NZ Bus seem pretty proud of these buses – noting the following on their website:
Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) is the UK’s leading bus and coach manufacturer, employing around 2,000 people at facilities in the UK, continental Asia and North America.
The fastest growing bus and coach builder in Western Europe, ADL encompasses three famous and successful marques – Alexander, Dennis and Plaxton. ADL produces a wide range of innovative and fuel efficient, low floor single and double deck buses, plus a full portfolio of coaches, welfare and mini vehicles.
ADL products offer real operator, passenger and environment benefits, all backed by an unswerving commitment to world class customer support.
In January 2011 NZ Bus announced a $50 million investment in new fleet and after an intensive search, we chose Alexander Dennis as our preferred supplier of fleet. Since then, NZ Bus has purchased 354 new Enviro200 buses at a total cost of approximately $140 million. These buses are of the highest quality, reliable, safe and with a Euro 5+ emissions standard, are environmentally friendly.
While the buses may have good fuel economy and less emissions than earlier types of buses, in a large number of ways they’re not ideal for the tasks we ask of them on many routes in Auckland – particularly when running City Link, Inner Link or Outer Link services.
Here’s a bunch of flaws these buses have:
- The doorways are too narrow for someone who is paying with a HOP card to easily slip past someone who is paying with cash. This massively slows down waiting times leading to enormous operating inefficiencies, reduced reliability (due to slow boarding time) and longer trips (slower boarding times again is the culprit). For the lack of a slightly wider entrance to the bus the efficiency of the entire bus system is quite significantly undermined. This could be partially addressed by allowing people to buy tickets offline and/or having a policy of issuing no change, things that should probably be done anyway.
- The aisles are too narrow. Perhaps due to the greater than normal separation between the two seats on either side of the bus, the aisle down the middle definitely feels significantly narrower than most buses. This makes manoeuvring around the bus really difficult when it’s full and once again slows down trip times hugely as people take ages to exit and enter buses when they’re busy. I imagine it would be even more difficult if someone in a wheelchair needs to board, as shown in this Campbell Live piece (from 11:20 but it is different kind of bus)
- The seat layout at the front of the bus is completely unsuited to use on services where people are getting on and off all the time – like the City Link. The buses previously used for Inner Link services realised that it was worth sacrificing a bit of seating capacity for much greater circulation and standing area for bus services where people wouldn’t be on it for that long – but where loads may be really high. The ADL buses basically use a seating layout for an inter-city coach and then apply it to very busy inner city services – hopeless!
- The buses are too small. While smaller buses are needed in some situations, I don’t know what possessed NZ Bus to invest in fairly small buses at a time when public transport patronage is growing and then to put them on popular routes. Very frequently people are unable to board packed Link services in particular – simply because the buses are too small and also because the silly seat layout referred to above means there’s hardly any standing room.
- Low Ceiling height at the back of the bus. Because you can’t stand at the back of the ADL buses (ceiling is too low and there’s a sign on the steps banning it) once again the buses get so overcrowded that people are often left behind at stops. This doesn’t happen with other types of buses.
- Really dark window tinting. The tinting on the window is really dark and while that is useful for helping reduce the impact of sun which in turn means the air-con doesn’t have to work as hard, it makes it harder to see in and out of the buses. Being able to see in and though buses was one of the key points made by Jarrett Walker the other day.
Overall, it feels like the ADL buses aren’t necessarily bad buses – they’re just being used for the wrong services or need a major internal redesign in order for them to work better. Key changes should be to shift to side-facing seats on Link Services (especially City Link) or preferably to use other buses in the fleet that are larger for these busy routes. That in itself raises another point, whatever happened to NZ Bus’s plan to buy some double deckers for busy routes? Another critically necessary change is to somehow make the front entrance wider – or perhaps allow rear door boarding with AT Hop cards to get around the narrow front door issue and make the buses faster, more reliable and more efficient.
I also hope that NZ Bus thinks harder about their next purchases to ensure that these same mistakes aren’t repeated. With the new bus network proposing many frequent services that will result in increased patronage over time, it’s important that we don’t get stuck with too small buses with too narrow aisles and entrances again.