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Forum Post
Forum: Web Site
Topic: Diary of a Webmaster

Review of 2014
Tue 27/01/15, 13:51
2 Replies
2014 was the 'Year of the Bus'. I'm not really sure who decided this, or the underlying objectives, but it did lead to an interesting year. The main events were a string of open days at London bus garages, perhaps the greatest quantity since the Golden Jubilee celebrations of 1983.

As usual there were a few changes to the ownership of London bus operators. In March the small London Sovereign operation was sold by (French company) Transdev to (French company) RATP, thus bringing it back into common ownership with London United. Later in the year, RATP also bought the London Tour operations latterly run by Arriva from Wandsworth garage. Within the Go-Ahead group, Metrobus ceased to operate London bus services during the year, Orpington and Croydon garages now being run under the London General licence. In reality the changeover was gradual, with the Metrobus name still commonly visible at the end of the year.

A rather fundamental change that took place in July was when buses in London stopped accepting cash payment for fares. Given the high usage of Oyster and other pre-payment cards, and also the significant administration savings enabled, the change was perhaps logical, and it seems to have passed off without too much adverse publicity.

Most of the new buses delivered for service in London were 'green', although they were of course nearly all red. Exceptions to the latter were some of the Wright New Bus for London (NBfL) vehicles, delivered in black livery and given dramatic graphics to mark the 2014 World Cup. Over 200 NBfLs entered service during the year, and the type is now a common sight around inner London.

In terms of service vehicles, the most notable aspect of 2014 was the relatively small quantity of vehicles added to the central fleet (LUL/LBSL/TfL). Although a few more may still remain to be reported, just 81 additions were made, the lowest for many years. I think there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the intake does vary from year to year. 2010 was something of a 'dip' year, with 160 additions. This would result in fewer vehicles coming up for replacement in 2014. Secondly, there may be economies being made by re-merging of functions that were latterly covered by both Tube Lines and Metronet. Thirdly is the Ford issue, of which more anon.

The 81 vehicles included 59 with numbers in the 'leased' series. In the first half of the year these were slowly filling the gaps in the 7760 to 7820 range. In the autumn the numbers jumped ahead into the 79xx range, suggesting that some large orders had been placed. The remaining 22 vehicles were un-numbered, although this will no doubt include a few for which numbers are allocated but not carried (or not yet reported). Three full-sized lorries were among the un-numbered additions, comprising two MAN dropsides and one Mercedes dustcart.

Actually, the number of new central fleet vehicles should perhaps be 81 and a half! In a resurrection of a practice not seen for many years, one of the lorries was given a new body. Mercedes-Benz Axor WX08KUY was new in 2008 with a fairly standard dropside body. In the spring this was removed and replaced with a custom-built box body containing a toilet, kitchen and meeting/dining area. It is now used as a mobile office at rail engineering work sites, replacing one of the demountable bodies previously used. It was also the first lorry to carry the new LUL white/blue/red livery.

Despite the reduction in intake, variety is still present. The 81 vehicles added in 2014 came from 10 different manufacturers. By co-incidence the 2013 intake of 230 vehicles also covered 10 makes, though not the same 10. The biggest surprise in 2014 was the fall of Ford, the dominant supplier for the past 50-odd years. Just 8 of the intake were Fords, and they were all in the first half of the year. Among them were the last 3 examples of the Mk7 Transit van, 1 Focus car, 1 new Transit Connect and 3 of the new Transit Custom model. The new Mk8 Transit became a common sight on UK streets during the year but we have yet to see any in use as service vehicles. It could be that the new models are still being evaluated, or that some technical or financial aspect of them is not ideal. It will be interesting to see if 2015 sees Ford make a comeback.

Another surprise was the reappearance of Vauxhall. They had been the main alternate to Ford since the early 1980s but the quantities tailed off dramatically around 2011. 2014 saw 2 Movano minibuses added to the LBSL fleet, due apparently to the unsuitability of the Ford Transit Custom minibus. These were the first Vauxhalls in almost 2 years.

In the absence of Ford, the main supplier of central fleet vehicles in 2014 was Volkswagen, with 27 added (up from 3rd place in 2013). Renault supplied 20 (also in 2nd place in 2013), while the remainder came from Toyota (10), Ford (8), Nissan (4), Peugeot (4), Mitsubishi (3), MAN (2), Vauxhall (2) and Mercedes-Benz (1).

