From humble beginnings through to the fast paced modern world, with No-Fi to Wi-Fi, wooden seats to high specification coach seats. The Ripon-Harrogate-Leeds 36 has evolved into an impressive route, with many changes along way culminating in the new #Riding Redefined fleet roll-out on Sunday January 24th 2016.
To start this particular story, one must first return to late December 1924, when the Harrogate Road Car Company commenced journeys thorugh to Leeds. Using the single deck Tilling-Stevens TS6 saloon type vehicles, which are a far cry from todays vehicles. In May 1925 Harrogate began running a service through to Ripon, which led to objections from United Automobile services, who had a bus depot in the city. With negotiations commencing regarding the future of buses running from Leeds to Ripon via Harrogate, it was concluded that both United and Harrogate (later West Yorkshire Road Car) would co-operated and co-ordinate the service. This arrangement lasted until October 1996, when United sold the Ripon depot, with the bus services transferring to Harrogate and District part of the Blazefield group.
A Leeds based independent bus operator Warburtons also ran into Harrogate along the same route as Harrogate & District during the mid 1920's, which is the same route the 36 continues today, via Harewood House. However by 1927 the Warburtons fleet and service was acquired by Harrogate in July of that year. 1928 saw the expansion of Harrogate, along with Premier Travel and Blyth & Berwick to form the West Yorkshire Road Car Company.
West Yorkshire RCC began giving routes numbers during 1936, with the Leeds-Ripon service becoming the 36. By 1969 after much change in ownership, West Yorkshire RCC became part of the National Bus Company (NBC). As the Tilling group brought in the Bristol K/ECW (Eastern Coach Works) bodywork and chassis combination, so the NBC brought in the Bristol VRT double decker, with the Bristol RE saloon and from 1972 the ubiquitous Leyland National. The 36 continued with many fine vehicles, which included the revolutionary Bristol Lodekka from 1954-68. However in the late 1980's things were about to enter a new competitive era within public transport. This period of public transport saw many changes implemented by the 1984 'white paper' composed by the late Nicolas Ridley, who was the time the minister of transport for the conservative government. From October 26th 1986, West Yorkshire RCC, was along with many a former NBC subsidiary sold to an independent company, in this case to Alan. J. Stephenson Holdings (AJS). During 1987 WYRCC was split into smaller operating units, with Bradford, Leeds and Otley as WYRCC, Harrogate and District, Keighley and District and York City and District, with Yorkshire Coastliner arriving in early 1990. During 1990 AJS had sold his remaining shares to fellow company managers Giles Fearnley and Stuart Wilde, who formed Blazefield, a new forward thinking independent company.
Blazefield wanted to brand its key routes within the fleet, with a simple but effective scheme, which would lead to an increase in passenger numbers. For the 36 service, these changes saw the departure of the dual-purposed seated Leyland Olympians, with the introduction of dedicated vehicles. 1989 brought four high backed dual-purpose seats inside new Leyland Lynx saloons, which were the final Leyland products purchased new by Harrogate and District. 382 G382MWU above illustrates the livery and diamond route branding applied to the 36, as it heads for Ripon. Over the next few years the 36 was to improve the vehicles by updating the fleet at regular intervals with newer buses. During 1993 the first Volvo chassis arrived at Harrogate for the 36, with striking Alexander Strider bodywork, 361-365 each bus entered into traffic in numerical order. These vehicles were set out to a very high standard, with dual-purpose seating, neat interiors and smartly turned out drivers. By 1996 the next Volvo chassis arrived with the now standard Wrights bodywork, 366-368 had the Endurance style, while 369-372 and 301-304 had the low floor Renown style of bodywork, these arrived in 1996, 1998 and 2000.
Illustrated above are the new Volvo buses which were to grace the 36 for a good few hard working years, the top picture shows Alexander bodied 383 in New Briggate, Leeds loading passengers for a trip to Ripon. While the picture below shows the Wrights bodied Volvo 368 pausing at Spacey Houses in Pannal just outside of Harrogate, heading for Leeds.
