Since 1986 West Midlands bus services have seen plenty of changes, with a blue, silver and red livery as Travel West Midlands from 1987 until the advent of National Express. Who changed to white with blue and red, then white and red with National Express grey lines, finishing off with equal amounts of red and white with route branding.
Then in late 2014 came the announcement that a new two tone red livery would became the standard scheme, along with a new two tone grey livery for new Platinum services. This also saw the additional announcement that NXWM would purchase some 177 brand new ADL E400MMC and E200MMC vehicles for delivery throughout 2015.
Thus started the ball rolling for the next stage of the National Express West Midlands fleet, as older buses were being withdrawn in favour of new Euro6 emission vehicles. It all started in March 2015 when the first handful of new ADL E400MMC double deckers arrived at the NXWM Pensnett depot. Numbered in the 6100 series, to easily identify the new fleet of vehicles, with the first service up for MMC deployment was the 9 Birmingham to Stourbridge service. The first seven vehicles numbered 6101 Alana, 6102 Aman, 6103 Anisha, 6104 Bella-Lilly, 6105 Bethany, 6106 Bronwyn and 6107 Dakota, were given extensive route branding for the 9 with full rear end adverts.
Your author visited Birmingham on March 11th 2015 to have a look at these new vehicles and photograph them in service. With tickets booked on the 10:00am National Express service to Birmingham, the trip took only 2 hours and 30 minutes that's with the 50mph limit between Sheffield & Nottingham (24 miles!). With a quick lunch taken, it was of the Colmore Row to see what was what with the new look 9 service, the MMCs were mixing in with the various Alexander ALX400, Volvo Gemini/Eclipse vehicles around the area.
Seen above working the 9 service on March 11th is 6107 Dakota in the new NXWM red livery with lime green and yellow route branding for the route, entering Edmund street from Newhall Street. As ever the NXWM drivers were very polite as your author took pictures of the vehicle they were driving, which makes it an enjoyable experience to venture into the West Midlands. At this stage the side adverts were to be sorted out and placed into the boxes, as can be seen on the shot of 6107. Judging by the reviews on Twitter and other social media its seems that the new buses were going down a storm. The interior trim is very smart and neat with decent cloth covered seats and ample leg room for passengers, plus the now familiar use of Wi-Fi for those in need of a catch up on the web. The NXWM Wi-Fi is accessed by simply giving your E-Mail address and the number of the bus service in use and its play time.
The next route to gain the new two tone red E400MMCs was the now 24 hour 50 Birmingham to Druids Heath service, from Yardley Wood depot which happened in May 2015. This time the vehicles were given blue route branding with several rear end adverts, like the other MMCs these buses also have a girls name added. The 50 is a popular service taking around 29 minutes to reach either end of the route, with a 4 minute headway Monday to Friday, a five minute headway on Saturday and an eight minute headway on Sunday all during the daytime shopping/working hours.
Above 6127 shows off the full 50 service branding and side advert, looking very smart as it rounds Moor Street Queensway before returning to Druids Heath. Yet again the positive feed back on Twitter and other social media shows that NXWM have got this mix right, even with some timing issues, but lets face Birmingham is one busy city its bound to happen.
The next services to under go transformation is the very busy combined 900 Birmingham to Coventry and 957 Birmingham to Solihull, which was one of the first high spec Platinum services run from Birmingham Central depot. The 900 service the city Airport, National Exhibition Centre and then Coventry, taking around an hour and ten minutes for the whole one way trip. While the 957 takes in the pleasant surroundings of the Solihull town, which went your author visited on June 15th was still having the main High street redesigned.
The new Platinum vehicles are smartly turned out, as your author found out when boarding 6712 (babs) on the 957 to Solihull, with ticket purchased, I ventured upstairs getting a front seat which was lucky. The seats are smartly turned out with leather sides mixed with a grey and red cloth moquette, with a good thick base to sit on and a reasonable back and headrest. The trip to Solihull was pleasant enough, with plenty going on in the vehicle, stop announcements featuring a 'Jamie Theakston' sound alike. Next stop scrolling bar with a monitor showing all the CCTV cameras working in the bus. The ride quality was good, with smooth acceleration from stop/start and gradual braking. The Cummins 6.7litre ISBe Euro6 engine coupled to the 6 speed ZF Ecolife gearbox worked well as the bus delivered its credentials as the purpose built modern day driver/passenger bus. Production MMCs retain the top deck air blowers for the front windscreens and a full air cooling system, with plenty of opening windows too.
Above is illustrated the upper saloon forward of the long staircase, are the nicely spaced seats and the wood effect floor along the main central walkway, with a grey patterned floor underneath the seats. Coach style hand grips are mixed in with the bell push poles along the saloon, with roof coving adverts for both the 900 & 957 services giving various pieces of info about the services. The lower saloon has dedicated buggy and wheelchair zones with a reasonable amount of seats, including flip-up seats in the zones, which lead up to the staircase which for various reasons is rear assending and quite long. 6712's driver was polite and happy to give an opinion about the vehicle with favourable tones, which is nice to know that drivers are liking the new E400MMCs.
Then off into Solihull for a spot of lunch before making a return journey on 6711 (betty) back into Birmingham, which again was a smooth trip, as other Platinum buses ventured from Birmingham on the both the 900 and 957 services. For the record the ADL E400MMC is a modern day Olympian, with all the basic needs for the driver and refinements for the passenger, such as good seating, ample leg room, Wi-Fi and power sockets.
NXWM have got the mix right for the new look livery and using the MMC vehicles to fast track the new two tone red livery, which is now being repainted on several older ADL E400 buses, which looks very smart. But the new look doesn't stop there, as in July 2015 the next selection of vehicles station at Acocks Green depot are given massive push. Yes the new look ADL E200MMCs are being placed into service on the 37 Birmingham to Solihull service, via Acocks Green, which was the last depot to run the MCW Metrobuses in July 2010.
Here are my personal views on bus activity in my area and beyond