18 June 2020

Gibraltar Update - January 2020

It has been almost two years since I last visited Gibraltar and I’m pleased to report that, overall, very little has changed during this time. The major advantage of this was that I spent far less time noting down changes and more time enjoying myself. And of course a little stability to a public transport network has many positive effects on its users.

This is Europa Point, the southernmost tip of Gibraltar, from where Africa can be seen. Likewise, time was residents of Morocco could see a Dennis Dart in public service from across the Strait of Gibraltar. G9509D is seen working Service 2, the most frequent service operated by Gibraltar Bus Company.

The same two operators continue to serve residents of Gibraltar. Their fleet lists are below.

Fleet Summaries

Gibraltar Bus Company – believed correct to 15 January 2020. 

G9500-19D MAN Lion’s City Midi/CaetanoBus B25D/B26D
G4735-7E Ford Transit/Ford M10L
G4738-40E Ford Transit/Ford M15
G96381 Toyota Coaster M16
G8364A Toyota Hiace staff bus
G1168B Toyota Hilux staff vehicle
G2481C Toyota Hiace staff bus

I’ve made three changes to this fleet summary since that I last posted during April 2018. First is the inclusion of the ‘un-identified Ford Transit’ which was in fact G4735E, so there is now a trio of ten-seaters; G4735E was noted in use on Service 7 on 15 January. This trio features a tail ramp and so are recorded as M10L. Second is the removal of the ‘L’ from the larger Ford Transits, G4738-40E, none of which has any wheelchair accessible area and so should be recorded as M15. Third is the inclusion of an additional crew vehicle in the form of G8364A, which is in house red livery and may have been with GBC since new though I saw no sign of it during my last visit. I noted all MAN Lion’s Citys except G9505/7D, though was informed that one is undergoing its MOT inspection and the other requires a new windscreen. I also didn’t see G4736/7E during my stay, nor did I catch sight of Toyota Hilux G1168B. All other vehicles in the fleet summary were noted.

Gibraltar Bus Company has a large number of ancillary vehicles. G2481C is a Toyota Hiace and is seen in the Market Place while being used as a staff shuttle bus. 

To expand on an observation I made about the seating layout in G9512D during my last visit, which saw the first set of double seats to the rear of the centre doors on either side of the aisle face backwards, I can now confirm this layout is applied to G9510-2D inclusive and their total seating capacity is reduced to B25D. The entire 20-strong batch of MANs came fitted with driver assault screens, but have been removed from all save the final three numerically: G9517-9D, two of which are generally used on the ‘night bus’ service N8 on Fridays and Saturdays.

Calypso Transport Ltd – believed correct to 20 January 2020. 

G59618 Leyland Atlantean/Willowbrook
G77960 Leyland B45 (Olympian)/ECW
G8991-4C MAN Lion’s City Urban
G4710D MAN Lion’s City
G5146/7D MAN Lion’s City T
G8750-2D MAN Lion’s City**
G7301-5E Volvo B9TL/Unvi Urbus 2.5DD H53/18D
G8169/74/6/8/80-3A TransBus Dart/Caetano NimBus B27F

** - G8750D wears an all-over livery for MoneyCorp bank.

 The only alteration to Calypso’s fleet summary since that I posted in April 2018 is that G6995B, a MAN SD202/Waggon Union, that was withdrawn is no longer on site. I’ve added the seating capcities for the ex-Alsa Madrid Sightseeing buses, G7301-5E. I noted all vehicles with the exception of G8992C, though this appeared to be over a pit with an industrial-strength curtain pulled across behind it so I couldn’t confirm the registration. Of note is that the heritage vehicles (G59681/77960) looked to be de-licensed for the winter. During my last visit the Atlantean looked as though it had been dumped in the corner of the yard and forgotten about, while the Olympian was notable by its absence. It was good to see both in situ, if not in operation. The remaining Darts were all noted in service, which was very pleasing to see.

The Frontier bus stop is the most northern in Gibraltar and is located opposite the airport. From here Calypso Transport's two services commence. G7304E is one of five Volvo B9TL/Unvi convertible open-top double-deckers, purchased from Alsa's Madrid Sightseeing operation in the Spanish capital.