It was during 1998/1999 the additional cover for the 36 arrived in the shape of the five Northern Counties bodied Leyland Olympians from Keighley & District, with the two Yorkshire Coastliner Alexander Royale bodied Volvo Olympians, as peak time ridership had increased during this period. Passenger growth had rapidly increased, that the service was given a ten minute headway in Leeds. With the buses serving the now popular Infirmary street stops, only at peak times inbound in the morning and outbound in the afternoon/early evening slots. By 2002 Harrogate had gained the much sort after award of bus operator of the year, with its route branding, services and public information all leading up to the award. The 36 was about to enter another new era, as in the 'Customer News' bulletin a survey was carried out with passengers for the introduction of the new buses to be purchased by Blazefield, these were going to be double deck vehicles. Customers returned the forms with many interesting and some amusing ideas, but the leading suggestions were improved leg room, comfortable seats, wheelchair access, buggy access and improved journeys with better timings.
All these ideas and solutions were gathered, while the Blazefield management pondered the results, Wrights Bus of Ballymena were introducing their new double deck body, the Eclipse Gemini. Together with Volvo and Wrights Bus the new level of passenger comfort arrived with the introduction of the 'Twin decks'. The buses were given smart lower saloon cloth seats, with thicker bases, improved legroom and a dedicated wheelchair space. In the upper saloon, passengers were given individual high back coach seats with arm rests and again improved legroom. Designer Samantha Beeley produced the eye-catching livery, overall black with stunning chrome flashes and new 36 logo. Giles Fearnley was on hand during the 2003 Bus & Coach Show at the NEC in Birmingham, to explain the details of the new 'Twin decks', the bus was a hit with the industry and the press. Naturally during the show it was announced that the fleet would total 12 vehicles, with the first to enter service in late October 2003.
October 27th 2003 the first of the new 'Twin decks' had entered service, it arrived in Harrogate to form the 07:30 departure to Leeds. David Alexander and the local press had gathered at the bus station as 3601 arrived. There was an excited buzz around the bus stop as passengers were to experience the next level of bus travel. 3601 departed on time and left for Leeds, again Giles Fearnley was around to talk to Leeds press and BBC 'look North' about the bus. A short piece about the new bus was transmitted on the same day as 3601 entered service, on the 18:30 bulletin, the effect was impressive, this bus did turn heads. 3601 is depicted pausing at Pannal, Spacey Houses during her first week in service in October 2003, the livery was not only stunning, eye catching it really stood out, which is what separates the 36 from any other bus service. Yes there are pretenders to the crown as Arriva have launched their Sapphire and Max, First with Platinum, Stagecoach went Gold and West Midland also ventured down the Platinum path. Blazefield had certainly thrown a gauntlet out to other operators, setting the standard for something quite unique, but enjoyed by passengers.
During 2006/2007 Blazefield was approached by French based Transdev, to consider purchase of the whole Blazefield operation, a deal was struck and by early 2007 the Transdev logo was being applied to all buses. 2010 brought in two demonstrator vehicles into service on the 36 route, both these buses would run on the same diagram/car. 06:50 Pannal-Ripon, Ripon-Leeds and Leeds Harrogate then a 14:00 Harrogate-Leeds and Leeds-Harrogate. The first vehicle to arrive was the London TfL specification Alexander Dennis (ADL) Enviro 400H, it featured a Union Jack flag on a green and white based livery. The second vehicle was the much travelled Volvo B5LH with Wrights Gemini2 bodywork, in a cream, blue and green livery, possiblily due to the cost of each vehicle around £300,000 no orders were forthcoming. Instead Transdev opted to implement an impressive overhaul and refurbishment programme from late 2010 until early 2012.
Both the Hybrid buses are illustrated above with the ADL seen at Ripley, with the Volvo seen travelling along Ripon Road.
From December 2010, Harrogate had gained four former Yorkshire Coastliner double deckers, which were recently (in 2010) repainted onto the stunning two-tone blue livery, which still looks smart today. 401-404 were to stay until late 2011, by which time the new look 36 buses in service with other approaching the end of the refurbishment programme. 3601 and three others were dispatched across to Blackburn based Bus & Coach World, where they were to undergo a rebuild/overhaul/refurbishment scheme. This led to new Gemini2 front ends, new high spec seats in the upper saloon, which included seven single seats on the off-side, with five rows of increased size double seats. Leather seats were continued in the lower saloon too. Mention should also be made of the 2010 livery refresh of the 36 fleet, which basically continued along the same lines as the Samantha Beeley scheme, but without the chrome finishes. 2706 the Plaxton President bodied Volvo B7TL was also taken out off service during 2010, it was given a new livery, overhaul, new leather seats, better legroom, a lower saloon rear lounge seating arrangement and the single seats in the upper saloon. Things were really moving forward with the development of the 36 service.