Developments with environmentally-friendly propulsion systems continued slowly through the year, and the adoption of 'green' technologies as standard still seems some way off. Three pure electric vans were added (one each from Nissan, Peugeot and Renault) along with 4 cars (3 Nissan Leaf and 1 Renault Zoe). Hybrid vehicles are more well established, and 10 Toyota Yaris cars were added in 2014, mainly replacing Toyota Prius cars in the TfL fleet.

Liveries provided some interest during 2014. Right at the beginning of the year, several vehicles in London Overground livery (white with blue skirt and orange stripe) were delivered. This livery had first been seen the year before on a pair of VW Golf estate cars. The new vehicles comprised 8 Renault Kangoo Maxi vans and 5 VW Transporters, and presumably were added due to some support function being brought back 'in-house'. Most of the vehicles were based at the new Silwood Depot or at nearby Oldfield Grove, and it does seem that they are only used on the sections of the Overground that were previously part of the LUL system. As an aside, the Overground network is due to expand in 2015 when some of the routes out of Liverpool Street are taken over from Abellio.

The second livery development also took place early in the year, and will affect a large number of vehicles. From this point the primary lettering on all new central fleet vehicles was changed to be 'Transport for London', with a strapline of 'Every Journey Matters'. The lettering is blue (on white vehicles) or white (on red ones). Roundels next to this lettering, and on the front, show the actual operator (eg Underground, Buses, etc).

In April three new vehicles were delivered in the Tramlink livery of white with blue skirt and a green stripe. This had previously only been carried by a Transit dropside new in 2013. Towards the end of 2014 the livery was also applied to two of the Ford Transits latterly operated in plain white. Two of the other plain white vehicles were given LUL livery as well, rather surprising given that they will probably go off lease in the next year or two. Conversely the lorry fleet, most of which is likely to remain in use for some time, continued to carry the defunct Tube Lines livery, the only exception being the rebodied Mercedes-Benz Axor. LUL livery with TfL lettering was applied to the three new lorries delivered during the year.

The final livery development came in the summer when the first of a new batch of Toyota Yaris hybrid cars was delivered. These carried white/blue livery with no stripe, had blue TfL lettering and a solid blue roundel alongside and on the front. Thus no specific department was mentioned, perhaps to enable the cars to be switched between users. They replaced most of the Toyota Prius cars latterly used by TfL Streets (in white/orange livery) and TfL Public Carriage Office (all white).

Quantifying the service vehicles operated by the various bus companies is much harder. There is no official information, and some of the operators are actually outside the TfL area. Many of the vehicles are acquired second-hand and it is also almost impossible to use DVLA and vehicle auction data to track disposals. Based on our best information, 105 vehicles were added to the bus company fleets during 2014. 61 of these were second-hand and 44 new. Ford and Vauxhall were the dominant makes with 42 and 38 vehicles respectively. Another 8 makes were represented by the remaining 25 additions.

Early in the year, Arriva Southern Counties received a number of Ford minibuses from co-owned TGM. Most were used to replace the last of the former London taxis used as crew ferry vehicles from Dartford. Arriva London re-opened its Edmonton Garage in March and took a batch of 14 new Vauxhall Corsa cars. Arriva the Shires was now the main user of ex-London taxis, and several more were added during the year. These featured both the traditional FX4 design and the newer TX1 model. Most were reliveried into Arriva corporate or Green Line advertising colours, but many did not last very long. The change of management of the Metrobus London fleet saw new support vehicles being delivered in un-marked red. This is almost standard livery for Go-Ahead London service vehicles, whilst Metrobus ones used to carry white livery with full lettering and fleetnumbers. The process was accelerated when five plain red Vauxhall crew vans were moved from Northumberland Park to Croydon in exchange for 5 Mercedes-Benz minibuses. A side effect of this is that the Metrobus name can now be seen at places such as Edmonton! Notable departures from the bus company fleets were Arriva London's emergency fuel tanker and the three Honda motorcycles used by Stagecoach London.

