Welcome to Electric Waterloo - Part 2

Go-Ahead convert routes 507 and 521 to fully electric buses in association with Alexander Dennis-BYD, a new manufacturing partnership.

BYD kickstarted London’s electric bus campaign with two eBus prototypes on the former Red Arrow routes back in December 2013. We have since seen British manufacturer Optare power into the lead with their MetroCity EV, purchases made from London United and Arriva who became the first to make a complete electric conversion with south London route 312. Waterloo Bus Garage also trialled two Irizar i2e buses before BYD returned earlier this year with our first five electric double-deckers for Metroline.

Last year, the Chinese-based company signed a partnership with Alexander Dennis Limited agreeing to manufacture 51 new electric single-decker buses for Go-Ahead London. The initial £19 million deal supplies ‘a truly optimised blend of expertise’ (Isbrand Ho, Managing Director of BYD Europe) to convert Go-Ahead’s Waterloo base into the largest full-sized electric bus fleet in Europe.

Alexander Dennis’ outdistancing Enviro200 MMC, built in Falkirk, Scotland, is powered by BYD’s unmatched Iron-Phosphate battery from their K9E chassis to produce the much-publicised 12m Alexander Dennis Enviro200 EV. Operators such as Abellio and Arriva have already showcased the Enviro200 MMC’s potential with their diesel examples of short and medium lengths, with the BYD eBus' 16-hour  battery durability providing a strong answer to London’s low-emission requirements. The partners aim to provide 200 buses a year with a more multi-use 10.8m variant expected for UK availability starting from 2017, which was launched in mid-September.

This unprecedented partnership has become an exciting prospect for the bus industry, bringing yet another revolutionary batch of vehicles into the market, as well as contributing towards achieving Transport for London’s target to have all single-decker buses running on electric by 2020.

The new buses introduce a first for London’s fleet system with Go-Ahead's utilisation of lower-case lettering, SEe, to differentiate between the electric vehicles and their existing diesel SE-coded equivalents.

The SEes were expected to enter service on 27 August 2016, starting with Go-Ahead’s contract renewal to routes 507 and 521. However, the first of the delivered buses were delayed entry, awaiting registrations and normal weekday service to resume following the Notting Hill Carnival - Waterloo (RA) provide their vehicles for the annual 436X carnival service. The first few buses were introduced on 30 August 2016, principally on the 521.

As always, meeting a new bus for the first time is an exciting moment and the smooth curves of the Enviro200 with the refined MMC front added to the anticipation, a roofed electric battery unit fulfilling a more comprehensively urban design. Settling aboard the bus was a slight contrast, however, as I was immediately reminded of Go-Ahead’s two diesel E20D MMCs for the P5 and the miserable ride I had on those buses, my first time on the route. Perhaps the driver was slow, maybe the routing lacked potential in terms of scenery and speed or maybe it was as simple as the Go-Ahead colours' incompatibility with the MMC style (personally). Nevertheless, I was ready to try out their electric counterpart without letting the slight blandness of the interior overwhelm this energising experience.

Instead, I let being partnered with a friend distract my analysis of the new bus, so all I noticed from my first ride aboard an SEe on route 507 was the iBus System in its new plasma TV screen form. Additional to the usual features is the provision of a map view for the designated route and live journey info including train service updates, complete with TfL social media advertising and a renascence of the Red Arrow branding ... except the iBus display was not on - only the audio announcements were in operation. I also tried to notice the USB chargers an enthusiast and, later, another passenger mentioned; it must have been my third journey when I finally realised these are fitted to the back of each seat, yet another inventive feature to the Enviro200 EV.

Passengers can now charge their accessories with
USB charging ports fitted to the back of each seat.
The new detailed iBus displays alert passengers
of live journey info and train service updates.

While the Enviro200 MMC shows off its exterior cuteness with the maturity of its panache, a more professionally detailed look to its Enviro200 predecessor suggesting it means more business than merely becoming the commonplace single-decker of its time, the driveline does not carry that same leadership to it. Supplied by BYD, the drivetrain sounds almost exactly the same as the high-pitched whine of the EB-coded eBus prototypes; slightly quieter, although still keeping its annoyingly higher-than-usual frequency. This did not irritate me as much as the BYD-bodied original with its cheap plastic saloon, though, the comfortable seating and general quality of the bodywork overshadowing the unsatisfactorily tuned drivetrain.

The worst aspect of the design is the
omitted view from the rear window.
However, the design perhaps suffers the most in the driver’s cab. A driver was under the impression that the bus felt cheap and buses in service from the last decade provide a more comfortable driving experience than the SEe, referring to a few preceding (in route allocation) Mercedes-Benz examples standing behind our bus. For passengers, though, the worst aspect of the design is the omitted view from the rear window. The roof is where the batteries are located, so, unless I am mistaken, why the randomly below standard restriction?

Be that as it may, I have no intention of panning the first product of a potentially prosperous partnership between ADL and BYD. If utilised deliberately but effectively off the mark, acceleration can make for an electrifying drive. Despite the 12m length, the longest allowed within TfL specifications, I felt that the manoeuvrability of the E200 EV was reasonably adequate: navigating around the tighter corners of the Blackfriars and Gray’s Inn Road diversion route in operation at the time on the 521 was manageable, avoiding mounting onto kerbs at angles I thought the bus would. 

Similarly, the bus (might not look it but) is actually fairly light, the downhill tunnel entry at Waterloo Bridge on the 521 most prominently displaying this with a momentary tickle of adrenaline on its (slightly off-guarding for a first-timer) downhill dip. The overall performance is decent, but the Enviro200 EV best wins with its looks - an only slightly disappointing conclusion as I was expecting a perfect balance between the two.

The Alexander Dennis Enviro200 EV has no doubt made a massive impact on the London bus scene. It has the looks, all the new gadgets and currently the domination in our growing electric bus fleet. But only in number does it dominate after a slightly lacklustre performance from the K9E chassis. Nevertheless, the former Red Arrow routes have gained a revolutionary new allocation, enabling the rigid Mercedes-Benz Citaros' outstation to school routes in east London and route 108, whose allocation is planned to be additionally accompanied by the two former Waterloo EI-coded i2e buses.

An injection of electric buses is highly anticipated for our central London routes starting next year with route 360, but I would very much welcome the likes of Irizar, Optare and new competitors to step up in this new electric bus market.

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