Illustrated above are former Yorkshire Coastliner 402 pausing at Wormald Green, while on loan during the 2011 refurbishment programme for the 36 fleet. The centre picture shows the upper saloon interior of 2706, which had been rebuild and overhauled before returning to Harrogate, for trials on the 36 route. The bus itself is depicted pausing at Ripley in late July 2010, during a wet spell of weather, the 36 route was colourful affair during this time.
As mentioned all ready the new fresh look for the 36, arrived in May 2011 as the '36 City Connect' with new black livery with additional red and orange sweeping lines near the front of the bus and chrome vinyl strips across the lower panels. The effect was again stunning and quite eye catching, as the buses returned to they were reregistered with private cherished plates, X1-14VTD. Later during 2012 the whole fleet was fitted with Wi-Fi for passengers wishing to surf the net, while heading for work, rest or play. In 2000, while the 36 celebrated it's 75th anniversary, buses ventured into Knaresborough on Sundays, however this only lasted a few months, it was curtailed due a lack of passengers. Again in April 2012 the 36 was tried from Knaresborough, from Nidderdale drive at 06:45 and 07:30 in the morning, with a peak time return. It was a bold idea but due to a lack of passengers the buses were quickly curtailed to stop in Harrogate, the simple reason being that the Knaresborough road services were running every seven minutes, so there was no real need for this part of the service.
Two views of the new 2011 '36 City Connect' buses, with former Burnley based 2765, now 3614 depicted exiting Victoria Avenue just fresh into service. 3614 will stay in Harrogate as a Riding Redefined spare vehicle in a new two tone red livery. While the rear view of 3605 displays one of fourteen rear end slogans for the newly refreshed service, with the benefits of free Wi-Fi. The buses settled into service and were well received by passengers, with the new seating layout proving to be a hit.
As 2015 arrived the new year brought in new challenges for the 36 fleet of buses 3601-12 were now getting towards 12 years of service under their belts, they have really earned their keep, since introduction in 2003/4. Then each bus cost around £180,000 they have served Harrogate well and been joined by 3613 new in 2006, a leased vehicle which was returned in late 2011 and replaced in 2013 by another 3613, this time a 62 plate Volvo B9TL. Former Burnley 2765 arrived in Harrogate in 2009, as additional cover for the route, and as mentioned it became 3614 not long after refurbishment. Now a change is as good as a rest, as they say but before the 3601-12 class could enjoy more relaxed end to life, three demonstrator vehicles were try on the 36 route. I have mentioned these three buses in more detail elsewhere on this blog, but just for neatness they are recalled here. The first vehicle was the former demonstrator which had spent six months at Dublin Bus, (BX14SYT) a Volvo B5TL with interim Gemini3 bodywork with a glazed staircase, since then the bus has been on other demonstration duties, but has since been purchased by East Yorkshire Motor Services. The next bus to arrived was the new Wrights Streetdeck (SN64CTU) with interim Gemini3 bodywork, but it had a layout for Go-Ahead specification and the Mercedes Benz 5.1 litre engine, it has since the trial also been used around the UK, now it s finally arrived at G0-Ahead North East. The third and final bus to be tried was the high specification, former NEC exhibit, ADL Enviro 400MMC (YY64GWX), this bus was indeed an impressive vehicle. It had wood effect flooring and four tables in the upper saloon, all the seats were high backed coach style. Like the first vehicle in the 36 trials, this bus has also since been purchased by East Yorkshire Motor Services.
After the demonstrator buses had left the 36 retuned back to normal, as the spring turned to summer and the autumn arrived, with Transdev now placing an order for the new buses, but what was coming. By the time 2015 was drawing to a close the new class of 36 2016 style were built or being finished off ready for delivery. The new Transdev CEO Mr. Alex Hornby had worked together with creative livery and bus designer Mr. Ray Stenning, along with other members of the Transdev team to bring us humble passengers the next generation of bus travel. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls Transdev proudly presents you:-
36 Riding Redefined
This story will continue with two preview shows and naturally the first day in service of these new buses, with the Euro IV Volvo B5TL chassis with new Wrights Bus Gemini3 bodywork, to be continued.
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