CitySightseeing York upgrades: PHOTO SPECIAL

Transdev’s launch of newly converted vehicles for their York tourist service provided the opportunity for David Cole to talk to CEO Alex Hornby about the operation and the wider Transdev business’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic

Celebrating 20 years of the CitySightseeing hop-on hop-off tourist service round the sights of York, Transdev has introduced a new fleet of upgraded ADL Enviro 400s converted to high specification open-top vehicles by Thorntons Bus Refurbishment.


Carrying a live guide and also offering the choice of nine commentary languages, they support the improved 15-minute frequency, newly-introduced to safely meet demand from the increasing number of tourists now choosing York for a staycation.

The new vehicles were formally launched at a stakeholder event outside York Minster where they were blessed by The Revd. Canon Maggie McLean, Canon in Residence at York Minster. Transdev CEO Alex Hornby told guests: “This is a very proud moment for the whole team at Transdev and our CitySightseeing York operations, as we welcome everyone to discover this historic, diverse and friendly city from our four new open top buses.

As we celebrate our 20th year of touring York, we wanted to do something special and this investment proves our long-term commitment to CitySightseeing and tourism in York during what has been a successful, yet delayed, start to the usual season. We believe these high-spec, low-emission buses will bring comfort and enjoyment to our guests, whilst our revitalised team of local bus drivers and live, on-board tour guides will entertain and inform the thousands we welcome every week.”

A cross-section of stakeholders from York’s business and tourism communities was present together with representatives of a City Council that has been at the forefront of driving reductions in public transport emissions. York’s pivotal role in the development of tourism across the whole of Yorkshire in these challenging times was emphasised by Welcome to Yorkshire CEO James Mason.

Between 0900 and 1630, York CitySightseeing normally serves 21 stops in the city four times an hour although seven of these are currently inaccessible due to a road closure. Nine language commentaries plus a kids programme are available in addition to the live guide, one provides a true Yorkshire experience in the local vernacular.

A rainy-day guarantee is provided allowing pre-booked tickets to be moved to another day. Transdev’s efforts in making the tour a safe environment during the pandemic have been recognised by the award of the ‘We’re Good to Go’ tourism ‘tick’ confidence mark from VisitEngland.

The vehicles

City Sightseeing York was the first operator to introduce an electric open-top sightseeing vehicle to service back in 2014 and the intention at that time was to fully electrify the operation in the coming years. The intention is still there according to Alex but the electrification process so far has failed to meet expectations resulting in an urgent requirement to replace the older Euro II-as-built diesel vehicles that still provide the core of the operation. Electrification has however played a part since the newly converted vehicles were indirectly displaced from Metroline’s London operation by the arrival of significant numbers of electric double-deckers.

The four 2009 ADL Enviro 400 vehicles have been subject to a thorough refurbishment by Thorntons Bus Refurbishment during the conversion process. All are partially open top with a sympathetically designed cabin above the front of the upper deck and staircase that recognises the challenge of the British climate. They are designed to carry 70 seated passengers under normal circumstances, 25 of them in the fully-open area of the upper deck where weather-resistant Fainsa seats have been installed.

The floors have been refinished in wood-effect material and the seats trimmed in standard CitySightseeing design fabric. The latter is also used on the padded end of the cabin roof. Each seat has access to USB power, wifi and a headphone connection with language selection. The staircase panels are decorated with York Minster stained glass window motifs and advertising is carried for other Transdev products out of York, particularly Coastliner.

Reflecting the needs of the current pandemic, a flexible screen has been provided to separate the drivers cabin from boarding passengers and a hand sanitiser dispenser installed on one of the vertical poles alongside the nearside front wheelarch. The formal parcels tray now has storage for spare face masks and sanitary requirements as well as advertising material. London style accessibility provision has been retained with a ramp at the centre doorway leading to a wheelchair space opposite. Mechanically, the vehicles have been upgraded to low emission Euro6 standard.

The four newly-converted vehicles have been given select registration plates and will form the core fleet maintaining the 15-minute service frequency, backed up by an operational electric vehicle and a retained older diesel vehicle that will also support private hire needs.

Transdev and the pandemic

Travelling around York aboard one of the new vehicles provided the opportunity to talk to Alex about Transdev’s reaction to the pandemic. He referred positively to the experience: “Transdev have been very supportive, allowing us to treat the pandemic as a challenge rather than a problem which boosted our confidence.”

In his launch remarks, Alex had already paid tribute to key workers and reinforced this in respect of his whole team who have shown immense commitment to keeping the whole business running across Lancashire and Yorkshire.

Communication has been core to the response, delivered in a calm manner but on brand. The business undertook a customer survey that showed cleanliness was now higher in priority than punctuality. All vehicles were quickly fitted with a driver’s screen and hand sanitiser dispensers while anti-viral fogging was introduced at every depot for every bus, every night. The company already operated an in-day cleaning of vehicles at bus stations and this was increased with staff redeployed from suspended activities. Alex saw this as not a cost but an opportunity for the industry to visibly show itself as a clean way to travel.

Hard communication has included two videos, one showing all the activities making the vehicles clean and safe, the other showing bus travel now through the eyes of the customer. Following the removal of the exhortation not to use public transport, the company was quick to encourage customers back to bus with its “Clean, safe, ready to go” campaign that appears on scrolling destination displays, together with the BA<K to BUS message. Alex suggested that loadings have now reached around 50% of pre-pandemic levels despite much of the business’ operating area falling into the areas where some restrictions have been re-imposed.

Looking to the future, Alex intends that the positive approach will continue with investment in services and vehicles. Following a small number of Enviro 200MMCs in 2019, ADL will continue as the company’s preferred supplier in 2020, building 19 Enviro 400MMCs for the City Zap and Witchway brands.

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