The exciting news at TM is that we have today received three new Optare Solos, for use on Line 6 in Sheffield. With 37 seats they offer a good capacity in a tried and tested model. The red moquette provides a warm and welcoming ambience, and indeed is now our 'standard' moquette, being gradually applied to vehicles when they have a need for retrim. Indeed, seat trim enthusiasts may note that the Peak Line 218 buses have a moquette that is identical, just in blue. The buses don't feature exicting gizmos such as USB and wi-fi because the average customer journey time is very short, but they are very smart and tidy and provide a very light, spacious environment for customers.
For those that care about such things, they are YJ65 EPC, EPD and EPE. Notts & Derby are also taking one new Solo for University of Derby work, which I suspect will be EPF.
Since the relaunch of Sheffield's Line 30 with new Versas in early 2014, we have pursued a policy of identifying our key routes across the network with their own brand and colours. Line 30 was followed by Rotherham's Line 31, Sheffield's Line 4, Peak Line 218 and latterly Spira.
I am occasionally asked why we do this, and why we don't just paint everything red. The answer is quite straightforward.
The way the Partnership arrangements are developing in South Yorkshire mean that there is much greater emphasis on the overall public transport network, rather than individual operators' own networks. The PTE rightly places a high value on network stability and giving customers access to the whole network, and as such the value of promoting the company brand diminishes. Our portfolio of routes in Sheffield and Rotherham is quite disparate, and we are not really a network operator as such. If you just looked at the TM Travel network in isolation, you would see lots of gaps.
Therefore, we perceive that it is more important for customers to be able to identify individual routes within the overall bus network rather than that a route is a TM Travel route as such. Customers tend to like familiarity so if we can give them something that they recognise as being theirs, and to which they develop loyalty, that benefits them and it benefits us.
We have used orange, yellow, maroon, green and blue on various routes now, so when we discussed what colour to apply to the Line 6 buses when they were being ordered, the management team came up with purple. I mention this because some scurrilous people might feel that the colour looks vaguely familiar, so I'm at pains to point out that the decision to go for purple wasn't mine. Although that decision having been made, I might have influenced which shade to adopt....
The buses have come a little earlier than I was expecting, so we don't yet have the livery vinyls but they shouldn't be too far away. One slight spanner in the works is that when we ordered the buses, Line 6 had a PVR of three (as it does now) hence why we have three buses. However, the Sheffield network review has resulted in a welcome extension of the 6 from 1st November to Abbeydale Tesco via the Royal Hallamshire Hospital, Hunters Bar and Carter Knowle Road. This obviously increases the vehicle requirement so the route won't be run exclusively by new buses - we will have to repaint at least one existing Solo to complete the brand.
In other fleet news, we are in the process of restoring to service three MAN/Plaxton Centros 1197, 1199 and 1200 that have been seen in TM before and have wandered round the group looking for a loving home for a few years now.
MANs are an acquired taste but our Engineering Manager has a good track record of making them work in other places, and indeed is a brilliant investigative engineer who - when confronted with a troublesome bus - will stop at nothing until he identifies and cures the root of the problem. I am therefore highly optimistic that we will make a success of these vehicles.
They are '08 registered, and with the three new Solos will make significant inroads into the non-DDA compliant W-reg Solos that need to leave the fleet by the end of the year, and in doing so will dramatically improve the fleet age profile.