New Depot 

The first notable change is that Gibraltar Bus Company (GBC) has moved out of its depot on Winston Churchill Avenue. The company’s base is now located at the Old Dockyard, along Queensway Road, off the beaten track to some extent. This took place on 29 July 2018, yet the company’s website continues to advertise its old address. The former depot is a building site with new housing well on the way to being completed. This has meant that on the majority of occasions service 2 driver changeovers now take place at Trafalgar Cemetery (inbound). Driver changes continue to occur in the Market Place for other services and on 14 January Toyota Hiace G8364A was noted there. The new depot can be partially seen from the Jumpers Building bus stop, looking down (west) onto the road below. I noted an unidentified Ford Transit and Toyota Coaster (presumably G96381) there.

Hoppa or Hopper? 

Both GBC and Calypso Transport Ltd (CTL) continue to offer day tickets. Both continue to be pronounced ‘hopper’ though GBC’s is advertised as a Hoppa costing £2.50 and Calypso’s is a Hopper costing a ‘whopper’ at £6.00. This fare has increased more than 100% since I last visited, though with Calypso also offering a day return at £2.20 I did wonder why anyone would purchase a Hopper (other than those like me who wanted to get some Dart mileage under their belt). A small footnote to CTL’s fares chart – displayed internally and externally throughout the fleet – cited why: that the £6.00 Hopper is additionally valid on ‘all Gibraltar’s buses’ – making sure not to mention GBC by name, though this is what it means.

Red Sands Road is the location of this shot, at the foot of its steep descent into Rosia. GBC's G9502D is seen approaching, weaving betwixt car and concrete wall on its hourly frequency from Both Worlds to Rosia Bay.

Frustratingly, the manner this ticket is administered means that it is only purchasable on board CTL vehicles, geared to the presumption that most passengers would purchase it at the Frontier/Airport. As I did on 15 January, there’s nothing to stop you purchasing it from a CTL bus in the Market Place and then getting off immediately. I understand that a negotiated percentage of the CTL Hopper is paid to GBC as revenue foregone. Though I would add that a GBC Hoppa at £2.50 plus a CTL Day Return at £2.20 is still cheaper than an all-encompassing Calypso Hopper; so unless you plan on more than two trips with Calypso, the above two-ticket option remains better value.

Exact Change 

As I mused during April 2018, the variations of coinage and currency bus drivers in Gibraltar receive is astounding. Both GBC and CTL accept the Gibraltar Pound, which is accepted on a like-for-like basis with Sterling, which is also accepted in full. This means that already there are two versions of all coinage and notes in circulation. Both operators also promote their fares in Euros; therefore all denominations of the Euro are accepted. Driver cash trays must be enormous. Simplification here must surely be the way forward though as yet GBC’s Wayfarer TGX ticket machines do not accept contactless payments, while CTL has invested in new Wayfarer machines that do. In fact, CTL now offers multi-trip tickets for holders of its contactless cards. The best value equates to 85p per trip for a 40-trip ticket (£34). Annoyingly, CTL doesn’t offer an unlimited travel package. And for new cards their depot office, from where these can be acquired, is only open on Wednesdays.

I was stood at North Gorge waiting for a Service 2 bus to arrive. Seen approaching is GBC's G9509D. If you look closely between the roof of the bus and the foot of the bubbling clouds you can see the mountains of Morocco, Africa.

With the various coinage accepted, GBC has attempted to simplify things a little by now asking for ‘exact fare only’ on all its buses. Drivers appear to carry the same cash tin as before and I’m sure if a driver had sufficient change he/she would offer change to a passenger, but with the likely advent of contactless payments and the company’s fares ending in either 00 or 50, following the likes of Lothian, Travel West Midlands, Nottingham City Transport and First Bristol is a decision they chose to make towards the end of 2019. Additionally, those making use of GBC services are entitled to travel for free – around 80% of passengers do not pay. Free travel is paid for by HM Government of Gibraltar and those qualifying include residents, members of the British Armed Forces and those seeking employment (which controversially includes certain Spanish residents).

Publicity 

My main gripe about travelling by bus in Gibraltar was corrected last spring when a new identity for the city’s bus network was introduced and along with it came brand new bus stop poles, flags and at-stop information. All bus stops in Gibraltar now have London-style flags on which states the specific name of that stop and on tiles beneath are route numbers of services that call there, along with their ultimate destination. Care has been taken to ensure the bus stop name is the same as that referenced in the timetables. This is long overdue and ensures tourists can know the stop name they want and can count down to it using preceding stops as reference points.

I woke relatively early on the day of my departure and headed out to capture some more interesting shots before things got too busy. Seen here negotiating Southport Gates is GBC's G9509D, heading back into town from Europa Point on 15 January 2020.

