Category Archives: Public Transport

Country’s first electric bus fleet to be ready by autumn

From The Argus

THE first fleet of electric buses in the country is almost ready to take to the roads after enough funds have been raised to complete the project.

The Big Lemon previously received Government funding and has now raised the £405,000 needed to add three new electric buses to its fleet, which serves the people of Brighton and Hove.

The company, which was founded in 2007, is expecting its fleet of six buses to be up and running by autumn after initial test runs are carried out along certain routes.

Tom Druitt, founder and CEO of The Big Lemon, said: “I am thrilled to bits that the money has been raised so quickly.

“We have had 128 investors in total. They have been investing anything from £100 to £20,000.

“We have asked people why they are investing and the most common response is because they see it as the way things should be going.

“It will be the first in the country. It is a small network but a great start.

“We are always looking at the next step.

“We run various other services as well and are keen to run all these on electric as well.

“We have got lots of plans and are looking at what kind of different services we can offer alongside the public bus routes.

“This includes potentially more effectively routed and on demand services.”

The zero-emissions buses, which are fitted with solar panels, will be able to serve the whole route planned by the company once the fleet is finished.

The company set up a bond offer to attract investment for the project last month and after raising the funds needed, it will now be looking to raise an additional £135,000 to fund an extra bus for the fleet.

The project has been aided by money gained through the Clean Bus Fund and the Low Emission Bus Scheme.

It has gained the support of Brighton and Hove City Council and the Department for Transport (DfT).

One of the buses in the current fleet was a retrofit funded by the Clean Bus Fund and the three new additions to the fleet will be 138kWh Optare Solo electric buses.

The company set about raising the money after being awarded £513,000 from the DfT’s Low Emission Bus scheme.

With high levels of air pollution in mind, the company wants every community across the country to have access to a similar scheme by 2030.

For more information about the project or to invest and help the company fund a seventh bus for the fleet, visit thebiglemon.com/electric.

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Valley Gardens roadworks to cause traffic ‘chaos’

From The Argus

An artist’s impression of the Valley Gardens scheme

Every southbound car entering Brighton’s central avenue will be squeezed into a single lane of traffic this summer. Two years of roadworks to redesign traffic flow and pedestrian access around Valley Gardens will begin as early as June.

The decision to start digging up one of the busiest roads in the city during the tourist season was criticised by tourism experts, traders, residents’ groups, public transport pressure groups, taxi companies and unions. Critics have predicted “chaos” and “gridlock” and raised the spectre of tailbacks radiating far beyond the centre of the city. The council said disruption would be mitigated wherever possible.

Meanwhile the roadworks surrounding the Shelter Hall development at the foot of West Street will not finish this summer as planned but will continue until at least next autumn. That development is now projected to cost twice its original £10 million budget, and the council is working on ways to come up with extra money from its own tight resources as well as from central Government.

On Tuesday 6th February, a meeting of the Greater Brighton Economic Board confirmed work on the £11 million Valley Gardens scheme would begin in June, although yesterday a Brighton and Hove City Council spokeswoman said it “hoped” to start work on the highway “towards the end of summer”.

The first phase of the scheme will include closure of one of the two southbound lanes of traffic on the eastern side of Victoria Gardens from near St Peter’s Church. The Valley Gardens development seeks to open up the several, underused green spaces in the centre of the city from St Peter’s Church down to Old Steine.

At present the route is a one way system with two lanes running north, and two south. Once the redevelopment is complete, private vehicles will be restricted to the east of the gardens, with one lane northbound and one lane southbound. On the west, a much quieter road will carry just buses and taxis, northbound and southbound. Extra crossings, extra cycle lanes, and extensive planting and landscaping will make the area easier to access and enjoy on foot.

Yesterday the council said work and diversions would be well publicised and the main route would only occasionally be subject to complete closure.

Anne Ackord, who runs the Palace Pier and speaks for the Brighton and Hove Tourism Alliance, said: “Summer is never the best time to start any disruption. We need to get people in to the city, and we know parking is a problem as it is, so you don’t want anything to get in the way of the best possible summer. At the pier, we’re doing refurbishment work and maintenance now, because it’s winter and it’s quiet. We wouldn’t schedule anything to start later than Easter, because then you damage business.”

Adam Chinnery, chairman of the Seafront Traders Association, said: “It seems very odd, when we get massive domestic tourism that comes right down that road in the summer. And we don’t get nearly as much during the winter. It would seem a lot better to do this kind of project in the winter.”

