Wednesday, 7 November 2012

At the Show 2012-style

Euro Bus Expo 2012 was far more interesting than predicted. Smaller than usual and with fewer Day 1 visitors, there was nevertheless plenty on offer to ensure a return visit today. So, what was around at the show?

An Eye for an i

This year, all eyes were on the Plaxton stand. This undoubtedly held the vehicle attracting most attention at Euro Bus Expo 2012. It was the Plaxton Elite i (on a newly revealed Volvo B11R chassis). The i is for interdeck and at 13ft tall, it’s almost as high as a lowbridge double deck of some 13ft 6in. Why not go the whole hog? Luggage stowage, perhaps.

Movable barrier at the top of the Elite i's stairwell

The Elite i’s long, too, at the maximum permitted 50ft. It will enter service in 2013 along with 10 others for Stagecoach’s Megabus. Megabus is no stranger to 15m Plaxtons but the Elite i increases the capacity to up to 75, with seating “upstairs” using the entire 50ft length.

Always crowds around the Elite i, the star of the show

The windscreen and below is unmistakably “Elite” but the “upper deck” does look a little grafted on, to some eyes. No one, however, would deny that this was anything other than stunning.

There were some compromises, though. Most noticeable was the way in which wheelchair passengers would be carried, next to the driver. Expect some final tweaks to the layout, because the show vehicle’s platform didn’t appear particularly wheelchair-friendly. The layout certainly obviates a lift system and doesn’t even need a ramp but when Wrightbus designed its Eclipse Commuter, to much the same specification, disabled people complained that they were left vulnerable and alone at the front by the drafty door, while everyone else was raised above them in lofty luxury and warmth. The difference with the Elite i is that passengers who can mount the stairs, when seated, cannot see wheelchair passengers.

The second disadvantage was that those accompanying any wheelchair passenger immediately behind the driver have height restrictions immediately, as they do upstairs in the first 10 seats. And the luggage racking overhead was an annoyance when leaving the seats.

Rhymes with Ferocity?

The Optare Metrocity was the biggest surprise of the show. Optare had kept this well hidden, till yesterday. But how do you pronounce it? Metro.City seems the best guess. Or is it Metrocity that rhymes with ferocity or atrocity?

The Metrocity seems to be basically a Versa, given away by the slight telltale internal rise & fall over the front axle. It’s a simplified design that cuts short the trademark sperm-like front end and reduces the rounded tush a little. Its purpose is to appeal to the London market. Its side elevations use flat rather than slightly curved Versa panels, to reduces costs. The front is somewhat reminiscent of the Tempo SR.

Indeed, there was no Tempo on display. Instead, Optare opted for a 40ft (11.7m) Versa. Four are already in service with Arriva but the show vehicle was destined for Go North East. It seats up to 44 and with less weight and superior fuel consumption now makes the Tempo redundant unless, of course, you really do need a heavy- rather than welter-weight.

Frontal treatments of the Versa (left) and Metrocity

In terms of design, why stop Metrocity at the M25? In spite of Versa’s popularity (of its own accord and over Tempo), there are those who argue its front end is both overdesigned and, well, a little pointless in protruding a foot more than really necessary. 

China in Town

The prize for the most extravagant launch went to King Long for the debut of its XMQ6130Y coach. Here was a fully stage-managed Chinese mini-show that surpassed anything ever seen at the show (with the exception of previous King Long exploits). The internal design was fine, even if the lavatory was small & difficult to get to, even by Chinese standards. I’m nevertheless not quite sure what to make of King Long’s product. Will they last the course? Is the build quality there? Mind you, we all said that about Japanese car imports in the late 1960s/early 1970s and look at them now...

A Table for Four

The most unusual vehicle at Euro Bus Expo 2012 must’ve been an ADL Enviro400 for Newport Bus. The trim was opulent, with leather (or faux leather) seating in two-tone green with decent pitches (although not high backed). There was also extravagant mood lighting. Capacity below stairs was 27+2.

The Newport Bus E400 next to a slightly restyled Enviro500 (destined for Hong Kong). Note the sharper offside upper deck window

Upstairs, well, have you ever seen tables on a *bus*? There were four, each with sunken recesses for drinks, to promote group or family travel. Upper deck seating was for 41. Was this for private hire? The bell pushes and real time announcements said “service bus” and an ADL employee thought that it was to go into service on the X30 between Newport & Cardiff direct (unless you know differently).

Bonny Baby?

Does anyone know of any Optare Bonitos on the road? Access is straight off the pavement and even without kneeling, it offers a remarkably low entrance. There’s (an optional?) lift at the rear and tracking within, offering considerable flexibility.

