo which gave birth to our electric bus fleet, the K8SR need only rely on a 4-hour charge to power the 320kWh battery pack to stay in service to complete a full duty.

The new electric double-decker costs approximately £266,100 per bus. Despite the increasingly competitive hybrid market resulting in the recent price cut of the 'New Routemaster', the BYD K8SR is nearly £50,000 cheaper than the TfL-desgined hybrid bus. Notwithstanding this, the 'New Routemaster' has been criticised for its capacity issues but the BYD K8SR holds less passengers, with a total capacity of only 81, 6 lower than the LTs. The legroom of the upper-deck seating layout compensates for only 37 seats, but the lower-deck can only sit 17 passengers, totalling 54 seats on the BYDs with 27 standees.

Five new double-decker electric buses were announced to enter service with Metroline by the end of last year. Initially for route 16, BYD1471-1475 were deemed more suitable for the multifaceted Willesden route 98 given its status as a pollution hotspot. With an abundant mix of road types including bends, tight corners, fast straights and traffic-prone obstacles, the 98 does appear the better route to test the general performance of the K8SR.

However, the buses were only unveiled in London in March this year. Expected to enter service the following month, the most I could get of the electric double-decker buses were momentary, albeit exciting, coup d'Ĺ“ils as they frequently appeared "Not-in-Service" in my local area, undergoing driver training provided by BYD. BYD1474 played the most part in their tantalising presence, its interior still mostly covered with plastic material usually seen whilst in delivery to preserve the bodywork's pristine. Finally, though, the first two electric buses entered service on 6 May.

I was on my way home, ready to end a stressful week in which I had not been feeling particularly well. Then in the distance, I see one of the electric buses: for the first time since waiting for their entrance into service after my first encounter, I actually wanted the bus to not be in service.  I could see something displayed, expecting it to be the official 'Not in Service' blinds, but as the bus came closer, the '98' and 'Willesden Bus Garage' displays showcased itself on the new bus at Maida Vale Station, near to full capacity. Now, I did not feel prepared and well enough to focus on the buses on that day, hence I did not want the BYD to be in service. But then another electric bus followed a few minutes down the road and, with my enthusiasm taking over, I recovered some energy to adjust to the spontaneity of an early evening peak-hour review of the new electric double-decker.

A few points I had concluded from my post-production encounters included the not so stylish boxy design, which has received a generally negative reception from enthusiasts and general observers alike. Many have compared the buses to the Plaxton President - the 'old 98', as described by less enthusiastic but, nonetheless, observant critics. A fair comparison, this suggested Plaxton President successor only stands out due to the return of the green-leaf livery, which has been removed from most of London's original hybrid buses. I cannot complain about the rear-end design, however, as I have found most rear-end styles in both single- and double-decker markets to be lacking originality, recently. Be that as it may, although nowhere near ADL's E40H City, the BYD K8SR rear-end actually sits itself comfortably ahead of most other double-deckers.

Also made more evident, after my analytical observation of the tantalising BYD1474 one morning as it stood in the infamous southbound Edgware Road traffic, was the poor lower deck capacity. The battery pack requires a considerable amount of space at the rear-end, reducing the lower-deck's seating capacity - the seating after the exit doors are scarce, practically non-existant if you are not already on the bus near the earlier sections to each end of the route, especially during the peaks.

The upper-deck seating capacity is not entirely impressive, either, as I found out once I managed to claim a seat after a brief standee experience alongside the driver - which was not bad, except for the irritating bell which I imagine is especially annoying for the driver where it rings the loudest. BYD have not really improved this feature since the single-decker eBus, rather they have created an alternative irritating ringtone. Should, at least, reduce the rate at which drivers forget to stop.

We also managed to touch 40mph with exhilarating ease along Maida Vale, something I have longed for particularly when I am running late (every morning, like a typical Nigerian) but only managed 2mph less with a slightly annoyed 332 driver with its old TEs - until now. Although I had achieved this personal best, I unintentionally made transient this moment of elation. Perhaps the fact I was standing played a part to it; perhaps it was the fact I was recovering my breath after running to the bus stop as the bus arrived earlier than I expected. Or perhaps the bus was just meeting expectations.

Sitting down onboard at Kilburn High Road Station, I was able to concentrate on understanding the bus a bit more. I am not entirely feeling the simplicity of the interior design; everything just looks plastic: the bodywork, the handrails and the surrounding materials of the seating. The only plus side with the upper-deck layout is the legroom, but even that compromises the upper-deck capacity. There is the rear appearance of two pairs of right column dual seats ahead of the staircase as opposed to one; I'm not sure this adds any speciality to the layout or if this is some sort of compensation for the poor capacity of the bus, but an interesting addition, nevertheless.

The high-pitched tones of the driveline are less annoying than that of the single-decker eBus, courtesy of its lower volume. Therefore, the bus produces commendably low noise levels during acceleration - the best trait of the K8SR.

Escaping the usual congestion on Kilburn High Road, it was now time to see the protean of nature of the BYD K8SR on display. However, the last bout of tantalisation came from the BYD-coded bus as we had to wait a short while for traffic in the opposite direction to be released by the traffic lights in order to reduce the queuing up to where parked cars on both sides of the road gave us no room to start the best section of route 98. Eventually, we were given the right of way to start the fun drive to Willesden.

The weak plastic appearance of the bodywork and design, in general, gives off the impression that the bus is sensitive to rough and abrupt feedback from the road surface. However, the bus was fast and, for the most part, satisfyingly smooth. I'm not sure that the BYD K8SR quite matches the Plaxton President in taking on the unevenly surfaced tip of the hill on approach to Christchurch Avenue to provide the complete bout of adrenaline I experienced the first time I discovered this section of the route. Nevertheless, the acceleration was not hindered much by the uphill climb and would have revelled on the downhill plunge that followed if not for the driver - wisely - moderating his speed. And that was all, as we gradually embarked along with the sporadic congestion on High Road, Willesden, before ducking left onto Pound Lane towards terminus to complete what was quite a good ride.

Talking to the driver at the bus garage, who felt like 'a superstar' amongst the publicity around the bus on the day, I learnt that the K8SR was initially too heavy for service. Weight adjustments, therefore, contributed to the postponed introduction of the BYDs, including changes made to the pedals. As I have noticed with journeys after this, the buses have high braking sensitivity, most likely to counteract the sharp acceleration for the speed of the bus to be moderated more easily. The driver positively commented on the pace of the electric double-deckers and, although stating that the bus is 'ugly', appreciates the change as the BYD K8SR is 'different', adding to the new generation of buses succeeding what was a fully Plaxton President base.

The buses are good fun, although they might not look it. I do not think the buses are suitable for a highly demanding route like the 98 and I am not entirely sure how they manage duties on the even more demanding route N98. If Willesden are to receive more electric buses, either a frequency increase is required or another bus type should be introduced which tackles the capacity issues of the K8SR.

A generally positive view behind the wheel meeting a generally positive view from a passenger aboard London's first electric double-decker bus on my daily commute. Is the BYD K8SR worth your time? Definitely - just don't waste it looking at the design of the bus.

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  1. When is the next bus news coming out?

  2. sure I will not be the only one to remind you that these are not London's first all-electric buses as anyone over the age of 65 will tell you. The trolleybus seems to have been conveniently erased from London's transport history.
    Jeffg White
    Plumstead Garage

    1. I am aware of the trolleybuses' existence. However, they got their electricity from overhead cables whereas our new electric bus fleet rely on internal electric motors. I've addressed this confusion in a previous article to prove that even some of us young people are aware of the trolleybuses in London's transport history.