I'd been following the developments from afar of the replacement of Gibraltar Bus Company's TransBus Darts with Caetano Nimbus 'Slimbus' bodies. As long ago as 2013, HM Government of Gibraltar had been planning for their replacements. Tender requests had been sent out and the Minister for Tourism, Transport and the Ports was mulling over the candidates.
In July 2015 it was announced that CaetanoBus had won the order to body twenty MAN Lion's from the German manufacturer's City Midi range. The finished product has seating best described as B26D, as Gibraltar Bus Company specified centre doors be included, to reduce dwell times while having a negligible impact on capacity (the Darts, while only having one door, were B27F).
In keeping with the outgoing Darts, the MAN Lion's City Midis are an identical overall length of 8.8m and are 2.3m wide. They're 3.1m tall and have a shorter wheelbase, measuring 3.6m. Yet they don't seem to bounce as much as you'd expect with so much front and rear overhang. They also benefit from climate control that seems far superior than that fitted to the Darts from new. I noted all twenty during my visit: G 5900-19 D. I stumbled across a slight layout differential. On at least one new MAN Lion's City Midi (G 5912 D was such a vehicle) the two sets of double seats on each side of the aisle immediately after the centre door were facing each other, so two on either side of the aisle were facing backwards. On the vast majority of the fleet, these seats all face towards the front in a regimented fashion.
Time was that the most southerly bus service in Iberia, terminating from where Africa can be seen, was operated by vehicles built in Guildford and bodied in Waterlooville. Sadly this ended in 2015. G 9512 D waits time at Europa Point on Service 2.
The first bus was delivered during the end of Summer 2015 with the balance complete before the end of the year. At the end of February 2016, fourteen of the Darts were sold to Calypso Transport Ltd, the private bus operator in Gibraltar, for a controversial £15,000 all-in. The government was immediately lambasted in the local media for selling them so cheaply, with critics citing an equally unlikely sale figure of between £10-15,000 each. Two more Darts were used for emergency evacuation training, one of which was deliberately smashed to bits on the runway. The outstanding two were used for training.
Calypso Transport operates full-size, ex-German MAN Lion's City single-deckers on Service 5 between the Frontier and the City Centre.
The introduction of the new MAN Lion's City Midis saw the end of the City Buses fleet name given to the Gibraltar Bus Company fleet, with the operator opting to refer to itself directly. Calypso Transport continues to trade as Citibus.
New in March 2004 to the newly-formed Gibraltar Bus Company is this Calypso/Citibus TransBus Dart (badged as a Dennis) with Caetano 'Slimbus' Nimbus B27F body. G 8174 A is one of only a handful of the original batch of 18 to still be operated. It is seen here at the Market Place working Service 5 to the Frontier.
A number of the Darts have been re-trimmed, re-panelled and re-painted into Calypso's house (red) livery and continue to ply their trade in Gibraltar to date. I noted ten, though I've since been told the operator runs 11 Darts, so of the fourteen originally acquired, three have been sacrificed to maintain the remainder.
Looking a little forlorn parked adjacent to Calypso's depot and still in its original blue livery was one of the two Darts used for training. It had recently been towed following breaking down. Parked next to it each night and seen during the day being driven with L-plates displayed, was the other Dart sold for training, also in blue. This parks next to the withdrawn one each night and displays a Gibraltar General Construction Company circular white sticker on the front.
On the subject of Calypso's depot, the operator has moved from what could be described very loosely as an operating centre in the main Waterport Coach Park to a makeshift depot where the old airport terminal building used to stand, adjacent to the RAF Air Traffic Control tower. The 'new' depot, comprising a prefabricated four-lane undercover maintenance shed, is reasonably large and demonstrates how many vehicles this private operator now runs - 25 by my reckoning, with the ex-Baghdad Leyland Atlantean still visible, though currently not operation. I'd been told that this was resultant on legislation introduced to the UK, and which Gibraltar domestic law was mirroring, that spelled the end to step-entrance local service operation. This has since been disputed. It hoped the Atlantean will re-enter service.
The reason for Calypso's move of premises became clear when I passed the site of the old bus and coach park at Waterport: it is now the location of multiple blue and white tower block apartments! The coach park now boasts 40 spaces and has moved to Reclamation Road, is situated underneath a new multi-storey car park and now named the Midtown Coach & Car Park.
