The pioneer is back
The 36 was to undergo a complete change of vehicle design, with new improved timetables, new bus stop flags from Harewood Bridge to Ripon bus station. State of the art interiors, wood effect floors, glazed upper saloon ceiling, super-fast 4G Wi-Fi, USB power and a first for any UK double deck fleet double glazed windows. First the anticipation, with teasing sneak peeks on twitter and other social media, then the VIP invites to the under wraps press launch. But before all that a little sneak peek by your author, a chance to cover the all-important tilt test. With permission sought from the CEO and a few e-mails later. The flight was booked and a visit to see a tilt test, something your author had never seen.
The bus which at the time was known as AM664, later as fleet number 3616 and after Rio 2016 Jack Laughter named bus. It passed with flying colours, as the test was repeated on the off-side. Then a little run into the depot yard of Falls Road for a horn test, then a trip to Wrightbus, Ballymena. What a day, such warmth and a great friendly welcome, it could not be beaten. The pictures were share between your author, Alex Hornby, John and Derek at Wrightbus, until the buses were in service.
The three-day preview event
Before the press launch and preview events, the new buses started to arrive on the mainland, quickly driven to Queensgate Depot, Burnley, and stored until needed back over in Harrogate.
On Thursday January 21st three vehicles were seen in and around the Majestic Hotel grounds, 3618, 3620 and 3625. As darkness fell Alex Hornby began his speech about the 36, which had seen innovation in 2003 with the new ‘twin-deck’ fleet of buses, 3601 the first to be seen. As a treat the VIPs were given a small ride around Harrogate on one of the new buses. The whole team of 36 pilots were in exuberant mood, as they unveiled the new uniforms and name badges, smart red and black cloths to match the buses.
On Friday January 22nd 3625 which stayed in Harrogate, opposite Betty’s tea rooms, 3618 ventured towards Ripon for a few hours posed on the Market Square. While 3620 was used to show local MP and junior minister for transport Andrew Jones around the new bus. True to form the British weather was well appalling as the rain continued non-stop until at least midday. By which time your author was drenched and the camera was shot beyond compare, unable to take pictures. After a brief home visit to change cloths, put one camera into the airing cupboard and bring out the secondary back-up camera. It was back into Harrogate to refresh shots and then forward to Ripon and to see 3618 and its team.
An early start on Saturday January 23rd, then a trip to Starbeck and await the departure of 3618, driven by good friend Stephen Gill, with a cheery wave. You author followed the bus to Leeds.
In Leeds, the bus was carefully driven down Briggate to a suitable place for its display. Your author joined the gathering and quickly found its easier to talk to potential passengers and members of the public about the whole concept of Riding Redefined. Around me the bus enthusiasts mixed with the public and Transdev team. The free items were red and black lollies, which were very nice, a 36-note book, neatly designed and a specially designed booklet by Best Impression, selling the whole new Riding Redefined idea. The team were very busy in Leeds, as coffee runners were dispatched to a local emporium to purchase refreshments. Then with a few farewells, your author returned home and celebrated a good friend their 50th anniversary.
The first day of Riding Redefined
The first morning of the operation of the new 36 buses was, well dark, very dark. But with note book and camera to hand, with Team-leader Tim and Alan both on duty, it was going to be a long day, but fun.
3624 was the 07:10 departure to Ripon, with the first passenger called Barbara on board the bus set-off. 3627 arrived as the 07:20 departure to Leeds, then it fell quiet, time for a quick brew, well a flask of tea. Then it was time to see off 3616 as the 08:20 Ripon bound bus, which was followed by returning 3624 for its trip to Leeds. 3626 arrived to commence the 08:50 to Leeds, as 3627 returned from Leeds, the first vehicle to complete the full route. 3627 was the 09:10 Ripon departure.
3616 returned from Ripon to become the 09:20 Leeds service, while 3615 arrived as the 09:40 departure to Leeds. From here the buses already out and about were joined by 3623, which would run forward to Leeds, having started in Starbeck. Then after a breakfast stop, with a continental flavour, time to sample one of the new 36 vehicles. My driver for the trip was Stephen Gill, who had taken 3518 to Leeds the previous day, on board 3627, which had now completed her first full round trip. Harrogate to Leeds, then Leeds, Harrogate and Ripon, with this Harrogate to Leeds and a return journey.