The LTSV website saw two main developments during 2014. In the first half of the year the inputting of vehicle history records continued, with over 13,000 entries added. The period 1948 to 1981 was completed, and a start was made on 1939 to 1947. The plan had been to complete the inputting by the end of 2014 but a couple of factors saw this fall by the wayside. Firstly, the official information now to hand seemed to cover the period up to about 1982 quite comprehensively. However, there are evidently some events that were missed (for example when a vehicle is shown moving from A to B and later from C to D) and there are lots of aspects that are vague (for example when a vehicle is allocated to 'Hammersmith' or 'Works'). The post-1982 period will be much harder to cover. Apart from a few Registers from the 1980s and 1990s, most of the data will have to come from observations. This also applies to the bus company fleets.

The second development was that most of the pages on LTSV were completely rewritten. This was a major piece of work but far less visible, since the overall 'look' of the pages was kept the same. A few new functions were added, while the security and 'tidiness' of the coding was greatly improved. The new pages were also designed to eventually enable other members to have greater editing rights (for example, adding vehicles), and guidance notes and help were incorporated where appropriate. A couple of sections have not yet been upgraded, notably the forum (which I have never been happy with) and the member registration pages. Also still on my 'to-do' list is to improve the home page. I must have the only website that still looks pretty much the same as it did 10 years ago!

One of the changes introduced with the new pages was the ability to relate vehicle sightings to particular locations. This has obvious benefits but it also added a problem I am not happy with. When adding a sighting, you now have a choice of three places in which to record the location, and it is far too easy to pick the wrong one. The changes have also not achieved the goal of preventing people adding locations such as 'Near Clapham at 7am'. No-one has commented/complained about the changes but that is because feedback is generally non-existent. Come on people, tell me what you want. It may be different to what I think you want!

One other change I ought to mention is the inclusion of 'external' photographs. There are a lot of service vehicle photographs in books and on other websites, and my plan was to improve the way these could be referenced on LTSV, primarily by allowing members to upload thumbnails of the photographs. I am still not clear on the legality of this, and therefore the facility has not yet been enabled.

Finally some site statistics for 2014. 10 new members joined, about average but perhaps surprising given that the joining pages don't work very well! Membership is now at 185, although of course a very large proportion of the site 'activity' is by a very small number of members. The recording of vehicle sightings was down by about a third to just under 6,400. I published 313 photographs, up a bit on 2013's 295 but lower than average. 1,311 photographs were received during the year (also lower than average), which means that about 1 in 4 were used. The site now has 4,852 photographs, while my full collection is at an amazing 18,217.

Looking ahead, I don't foresee any major changes to LTSV in the coming year. Hopefully I will be able to complete the site upgrades and improve some of the less-than-ideal features. A major piece of work that remains on hold is the production of a new service vehicle book. This was intended to be more-or-less a follow on to the SUP15B I produced for LOTS in 2005, and it would use the archive documents to provide full allocation histories for all vehicles. It would also serve as a means of 'preserving' the masses of information that has been accumulated by the website over the years. Rather obviously, this book would almost certainly have to be in a digital format. It would be just too large to produce a printed version economically. I do still intend to proceed with this work at some stage (either under the LOTS banner or independently) but the aforementioned difficulties with the archives means it is presently on the back burner. I would also like to spend some time this year on improving my two other websites.

Before I go I must acknowledge the support of the membership in supplying the photographs and information that makes LTSV possible. Even a single sighting report can be useful to determine a vehicle's allocation, and all submissions are appreciated. Thanks go especially to Ray, Steve and Derek for their numerous contributions.

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Inclusion of busco in graph
Sat 28/02/15, 12:54
Hi Tom, When you refer to quantities in the ''fleet'' I believe TFL and the private operators should be kept separate as I cant see why they should correlate. Including them together in the graph columns is distracting as one has to mentally add the TFL bits together before making comparisons. Fortunately the busco figures have been fairly uniform over the years but if they were to register dips and surges it would make it even harder to follow. Cant they have their own columns and then you could refer to fleets in the plural? LLAP Clive

Fleet intake graph 2001-2014
Tue 27/01/15, 14:04
I forgot to add this graph which shows the (approximate) number of vehicles added to each segment of the fleet for the years 2001 to 2014. The relatively low number of vehicles added in 2014 is apparent, particularly for the central fleet (shown as Leased or Un-num). The previous dip in 2010 can also be seen.