Steve Percy, chairman of the People’s Parking Protest, said: “It’s going to be an absolute nightmare. I fail to see why Valley Gardens is going to start at the beginning of the tourist season when in fact it should have been started at the end of the season. That’s just common sense.”

Peter Elvidge, secretary of Brighton Area Buswatch, said: “It’s absolutely not the right time of year. “It’s going to be chaos I imagine. The Valley Gardens scheme is going to narrow the road down to a single lane through the roadworks, which will cause huge traffic jams and that will spread throughout the city.”

John Streeter, of Streamline Taxis, said: “I can see this scheme backfiring big time. There’s going to be major tailbacks coming into the city. Summer weekends are very busy and this will have a major impact.”

GMB union branch secretary Mark Turner said: “That’s not very clever timing really is it? That’s the beginning of the summer season, it’s the most important for the city and we’re going to cause major disruption to traffic. It’ll be bad for local businesses – we’ll be saying ‘come to Brighton and be gridlocked’.”

Not everyone was so negative. Theatre Royal manager John Baldock said: “Whenever you did it it’s going to upset somebody. Anything that can improve the city is a good thing, it’s never going to be painless.”

The scheme – originally a Green idea – has cross-party support so opposition politicians have focused on whether the Labour administration will make it happen efficiently.

Green Party spokesman Councillor Pete West said: “My concern is the Labour administration can’t deliver this competently – their project management is not good.

“Once they’ve started digging up, they need to complete within the shortest timeframe to minimise disruption.” 

Conservative Party spokesman Councillor Lee Wares said: “It is essential the Labour administration carefully co-ordinate the construction phases to avoid interrupting all the events our city holds. With Shelter Hall now over-running by a year it is crucial that Labour don’t take their eye off the ball because if they do, it will be a disaster for the city.”

Labour Councillor Alan Robins, the administration’s lead member for tourism, said: “I knew it was going to start, I didn’t know the start date.”

Later in a council statement he said: “Brighton and Hove attracts up to 11 million visitors a year and our marketing activity already encourages visitors to come by train or use other forms of public transport, where possible, as we know that car travel is a major contributor to congestion and poor air quality.”

The Valley Gardens scheme is expected to take around two years.

RMT announce new January 2018 strike on Southern trains

From The Argus

Commuters are due to face disruption with the announcement of another train strike in the new year.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union will walk out on January 8 as part of a long-running dispute over the role of guards and driver-only trains.

The union said it had made “every single effort” to resolve the bitter disputes, which it insisted were about safety.

The strikes will cause fresh problems for passengers, days after rail fares increase.

It also falls on the same day Brighton and Hove Albion play Crystal Palace in the third round of the FA Cup at the Amex stadium in Falmer.

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “Every single effort that RMT has made to reach negotiated settlements has been kicked back in our faces and we are left with no option but to confirm a further phase of industrial action.

“No one should be in any doubt. These disputes are about putting the safety of the travelling public before the profits of the private train companies

“It is frankly ludicrous that we have been able to negotiate long-term arrangements in Scotland and Wales that protect the guards and passenger safety but we are being denied the same opportunities with rail companies in England.

“This suspension of normal industrial relations by the employers has to end if we are to make progress towards a solution that guarantees safe rail travel for all.”

Mr Cash said the Government should lift its “blockade” on talks in the separate disputes to allow the union to negotiate “freely” with the companies.

Andy Bindon, Human Resources Director at Govia Thameslink Railway, parent company of Southern, said: “We are very disappointed by today’s announcement of a further RMT strike in the New Year.

“Their decision is even more regrettable as it comes on the same day that we had invited them to talks in the hope of reaching a resolution to their long-running dispute.

“We ask them to call off the strike and come to the negotiating table as we have suggested on many occasions.”

Bike rental scheme to launch on 1 September

From The Argus

Brighton’s bike rental scheme will launch on September 1.

A total of 450 bikes will be stationed around the city for the start of the month at 30 docking stations.

A further 20 stations are still to be built.

The scheme, which is officially titled BTN BikeShare, has cost £1.45 million with Brighton and Hove City Council contributing £290,000.

To use the bikes customers will have to sign up via the official app or online – with registration already open.

The bicycles will cost the equivalent of 3p per minute to use, but there is a minimum of £1 per journey, meaning that an hour’s ride on the bike will cost £1.80.