Calypso has also invested in some nearly-new Volvo B9TLs with Unvi Urbis 2.5DD bodies. Previously operating the Madrid City Tour for Alsa, they arrived in Gibraltar around April 2017. They've been painted all-over red and have roll-back roofs, offering the open-top experience without the need to take upper saloon windows and bodywork away using an irreversible angle grinder! I noted all five in total, registered G 7301-5 E. These vehicles have an overall seating capacity of 73 and appear a little longer than the traditional UK long wheelbase, though this may be deceptive due to the narrow turns they buses have to negotiate.
The livery hasn't changed since these Volvo B9TLs were showing people round Madrid. In fact, in the right light you can see the outline of MADRID on the sides. Calypso/Citibus needed to purchase low-floor 'deckers to continue being able to operate double-deckers into 2018 since all those they operated previously had step entrances and could not be used.
These 5 'deckers have seen off all other operational 'deckers in the fleet - mainly ex-German MAN and Neoplan Skyliners. I didn't see the unique Leyland Olympian while I was there. This interesting bus was one of a batch of six prototype Leyland B45s (Olympian); all save the Gibraltar one were right-hand drive and Calypso's - delivered nearly new in the 1980s after unsuccessful spells as a demonstrator in Baghdad and Iraq - was built as a left-hand drive.
Calypso Transport has also introduced a new Service 10, which compliments its existing Service 5. Both operate to and from the Frontier. Service 5 continues to operate via the city centre and Market Place then via Waterport Road, North Mole Road and Europort Road to St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons, then to what is loosely referred to in their publicity (yes, they have a timetable now!!) as 'City Centre Terminus' via Europort Avenue, Queenway Road and Reclamation Road in a one-way loop as before.
Calypso/Citibus MAN Lion's City G 8993 C is seen here at the St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons stop. A quirk of Service 10 in the direction of the Frontier is that this is a request stop only for those already on board as it requires the bus to circle the roundabout more than once to then continue towards the City Centre.
Service 10 leaves the Frontier and omits the Market Place but follows the same route as Service 5 to St. Barnard's Hospital/Morrisons then via Bishop Caruana Road and Queensway Road before turning left and through the old wall at Ragged Staff Gates. The bus is now in non-full-size-PSV territory and turns right into 7th Rosia Battery, then left into Boyd Street which bends 90 degrees left and terminates at the first stop on Trafalgar Road. This stop is woefully short for a full-size single-decker (the Volvo B9TL/Unvi 'deckers operate on Service 5 only) and the back of the bus overhangs the junction to Europa Road. The return journey is back to Ragged Staff Road then as per the outward route until St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons. Here the bus turns right and operates via Europa Avenue and Queensway Road to Ocean Village (omitting the Market Place again) and as per the outward route to the Frontier.
This is Boyd Street Terminus, which is actually located on Trafalgar Road. Prior to Service 10's commencement, this area of Gibraltar saw no full-size buses! Seen waiting time is Calypso/Citibus G 8752 D, a MAN Lion's City that spent much of its life in Germany.
As I've mentioned, Calypso Transport/Citibus - established in 1970 - has a shiny timetable leaflet now with a route map that is fairly accurate, though sadly with a number of sloppy errors. One-way sections of route are not marked as such and the terminus stops in the City Centre (Service 5) and Boyd Street (Service 10) are denoted either on the wrong side of the road or the wrong road entirely. However, its nice to see Calypso produce a timetable, which incidentally conforms to the Gibraltar norm of having one timing per route (the first).
The Gibraltar Bus Company's timetables were more difficult to find. Usually I head to the Tourist Information Centre, which has moved from Casemates Square (now the Central Police Station) to the Gibraltar Museum on John Mackintosh Square. Rather than a glossy timetable book, I was given a colour photocopied two-sided sheet of A4 paper, with microscopic timings and the limited linear (literally) route maps for each service with every bus stop shown.