Bonito’s made in the Netherlands for Optare, using elements of a Fiat chassis cab but bodywork to Optare’s design. It’s aimed at welfare and dial-a-ride operations. Perhaps it isn’t as cute as the former Alero but the Bonito is refreshingly better designed than your standard wheelchair lift high floor mini.

And, with a capacity of 16, it seats two more than Alero. Let’s hope its reputation is considerably better. Interestingly, the body’s made of single moulded plastic.

Generation Game

The Bova Futura design is one of the most familiar on the road. It was one of the faces of the 1980s that changed our perception of coach travel. The basic design’s been the same ever since and in 2012 we see the latest generation, new to the UK, in the shape of three for the show, including one for long-term Futura customer, Johnson’s.

It has now lost its more bulbous front but is still recognisably “Futura”. It’s recently been rebranded as the VDL Futura. It’s almost 10 years since VDL took Bova.

Special K

Here’s an interesting one. A cut down Mercedes Benz Citaro, the Citaro K. Same attractive, new, more human & less bland front end, something that you might have expected the National to evolve into eventually, had it lasted. Same decorative shaping over the wheel arches. Just 5ft shorter and with a shorter wheelbase.

It seats 30 or thereabouts. This was a demo & development vehicle but salesmen tried to persuade that the K would be competitively priced in the popular minibus sector. Really? C’mon, guys. I guess, though, that you get the extras you pay for.

The internal arrangement sees a non-standard wheelchair area, without the usual “ironing board”. Nearside passengers benefit from a better view, of course, but is this arrangement VOSA approved? There was quite a step to the rear and the engine is housed in a floor to ceiling cupboard, though this doesn’t impact as much on space as it sounds. The very front seat backs were very low and other seats racked back more than most. Panel fit wasn’t always quite to Mercedes’ standards.

Cabrio Cameo

Vying with Newport Bus’ ADL E400 for the most unusual vehicle was first time exhibitor Omnibus Trading, with its two convertible cabrio minibuses on Iveco Daly chassis. This wasn’t the first time that cabrio minibuses have been on display and I suspect that the market is still small. The vehicles were nevertheless good looking and unique.

One of these vehicles was showing prominently the words “First Cabrio”. A new subsidiary of First Group? Na. It was operating for a French company, Gilbert James Voyages, not yet a known First unit.

Launching Forth

There were two other of the new B11s from Volvo at the show, aside from that under the Plaxton Elite i, above. One sported a not unattractive and a refreshingly styled Sunsundegui front end and the other one was very Jonckheere.

Expect the B11 to become very popular in the UK.

Going to the Max

Wrightbus had a new, longer version of its Streetlite integral, called the Streetlite Max that appeared alongside a standard Streetlite but one with electric traction. The Max competes head-on with the new, longer Versa, above. Both are of similar length, the Streelite Max being about 8in shorter and seating one more passenger (at a capacity of 45 that may even be termed class-leading, or so the salesman said). It was of “door-forward” design and therefore the most flexible of the two Streetlite driving potions.

Next Generation Buses

MAN was showing the first of about 20 biomethane-fuelled buses for Arriva. We’ve been here before, of course, using buses with large roof tanks. In keeping with Stagecoach & National Express, Arriva too is liverying its eco-friendly buses differently. Only Arriva’s is in starker contrast to its existing livery and it certainly stands out.

Reading Bus was to have taken delivery of the Scania/ADL CNG bus on display, as one of 19. Either my photographers missed it or it wasn’t there.

Volvo showed off its 7900 hybrid in LHD format of the type ordered by Lothian Buses. This was a world first. It looks very European and will look good on the cosmopolitan streets of Edinburgh, Scotland.

My thanks to those who supplied images for this post (my camera wasn’t working)


Tim Burns said...

Interesting article.

Lothian Buses had some Trident double decks some years ago with a few tables on normal service. Latterly, only those vehicles on the Airlink express to the Airport have them

Anonymous said...

The Elite i does not work for me. And stagecoach need to update their interior design, it looks dated on bus use and very cheap looking on a coach.

Anonymous said...

The Elite dash panel is too Enviro like, this may be acceptable for an Express service but holiday makers may mistake it for a service but,,this does happen,,I worked for the private hire dept of a 'bus" company, when a DP Olympian turned up on a job, many would not be pleased!

Anonymous said...

Metro City was an eighties Austin Rover product!!

Scania had a gas chassis on their own stand which I think was for Reading

Anonymous said...

I cannot imagine the ADL Enviro400 being used for the Newport Cardiff run as it is quiite a short journey.

I suspect they may use it on that route initially but may have it for a future long disdtance route. They have toyed with a Swansea to Newport Route

Neil said...

