These Futuristic Tram-Buses Should Be On London's Streets From June

Last Updated 06 February 2024

These Futuristic Tram-Buses Should Be On London's Streets From June
A futuristic tram-shaped red single decker bus
Coming to a street near you in June (if you live between Crystal Palace and Orpington) Image: TfL

The future of the London bus is here. Almost. And as long as you live between Crystal Palace and Orpington.

In 2023 we reported that in its ongoing push towards a net zero emissions network, TfL was rolling out 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 was delayed due to hiccups, now cited by TfL as issues with 'power connections and land ownership'. We were subsequently told by TfL that trials would run in spring 2024, but a recent FOI suggests the fleet will now enter service in early June 2024.

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.

A 132 bus is charged using one of the new pantographs, which will also be used on the new buses on the 358 route. Image: TfL

While we now know the ieTram buses will be rolled out from June, 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 changed TfL's plans here — but at least the concept hasn't been — as we were starting to fear — 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.