Regular users can also get a year’s subscription for £72. However, this does not allow unlimited cycling and only allows the use of the bikes for one hour every day for the year.

The scheme is being operated by a company called Hourbike.

Owner Tim Caswell, said: “The scheme will be a very positive addition to the city, and has already largely been embraced by the community. We have seen how successful our bike share schemes have been in Reading, Oxford, and Liverpool – and these are cities that don’t have the same green credentials as Brighton and Hove, or the same bike technology.”

Speaking to The Argus, he added: “There’s a real buzz about Brighton and Hove and we are incredibly excited to be launching here”.

The majority of the docking stations are along the seafront, up towards the station and then further out towards the universities.

The bikes, which are designed by Social Bicyles (SoBi), are sponsored by Life Water UK. They feature a locking and GPS system meaning that cyclists will not have to find a docking hub to lock them up.

Among the groups to back the scheme is Coast to Capital.

Chief executive Jonathan Sharrock said: “The scheme will deliver a multitude of environmental and health benefits, create new jobs and provide an excellent green transport option.”

Rail union suspends strikes

From Brighton & Hove Independent

The RMT has suspended strike action by both drivers and guards on Southern Rail after being approached for direct talks with the Secretary of State.

The RMT union has suspended the industrial strike for guards planned for Tuesday, August 1, after the union’s general secretary was invited to meet with Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for transport.

A driver strike on Tuesday, August 1, Wednesday, August 2, and Friday, August 4, has also been called off.

“We instruct the General Secretary to arrange the meeting and to place back before this NEC an update on the progress of the talks by Tuesday, August 1,” a spokesman said.

“RMT will be making no further comment at this stage as we arrange details for the talks and allow them space to take place.”

Electric bus trial to commence

From The Argus

Brighton and Hove Bus Company will begin trials with this electric bus.

Bosses have given the green light for a plan to pull the petrol and run their first trial of electric buses.

Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company has announced the emissions free vehicle will begin running along the city’s streets from this week.

It is the latest move designed to reduce air pollution in the city – which exceeds EU safe standards along major bus routes in Lewes Road and North Street as well as Rottingdean High Street.

The company is following in the footsteps of The Big Lemon company who are working to convert all their cooking oil fuelled vehicles into electric buses having received funding to create a solar powered recharging point at their depot.

Previously plans for electric buses had been on hold because of concerns over whether electric vehicles would be able to cope with the city’s steep hills.

Under the trial, a small single-deck electric bus known as a Streetair is being trialled this week on the number 50 bus route which runs between the University of Sussex and Brighton Railway Station.

The trial is designed to explore the right fuel options for the city in the short, medium and long term and will run on the city’s streets for a couple of months.

The electric bus, which has come from Northern Irish-based bus manufacturer Wrightbus, will be charged overnight and feature messages informing passengers and residents about the trial.

Passengers will also be able to pick up the environmentally friendly bus at Churchill Square, the Old Steine, Theatre Royal, Royal Pavilion, Jubilee Library, Brighton Museum, Brighton Pier and the Sea Life Centre.

Last year the company, which was founded in 1935, phased out all of its remaining 100 Euro 3 emission standard vehicles and has spent millions on the highest-standard Euro 6 buses while converting other vehicles to lower-emission technology.

Managing Director Martin Harris said: “We are excited to start this electric bus trial so we can see how the vehicle copes with the city’s topography and high passenger volumes.

“We foresee that ‘electric’ will form part of a multi-pronged strategy for a sustainable transport system for the future, and are currently exploring a number of fuel options for the short, medium and long term.”

Government paying Govia Thameslink £38m for ‘disastrous’ performance

From Brighton & Hove News

The Department for Transport (DfT) is paying £38 million to train company Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) despite “disastrous outcomes” over the past year.

The payment is flagged up in a critical report by the House of Commons Transport Committee which spells out shortcomings in the official handling of railway franchises.

The cross-party committee of MPs said that the DfT had “failed to take responsibility for some of the failings in handling the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern (TSGN) franchise”.

Louise Ellman, who chairs the committee, said: “The government has serious lessons to learn from the management of the TSGN franchise.

“Our committee exposed serious deficiencies in the department’s monitoring and enforcement of this franchise which has already led to a change of policy on performance reporting.

“This can only help to hold serially underperforming operators like GTR to proper account.

“If GTR is officially found to be in breach of contract – and the committee is still pushing ministers for an answer on this – the Department for Transport should consider restructuring the franchise.”

Click here for the full story.