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Arriva's Gas Buses Revolutionise Runcorn

Article and photos by 50700905/03/13

It first emerged in October 2012 that Arriva North West had been successful in securing funding for 54 eco-friendly buses to revitalise the fleets of the operator’s Runcorn, Bolton and Birkenhead depots. Orders were taken out for 44 double-decked Volvo B5L electric hybrid buses with Wright Eclipse Gemini 2 bodywork which were to be shared between Bolton and Birkenhead. Perhaps the highlight though was the order for 10 state of the art MAN EcoCity buses with Caetano City Gold bodies, powered by compressed natural gas, repesenting a £2 million investment from Arriva in environmentally-friendly solutions.

The first of the ten brand new MAN EcoCitys arrived in the middle of January 2013 to commence testing and staff familiarisation, being gradually joined by its sisters over the intervening weeks. Launch day took place on Friday 01/03/13, with a ceremony taking place at the buses’ home depot at Beechwood Avenue in Runcorn featuring staff, press, local figures and even a blimp. After the introductions were complete, five of the new order were sent into service for the first time, replacing the existing Wright-bodied Cadets and Pulsar 2s from around 13.30.

5009 (MX13ABF) and 5003 (MX13AAN) arrive at Halton Lea South, where the route 1 circulars start and terminate.

The EcoCity buses are primarily intended for use on the Runcorn new town circular services 1 and 2 which start and terminate at the Halton Lea shopping centre. Five examples are needed to cover the two routes which operate in an interworking pattern and make extensive use of Runcorn’s busway network. The remaining five operate alongside Wright Cadets and the occasional Pulsar 2 on the Warrington – Runcorn – Chester 21 and X30 routes, which cover a significantly longer distance than the busway circulars.

Curving its way into Murdishaw is 5005 (MX13AAU) which is working a route 1 journey. Murdishaw is the terminus of several routes operated by Arriva and competitor Halton Transport.

The batch of ten are numbered and registered as follows: 5000 (MX13AKZ), 5001 (MX62KSZ), 5002 (MX13AAJ), 5003 (MX13AAN), 5004 (MX13AAO), 5005 (MX13AAU), 5006 (MX13AAV), 5007 (MX13AAY), 5008 (MX13AAZ) and 5009 (MX13ABF). We visited the busway on Monday 04/03/13, where 5002, 5003, 5005, 5006 and 5009 saw service during the afternoon. Their livery differs greatly from the standard Arriva liveries, composed instead of a two-tone green background colour with thin stripes separating the two shades. Leaves are scattered across the bodyside and front end to highlight the green credentials of these buses, along with the tagline “This bus runs on gas. It’s cleaner, greener, quieter… better.” The livery will also be carried by the hybrid double deckers of Bolton and Birkenhead.

The interior of EcoCity 5009, viewed from the rear of the bus. The dual-purpose leather seating is in evidence.

Internally, the EcoCitys are high-specification, with the Esteban Civic V3 seats including headrests and topped off with leatherette material manufactured by the E-Leather company. Seating capacity is 43 in total with 39 headrested seats and four tip-up variants, located in each of the two bays these buses feature as space for prams and wheelchairs. They have a powerful and effective heating system which is a clear improvement upon their predecessors. Although the overall ambience is a little darker than the norm, they certainly appear very smart indeed.

5003 (MX13AAN) pauses briefly at Murdishaw before resuming its route 2 journey back to Halton Lea.

At Runcorn depot, the EcoCitys are replacing all eight of the garage’s 09-plate Wright Pulsar 2s, which have standard specification interiors, and two of their Wright Cadets. The destination for these cascades is yet to be confirmed, but Wythenshawe is the expected beneficiary. Once the replacement process is complete, Runcorn will be the only depot in the Arriva North West and Arriva Buses Wales empire to have all of its buses fitted with dual-purpose seating. The final allocation will comprise 32 VDL SB120CS/Wright Cadets, 5 VDL SB200CS/Wright Pulsar 2s and of course 10 MAN EcoCity/Caetano City Golds.

The depot was modified to accommodate these CNG-powered, carbon neutral machines, including a new refuelling point. The Gas Bus Alliance is responsible for supplying the bio-gas which powers the vehicles and is composed of household waste.

Our overall impressions were very positive: the EcoCitys we sampled rode very quietly and comfortably, managed pleasing speeds and boasted superb interiors. Passengers were heard commenting favourably on their new transport throughout our trip, but some complaints have arisen on Arriva North West’s Facebook group over the inability of this type to carry unfolded double prams. Time will tell how these buses bed in and operate once they have been subjected to several years on the roads, but they have made an eye-catching start.

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