The major limitation with this otherwise exemplary level of detail is that the tinted bus shelters themselves (located at over 95% of bus stops in Gibraltar) are not named so the casual visitor or tourist struggles to know exactly where they're stood. This becomes even more hit-and-miss with the timings showing the commencement point and nothing in between. This is almost acceptable for relatively linear routes such as Service 2 (Market Place to Europa Point) but not for most of the others, circuitous as they area.
Service 4, for example, operates from Both Worlds (east of the Rock) to Rosia (south west of the territory) to an hourly frequency, or so my paper timetable and bus stop timings stated. This was shown as xx45 from Both Worlds. While stood in the Market Place one has to calculate how long it will take to arrive. xx00? xx05? In the end, the bus arrived at xx02 and soon after we were off. But at what time would we arrive at the Rosia Terminus? xx19 it transpired. Perhaps, as a guide, passengers need to look at the time of the next departure from Rosia Terminus (xx15) to establish the likely arrival time? Then, upon writing this up and using the Gibraltar Bus Company's website, it transpired that Service 4 is now operating to a 45-minute frequency, with differing timings! So both the publicity distributed by the Tourist Information Centre and the timings in the bus shelters are wrong.
The less than ubiquitous Service 4 is depicted here operated by G 9500 D and seen at Rosia, where I alighted to visit the 100 Ton Gun. Service 4 is the lengthiest route operated in Gibraltar and runs to an improved 45-minute frequency with just one timing point! This despite a total duration of 40 minutes at peak times.
It's a poor state of affairs, even if the company now offers a bus tracker service. That said, Gibraltarians are by their very nature a hardy bunch and they know the basic frequencies of their local bus services, so if they're making an ad hoc trip into town, they just wander to the nearest bus stop, no doubt conversing with many fellow locals en route, and await the next bus for their free trip into town.
As a rule Gibraltarians and members of the Armed Forces travel free of charge on local buses on The Rock. Everyone else pays for single journeys or day tickets 'Hoppa'. Calypso/Citibus additionally offers day returns. Again, GBC's publicity was wrong (their website that I visited posthumously was correct) when stating prices. However £2.50 for a Hoppa (£3 on Calypso/Citibus) is exceptional value for money. Calypso/Citibus charge £2 for a day return. Discounts exist for OAPs and proof of age doesn't appear to be needed. OAPs don't qualify for a 'Hoppa' fare on Calypso/Citibus.
Since 2013, a few changes have taken place to Gibraltar Bus Company's routes.
Service 1: Market Place to Willis's Road Terminus via Morrisons & Cable Car
A third bus has been added to the operation of this intricate service, negotiating some of the most impossible gaps as it winds its way up the side of the Rock. The basic timetable is unchanged, with departures every 30 minutes from 0720 (Mon-Fri)/0845 (Sat & Sun) to 2100 except on weekdays an additional bus has been added, meaning departures from the Market Place are xx15, xx30, xx45 and from Willis's Road Terminus at xx00, xx15, xx45. Yet the additional working seems to be only when a spare bus is available. What would the Traffic Commissioner in the UK make of such an arrangement? On Friday and Saturday evenings a Service N1 operates, taking in the above route with some deviations to cover other areas not served by the N8 (see below). Gone are the Mercedes-Benz 515CDI/Unvi buses and in are some new Ford Transits (see below).
Seen at the Willis's Road Terminus on 26 April 2018 is G 4240 E, a Ford Transit 'coach' (it has seatbelts added). Its air conditioning was poor though a trip on G 4238 E thirty minutes later proved that when maintained properly it can be very cool inside.
Service 2: Market Place to Europa Point via Cable Car
Four buses are now needed to run this service that operates to the southern tip of Gibraltar, from where Africa can be seen. There is now a bus every 15 minutes (an improvement since 2013's three-bus-an-hour offering) on Mon-Fri from 0640 to 2110 and every 30 minutes (2 buses) from 0715 to 1945, 2010, 2030, 2100 Sat & Sun.
Service 3: Referendum House to South Pavillion Steps via City Centre & Rosia
Three buses are needed to operate this route to a 20-minute frequency on Mon-Fri from 0630/0640 to 2100 and every 30 minutes (2 buses) from 0800/0830 to 2100 on Sat & Sun. I believe this has seen an improvement since 2013 on weekdays from a 30-minute, 2-bus working.
