Should you be wandering around the area between Crystal Palace and Orpington later this year you might see a fleet of rather futuristic buses passing by. Don’t worry, you won’t have inadvertently been taken in Doc’s time machine, you’ll just be clapping eyes with one of the new buses on the 358 route.
Though the new concoctions are going to resemble a tram, they won’t be restricted by the lines like actual ones are. These sci-fi-y models were produced by Spanish manufacturers Irizar e-mobility, and go by the name of IeTram, which is said to “[have] the appearance of a tram that combines the large capacity, ease of access and internal configuration of a tram with the flexibility of a city bus”.
The vehicles are fully electric and zero emission and provide further expansion of “opportunity charging” for buses around London, using pantographs at each end of the 15-mile route. Rather than having to take the buses to the garage for a fresh charge, these pantographs allow for a quicker turnaround in between charges, meaning fewer buses can provide equal service.
TfL’s 850-strong army of electric buses largely needs to be charged back at garages, which takes up time so any expansion to the “opportunity charging” model will go some way in reducing emissions. Pantograph technology is currently being rolled out on the 132 route, which also provides fast and high-power charges. By 2034, the aim is for all new bus models to be zero-emission, and this target could even be moved forward to 2030 if additional funding is secured. These new models come after the fleet of 20 hydrogen buses were released on the streets of London in 2021.
When can we expect to see these mysterious tram buses?
The new bus-slash-tram vehicles were originally set to hit the streets of London all the way back in March of 2023. According to a recent response from TfL to a Freedom of Information request, the new buses were delayed due to power connection and land ownership issues. But they sure seem to be coming soon! In the same response, TfL stated that “The new buses on the route 358 are due to enter passenger service in early June 2024.”
Speaking when the tram buses were first announced, the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Seb Dance, said:
“Londoners deserve to breathe clean air, and as part of our work to tackle the twin dangers of toxic air pollution and the climate emergency, I’m pleased that this new technology is being used on buses in south London.
“The introduction of the pantograph builds on the progress we have already made to run a cleaner and greener bus service. Transforming London’s bus fleet is an important part of the Mayor’s target of getting London to net zero by 2030, and his aim to build a better London – a fairer, greener and more prosperous city for all.”