Immaculately clean, glazed bus shelters can be found at around 90% of bus stops. Inside each is an enormous version of the Gibraltar Bus Map, as well as timetable information for those specific services calling rather than a list of all routes as was the case. Timetables in Gibraltar continue to amuse with there being just one timing point per route – the first one. Thereafter, as my Mum would say, ‘it takes as long as it takes’ to reach the terminus and all points in between. ‘We’ll get there when we get there’. Though the intention is clear - the road network can be very unpredictable, especially if the Spanish are undertaking lengthy border checks on Friday afternoon, or a succession of planes land, or both!

Calypso Website

It came as something of a shock to me to see that CTL now has its own website, located at www.citybus.gi and it looks pretty good! Care has been taken to offer more information along each of their commercial routes (5 & 10) and a bus tracker, similar to that offered by GBC, is in the pipeline. The website’s home page cleverly offers ‘live’ departures from the Frontier/Airport, which actually aren’t live (yet) but timetabled. Either way, and with masses of stand time there, it would take quite a lot to hinder timetabled departure times (other than a plane landing). CTL’s website also heavily promotes its various ticket types and specifically its Smart Card option, using the company’s contactless ticket machines. A News page details various positive news stories (generally revealing winners of competitions) and also photos of recent visits from China and Hong Kong bus enthusiasts, keen to catch up with the company’s vintage Leyland ‘deckers. Surprisingly, photos of CTL’s staff parties are also shared on there, probably with a view to showing the local, caring side of the company. It’s something larger, more PR-savvy operators here would wince at, though.

G8752D spent the first half of its life painted yellow and operating in Berlin before being acquired by Calypso Transport some seven years ago. It's a full length MAN Lion's City and is loading at the Morrison's bus stop en route to Boyd Street - which is in itself something of an oddity as this terminal location is actually located on the adjacent Trafalgar Road.

But the main advantage of CTL’s website is that it now offers a channel for people to contact the company. Hitherto the operation was something of an enigma: no legal lettering on its vehicles (it isn’t required in Gibraltar), no contact details (either phone or address) within its buses or on its publicity leaflet. Now the website has changed all this and it can only be for the better.

Bus Tracker Live

One significant improvement for those with mobile internet access is the Bus Tracker Live mobile application, which is best accessed via GBC’s website or by downloading the ‘GibAPP’ to your mobile device. It enables the user to track in real time the location of buses on each GBC route. This is shown on the schematic map for that service rather than an overlay on Google Maps, for example. Simplicity is good here as the road network in Gibraltar is hardly simplistic and plotting the actual route taken of some services would make tracking the buses a little more complex than needs be. Although some drilling down is possible, this, sadly, only affords the user details to the second of the location where each bus was last seen, not registration of the bus in use.

Both operators' fleets are very well turned out, which is testament to the skill of their drivers, having to negotiate Gibraltar's historic streets (and more modern speed humps). Perhaps the tightest turn other than in Upper Town is depicted here, into Governor's Lane. GBC's G9508D is seen making the turn heading to the Market Place.

Details are also reported on the number of vehicles used on a service. Therefore calculating GBC’s peak vehicle requirement (PVR) is now relatively easy. CTL services are not currently shown though the company’s website implies their own tracker app is ready to be launched.

School Services

While trying to tick off all vehicles in both operators’ fleets, I was growing a little concerned that I’d not see all of them as some were clearly out of use for more than one day. Fortuitously, GBC operates two school services in the form of services S2 and S8. Both were noted on 14 January using two vehicles that had hitherto eluded me. Service S2 only began operation on 6 January and commences at Eliott’s Battery then inbound via service 2 to Trafalgar Cemetery then via Queensway and Harbour Estate to Waterport, which is where I saw it awaiting schoolchildren for its afternoon return. Service S8 operates from Catalan Bay on the East Side to Notre Dame First School on Winston Churchill Avenue following the sudden closure of a school after a large rock damaged its roof and students were hurriedly found a new educational establishment. In both cases, services S2 & S8 can only be used by schoolchildren and convey a bus inspector for supervision purposes. I then also spotted a MAN heading empty to the depot on the morning of 15 January displaying service S3 so it is likely there are three dedicated school services operated by GBC.

The Market Place is effectively the town centre bus station, yet only two services commence here and are depicted above: Service 1 (to Upper Town) is operated by Ford Tranits owing to the topography of the route and Service 2 (to Europa Point). G4240E is seen on the left and G9509D on the right. The other stands are used by through services 4 (Rosia/Both Worlds), 5 (Reclamation Road/Frontier), 8 (Both Worlds/Reclamation Road) and 9 (EuroTowers/Rosia). Things can get very congested at times as there are no intermediate timing points for through services.