Service 4: Both Worlds to Rosia via City Centre & Cable Car
Two buses continue to be needed to operate this route now the timetable has been recently increased to a bus every 45 minutes. It's probably the longest route in Gibraltar, operating east-centre-south west from 0845-1830 daily. The Both Worlds Terminus is now actually at Both Worlds; previously buses terminated immediately south of the Caleta Hotel. Now buses head almost to the entrance of Dudley Ward Tunnel, where there is a turnaround marked as a bus stop (it's not) and return to the former terminus with new stops on the coastal side of the road.
Unlike on the Darts, the financier of Gibraltar's nationalised bus operator is made clear on each and every one of the Gibraltar Bus Company's Euro6-rated MAN Lion's City Midis.
Service 7: Mount Alvernia to Fish Market Steps (circular)
This was a fledgling service in 2013, operating with a spare 8-seat minibus. The same still applies today, although the bus has increased in size. The route is a one-bus, off-peak working with departures from 1000-1430 Mon-Fri (1100-1430 Sat & Sun) then a gap until 1600 when there is a bus every half-hour until 1900 and utilises one of the company's newer Ford Transit minibuses.
Service 8: Both Worlds to Reclamation Road
In some respects this is the eastern half of Service 4. In 2013 this service received a 2-bus, 30-minute frequency and this has been increased on Mon-Fri to three buses an hour (0700 to 2100), though to an awkward timetable: departures are ostensibly every 30 minutes at xx00 and xx30 from each end with an additional departure at xx15 from Both Worlds and xx45 from Reclamation Road (this being a third vehicle working). On Sat & Sun a straightforward 30-minute frequency from 0700-2100 is employed. The additional working was noted in operation on more than one occasion. On Friday and Saturday evenings Service N8 operates. This includes a number of routes in the Both Worlds/Rosia/South Pavilion/Europa areas and utilises one MAN.
Service 9: EuroTowers to Rosia via City Centre (circular)
This is a relatively new service, introduced since 2013. Initially, the service was trialled to gauge its effectiveness and has since been adopted long-term. It's a circular service starting back from the Market Place at EuroTowers (opposite McDonald's) to Rosia via the route of Service 4, and appears to require two buses. The frequency is every 30 minutes from 0700-0830, 0910-1740, 1800-2100 Mon-Fri and 0700-2100 Sat & Sun. At weekday peak periods a third vehicle appears to be needed.
With a centre door now taking up the space of what could have been two additional seats, reduced dwell times mean more standees. The restrictions in central Gibraltar as well as in the Rosia area mean that the Gibraltar Bus Company cannot operate buses longer than 8.8m (I was told 9.1m was possible for the turn from Main Street into Governor's Lane). Despite being over 2.5 years' old, the interiors of the MAN Lion's City Midis smell fresh and new. This is the interior of G 9509 D on a busy Service 2 from Europa Point to the Market Place.
The trio of Unvi-bodied Mercedes-Benz 515CDI minibuses have been withdrawn and sold and Service 1 is now operated by a theoretical trio of Ford Transit minibuses with automatic sliding side entrance doors and laminated route numbers stuck to the roof, immediately above the nearside corner of the windscreen. Three, maybe four, have been acquired new and those I saw are registered G 4236-40 E. The buses were adapted to have their side doors automated, but these regularly fail and the bus needs to be taken out of service. They are M15 (G 4238-40 E) with one M10L (G 4236/7 E) offering wheelchair access. I also saw but didn't note down the registration of a shorter wheelbase Ford Transit, with possibly 8 seats.
Working on the assumption that low-floor access was now mandatory for all local service operation on 'The Rock' since the start of the year, as with the UK - which, incidentally, I'd been told was likely to be the case five years ago - I had pondered how the Gibraltar Bus Company was able to operate such a blatantly non-low-floor bus in passenger-carrying service. Once on board, the answer struck me: seat belts. As we revealed in the LEYTR last year, the fitment of these restraints ensures classification as a coach, which is a vehicle type not required to conform to the new accessibility regulation in the UK until 1 January 2020. As I was told Gibraltar would mirror UK domestic transport legislation I expect this to be the reason. If they've chosen not to then the fitment of seat belts is a happy coincidence.