High specification met with high standards.
With a cheerful warm greeting from Stephen, 3627 was his first drive of the new vehicles in service. Your author sat in the lower saloon, to sample the high specification interior and that smell of a brand-new bus. The quilted e-leather civic V3 was comfy with its ample leg room and USB power socket facing the passenger on the rear of the seat in front. Sitting at the rear of the bus with its innovative tables section, which will reduce the need for shoes on seats. With tablet plugged into the USB and access to the 4G Wi-Fi, the journey began towards Leeds. At some key fare stage’s, the audio announcement would come to life as BBC Look Norths’ Harry Gration would tell you that ‘your next stop with be Oatlands Corner’.
The bus breezed into Leeds and was paused at the bus station, with a little catch up with the driver, the bus was soon on the return leg of the journey. For this the upper saloon Airline style VGA seating was sampled, undeniably the most comfortable seats on any bus.! The regular travellers on the commuter journeys were in for a real treat on the first Monday morning of the service. Your author sat in one of the seven single seats, which not only afforded ample leg room, but the mini airline type pull-out table. Great for using a tablet, mobile or small laptop device, with a USB power socket. While in the upper saloon your author conversed with several passengers, who were evidently very pleased with the high specification and overall attention to detail. Many had especially ventured out to try the new vehicles before the weekday commuter periods.
At Harrogate, Harry Gration announced that we ‘Would be shortly arriving at Harrogate Bus Station, Thank-you for travelling with Transdev and we hope to see you again soon’ As your author alighted from the bus another enthusiast friend was already around taking in the new buses. Together both of us ventured towards Ripon, to see 3627 arrive and leave the city, with a couple of countryside shots taken aswell.
The remainder of the day was spent with some more enthusiast friends as the Harrogate to Ripon section of the 36 was explored, as the light faded into the night. It was time to look back on what was a very successful first day in service.
The Monday morning rush to work.
On Monday January 25th 2016 the buses started to Leeds at 05:15, 05:35, to Ripon 05:50, to Leeds 06:05, to Ripon 06:20, to Leeds 06:25, all these journeys start from Harrogate. With the new fresh look to the 36 came two new neighbourhood departures from Bilton and three neighbourhood departures from Jennyfield. The 06:31 and 07:01 departed from Rawson Street, just off King Edwards Drive, and followed the 2A service through to Harrogate and then to Leeds. The three Jennyfield departures left Harewood Road at 06:25, 06:55 and 07:25 again these followed the 3 service to Harrogate then forward to Leeds. The 06:31 service from Bilton would venture to Leeds on the normal 36 route, however at Moortown Corner the bus would turn into Street Lane and continue down Scott Hall Road. The 06:55 from Jennyfield would also take the fast route down Scott Hall Road as would the 06:55 departure from Ripon.
Some of the early Harrogate departures to Leeds would additionally start their journeys from outside the Starbeck depot, from the Prospect Road stop at 04:58, 05:18. 05:48 and 06:08. All the above-mentioned duties were for the Monday to Friday peak-time journeys which happened in the morning. Return journeys to Starbeck would arrive at 20:20, 20:35, 21:32 and the last bus in at 00:07. Two late extensions of the 36 would happen on a Friday and Saturday late turn, these set off from York street at 00:15, 01:15, 02:15 and finally 03:15. Both the 02:15 and 03:15 would extend to Starbeck arriving at 03:02 and 04:02 respectively.
From 15:45 until 18:05 there would be an additional stop added for the peak-time service, at Infirmary Street, which vehicle wondering around part of the city loop road. The 16:45, 17:05 and the 17:25 would venture along Scott Hall Road, Street Lane and Harrogate Road at Moortown Corner, before returning to Harrogate. The 18:05, 18:11, 18:31, 19:10 and the 19:15 departures from Harrogate would see buses return to either Bilton at 18:28 and 19:21. With the Jennyfield returns arriving at Harewood Road at 18:18, 18:48 and finally 19:28, all the estate/neighbourhood returns would and still run private back to Starbeck depot.
