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Meet the voice on Inverness's new all-electric bus fleet

By Neil MacPhail

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This is bus driver Louise Macintosh – the voice of Stagecoach's shiny new electric bus fleet in Inverness.

The city became the UK's first fully electric city bus network with the arrival of 25 new Chinese Yutong E10 buses.

Passengers were highly impressed by the smooth running, comfortable buses, complete with USB charging points throughout the seats.

Then to their surprise, the zero-emission vehicles suddenly started "talking" to them in Louise's gentle Inverness accent, announcing the up-coming destinations as the buses travel along... "Next stop Lochardil Green Drive," and so on.

There are also rolling screens so hearing impaired passengers can see where they are heading for.

And its all done with a link-up between the Highland capital's buses and space, with signals flashing between the vehicles and global positioning satellites (GPS) flying in circular orbits 20,200 km (about 12,552 miles) above the earth.

Louise Mackintosh the destination announcer. Picture: James Mackenzie
Louise Mackintosh the destination announcer. Picture: James Mackenzie

Louise (58) said: "I was approached by one of the managers and asked 'Do you want to be the voice of the Stagecoach buses?'

"At first I thought it was a joke, but I was told that I am very clear spoken and very Inverness as well, and I agreed to do it.

"It involved sitting in a small office at the depot all day with sheets of paper in front of me as my script. Jay Anderson (Stagecoach operations manager) was on a computer and when he gave a signal I read from the various destination lists.

"They did something technical on the computer so that my voice recording would be set off when the bus reached certain points."

Louise added: "I have heard myself on the bus, and that was quite strange at first, but if the system doesn't work, I suppose I can just talk 'live' myself!"

The mother of two daughters from Cradlehall obviously likes a challenge, and after being ill with cancer for a time, stepped back from her barber shop business in Culloden, now run by one of her daughters.

Louise did a spell of voluntary work before tackling an arduous oil industry survival training, but decided she fancied being a bus driver.

"I'm a people person and I love driving, so after two weeks training in Elgin and two weeks under mentoring in Inverness that was it, I was with Stagecoach."

Another Stagecoach driver was a key person in the GPS wizardry for the talking buses, 20-year-old Magnus Bolton based 150 miles north in the Orkney Islands.

When not driving the late night bus, Magnus's other duty is relief commercial assistant, and his computer expertise saw him become involved in programming the software required for the Inverness system.

He said: "I think it is a great system, and a huge benefit to those with visual impairment, and of course the many visitors who will not know the area."

Some of the Inverness electric fleet.
Some of the Inverness electric fleet.

The electric buses can operate from morning to evening on a single daily charge, and feature USB charging points at each seat, interior LED lights and contactless payment facilities.

They are now operating on all city centre routes.

The £10.8 million investment was supported by the Scottish Government’s Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund (ScotZEB).

With no diesel engine noise or vibration on the Yutongs, passengers get a quieter and smoother journey, so Inverness is a wee bit quieter and will have improved air quality.

With over 47,000 people living in Inverness, swapping a few journeys a week to zero-emissions bus rather than using their car could make a huge impact on the overall carbon footprint of the city said Stagecoach, adding that since they use 100% renewable energy across the business, there are no carbon emissions generated from the charging process.

"We are working with our suppliers to ensure the batteries for the vehicles have the best lifespan possible, including implementing a process for bringing the vehicles in at 30-40% battery to be topped up, rather than letting them run down fully, as this prolongs the life of the battery and therefore reduces waste," said a spokesperson.

Yutong, the Chinese manufacturer of commercial vehicles, also has businesses in construction machinery, real estate, and other investments.

As of 2016 it was the largest bus manufacturer in the world by sales volume.

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