The future of the London bus is here. At least it will be in 2024, if you live between Crystal Palace and Orpington.
Last year we reported that in its ongoing push towards a net zero emissions network, TfL announced the rollout of 20 new emission-free electric buses, on the 358 route between Crystal Palace and Orpington.
The vehicles were originally due to be trialled in 2023 (even Sadiq Khan was posting about how excited he was about the news) but that hasn't happened — and TfL now tells us trials will run in spring 2024.
Game-changing.— Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (@MayorofLondon) November 1, 2022
As a part of our commitment to making London greener for everyone, @TfL are introducing 20 new emission-free electric buses in 2023—and they only take 10 minutes to charge.
I look forward to seeing these new buses in action. https://t.co/XLMf6yJ66r
If you think the vehicles — created by the Spanish manufacturer Irizar e-mobility — look somewhat tram-like, you're not wrong: in fact the vehicle's official name is the ieTram, so called because, according to Irizar, it combines the "ease of access and internal configuration of a tram with the flexibility of a city bus."
While most of TfL's current 850-odd electric buses are charged overnight in a garage, the ieTram gets its juice using a pantograph — an arm-like structure, which gives a rapid, high-power charge to the bus through its roof. There'll be one of these positioned at each end of the route, and with less than 10 minutes of charging, the vehicles are then ready to travel again, along what is one of the longest London bus routes.
While the ieTram buses will be rolled out from spring 2024 (no exact date yet), TfL tells Londonist there are currently no plans to expand the trial. This is at odds with what we were first told; that if trials were successful, vehicles across more routes would likely be in the offing. It's unclear what's delayed, and subsequently changed, TfL's plans. But at least it hasn't, as we were starting to fear, been scrapped altogether.
The tram-buses then, might not quite be the future of London transport. But they could be the future of one particular bus route in southeast London. And we'll be hopping on one, whether we need to get to Orpington or not.