In late August 2016, your author recorded the day’s activity on the Scott Hall Road section of the 36 service. Above is illustrated 3621 working the Bilton 06:31 service into Leeds, with the ‘Non-stop after Moortown’ destination screen. After seeing the bus depart the area, it was time to venture to Street Lane and record the three 36 vehicles on the early morning peak-time run. 3621 was the first bus to be turned into Scott Hall Road working into Leeds, with 3624 arriving next and finally 3617 completed the morning runs. For the afternoon peak-time runs 3615 was the first to arrive along Scott Hall Road, as 3620 working forward to Bilton followed shortly afterwards and the last vehicle of the day was 3616 working its way back to Jennyfield.
Timetable changes & Olympic success
On Monday September 4th 2016 various changes were planned for the 36, which saw the Scott Hall Road ‘fast’ journeys stopped, which would help with service timings. Also, the late Friday night/Saturday morning runs form Leeds were also withdrawn, mainly due low passenger usage. The Saturday night/Sunday morning late runs remain as these were popular with weekend revellers. Contactless payment was fast becoming a real option for passengers in London, with many journeys completed by a contactless card. In June 2016, Alex Hornby and local MP Andrew Jones, brought in the idea of contactless payments on the 36. This service proved popular enough to encourage the fleet wide roll-out of this method of payment.
During 2016 a couple of passenger surveys were carried out, regarding the new look to the 36 route and the buses. Both surveys netted positive results with a 95% and a 97% customer satisfaction level. Many passengers were also tweeting pictures about their journeys on the new high specification buses. There were some passengers who hand migrated from using the rail service to becoming converts to the 36.
3616 seen above was chosen to have the name of local Olympian Jack Laugher applied to the bus. On Thursday September 28th 2016, 3616 took part in the ‘Olympic athletes home coming’ parade in Leeds, where the whole city celebrated Team GB’s most successful overseas Olympic campaign. The following day the bus was used in service and is depicted travelling near Killinghall, just outside Harrogate in glorious summer sunshine.
Passenger surveys & continual growth.
Across 2016 the 36 saw a gradual growth in passengers, which led to a selection of surveys to see what improvements could be made for the service. At the same time passenger satisfaction forms were completed, with the results showing a 95% and a 97% passenger satisfaction. Easy price structure, contactless payments and a mobile pre-paid app all adding to the improvements of the service. The early morning neighbourhood departures were also gaining a loyal gathering of passengers, which has seen these remain unchanged.
On the social media side of the service, many passengers still send in their photographs of their journey aboard the 36. Even to this day there seems to be plenty of people willing to give this Riding Redefined bus travel a go, even staunch train users have been converted to the 36! Special weekend deals, such as the duo ticket and the Dales rider ticket have seen passenger numbers grow, along with newly introduced Day Tripper ticket, which allows passengers to travel as far as Preston or York on the one ticket. The Day Tripper Plus allows the passenger to extend over to the East Coast, for the day.
Since the introduction of the new Riding Redefined 36, the buses have performed well and seen some timetable adjustments, along with major roadworks and accidents which cause extra delays to the service. With first anniversary upon us have these new high specification vehicles done enough to persuade the average car driver to change to bus travel. The daily work commute has seen little growth, as the motorist still prefers to sit in endless queues on the rush hour journeys. However, it’s the leisure time which has seen the best growth, especially during spring and summer months. As events, special shows and general outings see more people using the bus. One successful use of the new buses has been the late/early morning departures from Leeds, after a good Saturday night in the city.
As mentioned the neighbourhood departures, have seen a steady rise over the year, with many departures in the morning starting from Starbeck, then extending to Bilton with two daily returns and Jennyfield with three daily returns.
Whatever the reason for using this now familiar high specification of bus travel, passengers overall do enjoy the Riding Redefined experience. As word of mouth also spreads the gossip all about this much-improved service. One last item of interest which in some way needs a mention are the occasional visits by the ‘Bus-Butlers’, where senior Harrogate staff along with Transdev-Blazefield’s CEO, to hand out a little breakfast treat for the early commuting passengers.
For more information regarding the 36 visit the Transdev Harrogate website or their Twitter feed, giving up to date travel and service changes information across the year.
All pictures are by the author, Scott Poole, visit his Flickr photostream and twitter pages for more photographs.
Your author would also like to thank the drivers and duty staff for their help in allow myself to take the photographs of the new look buses.
Happy anniversary Riding Redefined.
Here are my personal views on bus activity in my area and beyond