I noted four long-wheelbase Ford Transit minibuses in operation with the Gibraltar Bus Company during my stay in April 2018. Three are allocated to Service 1, with G 4238 E seen here about to undertake a journey on that route to the narrow and hilly Willis's Road near Upper Town. The fourth is allocated to Service 7.
All buses in Gibraltar now operate in a predominantly red-based livery. This is a shame for two reasons. Firstly, it makes it more difficult to differentiate Calypso/Citibus from Gibraltar Bus Company and this is an important distinction to make as neither accepts the other's tickets. And secondly, I felt the vibrant light-blue livery adopted by the Gibraltar Bus Company since its inception in March 2004 was different, tasteful and made their fleet of TransBus Darts stand out from the crowd.
While the Gibraltar Bus Company's buses haven't got any longer, they have become a little more modern and a little less British. Seen here 'Out of Service' at the stop opposite St. Bernard's Hospital/Morrisons is G 9509 D sporting the new-look red livery since September 2015, which replaced the striking blue that adorned the Darts.
FLEET LISTS (believed to be a comprehensive list as at 25 April 2018)
Gibraltar Bus Company Ltd
G 9500-19 D MAN Lion's City Midi/CaetanoBus B26D
G 4736/7 E Ford Transit M10L
G 4738-40 E Ford Transit M15L
G 96381 Toyota Coaster M16
G 1168 B Toyota Hilux pick-up
G 2481 C Toyota Hiace staff bus
Un-ID'd Ford Transit 8-seater
Even the Gibraltar Bus Company's ancillary/reserve vehicles have lost their blue livery. Seen in the Market Place is G 1168 B a Toyotal Hilux (top) and G 96381 a Toyota Coaster (bottom).
Calypso Transport Ltd (Citibus)
G 59681 Leyland Atlantean/Willowbrook (withdrawn)**
G 77960 Leyland B45 (Olympian)/ECW (withdrawn)**
G 6995 B MAN SD202/Waggon Union (withdrawn)
G 8991-4 C MAN Lion's City Urban
G 4710 D MAN Lion's City
G 5146/7 MAN Lion's City T
G 8750-2 D MAN Lion's City++
G 7301-5 E Volvo B9TL/Unvi Urbis 2.5DD
G 8169/74/6/8/80-3 A TransBus Dart/Caetano B27F
** While G 77960 (Olympian) was not seen in service or noted on Calypso's premises for my week-long stay, I've since been informed the bus is operational and could be undergoing MOT preparation. G 59681 (Atlantean), while withdrawn, may be similarly treated in due course.
++ G 8750 D carries an all-over advert for MoneyCorp Bank.
Has it been bought? Is it set aside for a new buyer to come and collect it? Is it for sale? Could it be destined for the scrap yard? Or has it simply been withdrawn pending MOT preparation? This ex-Baghdad bus - a Leyland Atlantean with Willowbrook body - has been an iconic feature of Gibraltar for many decades.
Also to note is that ex-Gibraltar Bus Company Darts G 8170/7 A are now owned by Gibraltar General Construction Company Ltd; G8170 A was noted in regular use as a driver-training vehicle, while G 8177 A is in a withdrawn condition. Both continue to wear their original blue livery.
Blue can still be seen on The Rock!
They may not look their best today but I think it was an unwise decision to walk away from the blue livery which was the face of Gibraltar Bus Company since its inception in 2004. Seen here (l-r) are G 8170/7 A against the RAF Air Traffic Control building, directly opposite their former home. They're owned by the Gibraltar General Construction Company.
With the Tin Lids now at an age where I'm less likely to be divorced for heading back to Gibraltar more frequently, I'll aim to keep abreast of public transport developments here more closely in the future.
Update 1: Calypso are operating 11 ex-GBC TransBus Darts. It is understood the 11th Dart is G 8184 A.
Update 2: Following a report that Calypso doesn't need to operate low-floor buses in passenger-carrying service, it would appear, if true, that Gibraltar has either chosen not to link directly with the UK's domestic PSVAR legislation or has given the company special dispensation. Gibraltar Bus Company is, however, operating in a fashion that mirrors the requirements of UK domestic law.