Dennis Darts

Although badged Dennis, the Darts that have been associated with Gibraltar since 2004 were actually built by TransBus International, following the collapse of Dennis. But hang the technicalities of history, the term Dennis Dart is far easier on the tongue and enthusiasts know immediately what one is. Just eight of the original batch remain, all bar four were acquired by CTL direct from GBC for just over £1,000 each, which caused local controversy at the time. The four not purchased were split into two pairs of two; the first pair were effectively trashed in training exercises by Gibraltar’s emergency services; the remaining two were used as driver training vehicles for HM Government and were seen parked adjacent to CTL’s depot on my last visit. They’ve both now met their maker. CTL cannibalised as few of those it purchased as it could, enabling eight to be fully operational with this commercial operator and they were all noted in service during my three-day stay.

Travelling across a live runway aboard a Dennis Dart with operational climate control is something that can only ever be said of life in Gibraltar. I am aboard G8181A, badged a Dennis, though the order was fulfilled by TransBus International. The western half of Gibraltar's runway can be seen.

Unlike the quieter, more comfortable MAN Lion’s City Midis that replaced them at GBC, the Darts do sound rather rough inside and most – though not all – suffer from that bad vibration at tick-over. The air conditioning was working phenomenally well on G8181A when I travelled on it – far better than it ever did with GBC in the years I’ve been travelling. Generally the Darts are used on service 10 to Boyd Street, though do stray onto the shorter, more frequent service 5. While I’d not considered it a limitation, it soon became clear how much one door affects dwell times on the Darts compared with GBC’s MANs. Yes, the Darts seat more but passengers do have further to walk to leave the bus.

Having undertaken 28 individual bus journeys in three days, the majority aboard GBC’s MANs (I have no idea when I’ll be back this year so needed to tick as many off as I could during this visit), I can now see why TfL’s London Buses are so keen to maintain a centre door. It was also something, of course, that my beloved Grimsby-Cleethorpes Transport believed in until they purchased four Leyland Olympians in 1983 and two arrived with a front door only.

Never mind Fifty Shades of Grey, bus operation in Gibraltar are now, sadly, One Shade of Red. The vibrant blue livery - the initial colour of GBC - was still visible long after the Darts that wore it either passed to Calypso Transport in 2015 or met their maker, as two were used as driver-training vehicles. Two were still in existence during April 2018, though they've not met with the cutter's torch. In their place is this longer MAN Lion's City, G2432F, which is directly owned by HM Government of Gibraltar and based at GBC's depot. It's seen here opposite St. Bernard's Hospital.

Summary

As ever the time flew by while I was in Gibraltar. On this occasion I was devoid of my family so I didn’t have the burden this can have on getting some decent mileage under my belt. And, of course, it’s not all about the mileage – I found some decent vantage points for photography and caught up with some friends. With Brexit on the horizon and the uncertainty this has on Gibraltar, whose location is intrinsically linked with the EU more than the rest of the UK, Gibraltarians are doing as they always have and are taking it in their stride. The bus network has remained steady and constant (and I forgot to mention earlier that an enhanced timetable has been introduced to service 7, seeing later afternoon/early evening journeys) and it is very well patronised. In many respects, the increase in usage during the warmer months only serves to show how each route requires higher frequencies to cater for demand, but with GBC requiring at least 17 of its 20 MANs on a daily basis during the school term, there’s very little scope for enhancement and any additional investment has to meet HM Government of Gibraltar’s stringent sustainability criteria. CTL has quite a few spare buses during the winter months, I wonder if they’d lend GBC some Darts? Now there’s a thought.

Travelling to Gibraltar from the UK is only ever part of the transport experience. To read my blog detailing travel to/from Lincolnshire, please click here.

CORONAVIRUS: Very similar to the UK, HM Government of Gibraltar instigated a 'lockdown' from the end of March. Both GBC and Calypso services were effectively suspended until 1 June when they resumed. During the suspension, a skeleton service was operated exclusively for employees of Gibraltar Health Authority. Now, travel by bus is subject to social distancing and passengers are required to wear a face covering and use the on-board hand sanitiser.

2 comments:

Garry Luck said...

Very interesting and an excellent update to your previous pieces on Gibraltar, thank you.

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