"Upstairs, well, have you ever seen tables on a *bus*?"

Not sure if it classes as a bus or a coach (they were kind-of hybrids), but the old Trent TransPeak vehicles used in the late 90s had a few tables.


Anonymous said...

"Metro City was an eighties Austin Rover product!!"

Indeed. Let's hope the much vaunted new Optare decker won't be called the "Allegro". ;-)

"Elite i" is a crap name too, should've stuck with Interdeck.

As for the facelifted Sideral, that's absolutely hideous, it almost makes a Levante look pretty.

Anonymous said...

There are some really ugly designs out there. Almost all of these are wince-inducing.

Petras409 said...

Has somebody stuck the sticker on the wrong way round?

On Plaxton's Elite i, if the moveable barrier is to close off access to the stairs, then surely Open should be to move the slider to the right and Close should be to the left. Or have I misunderstood the purpose of the whole photograph?

Anonymous said...

Deckers on the X30 Newport - Cardiff is probably just the right distance. Who in their right mind would want to travel Newport - Swansea by bus, the delays travelling cross city in Cardiff alone would make the journey a hopeless proposition. Given the way BSOG and concessions are going in Wales at the moment new service speculation is probably the last thing on operators minds.

PeteB said...

I like the Bonito, reminds me of the Mk2 Transits used by Transit Holdings in the minibus era.

Anonymous said...

Changing the subject - Stagecoach has bought Bluebird of Manchester. That should be a good one for Busing to blog.

Steve said...

Regarding tables in buses, you should try the rather nice Volvo Geminis on First Beeline's 702 Green Line route.

Neil said...

"On Plaxton's Elite i, if the moveable barrier is to close off access to the stairs, then surely Open should be to move the slider to the right and Close should be to the left. Or have I misunderstood the purpose of the whole photograph?"

I guess the moving bit is the chrome bar, not the whole thing?

Not sure what the point is, really. You don't get many people taken by surprise and falling down a bus or coach stairway very often, and a single bar won't protect the driver from someone who *wants* to get down and cause trouble.

As for the Stagecoach interior, I like it, nice rich colours.


James said...

The E400s that Connex currently run in Jersey have tables upstairs.

The Bonito looks interesting, particularly as an alternative to lots of scraped Darts on the 21 route (St Helier-Victoria Village). Are HCT buying them?

Anonymous said...

That Arriva EcoCityblivery looks like a rip off of the Dutch Conexxion colours.

Will said...

Whilst looking very impressive on the outside, I have to agree with others in that the interior on the Elite i does not give the same 'quality' impression - it is certainly functional!

That said a) we shouldn't critise plaxton that much as it is the Stagecoach 'ryanair' spec; b) it we be a brave Mr Souters business acumen.

I also think the platform area needs some attention.

Personally, I can't see why a normal DD coach wouldn't have worked

Will said...

Does this mean that the Tempo SR is no more? Certainly no one on the Optare stand were prepared to discuss it.

In terms of development costs vs number of buses sold, the Tempo SR must rival the Borismaster

Shame, as personally I thought aesthetically it is a nice bus. That said, considering all the problems TB have had I understand why it has been retired early.

Petras409 said...

Neil said

"I guess the moving bit is the chrome bar, not the whole thing?"

Yes, I thought it was and that's why I felt that the sticker was giving the wrong directions. Surely not Open to the left. That closes it!

And Close to the right - no that opens it!

Big G said...

It may be me but I did not see a signed emergency exit anywhere on the offside of the Megabus Elite. As I say it might be my tired old eyes as I can't believe that there isn't one.

I would like to see the sliding canopy tried on a bigger open top bus. I think it's a great idea.

Anonymous said...

The onl;y thing I can think of is that "open" means opening the barrier and "close" means closing the barrier. Otherwise, as others have commented, nothing makes sense in the first photo.

Michael T said...

A good day at EuroBusXpo today. The presentaion on branding by Ray Stenning and Alex Hornby was absolutely spot on, as one would expect.

If we, in the bus industry, want to encourage people to leave the car occasionally and use the bus, we need (in Ray's words) to 'create desire'.

Of all the buses I boarded and sat on today, including the NBfL, the lack of legroom issue was once again obvious (I'm 6ft 2ins). Seats didn't seem to be spec'd that well. Individual, maybe, but not that well padded or supportive. None of these buses made me desire to travel on them! Nothing bus-wise had a 'wow' factor.

The new Citaro K is still a bit of a mess towards the back - seats on various levels and all that. They could do well to overcome that and provide a more logical layout. Remember, customers rule, not engineers!

Bus manufacturers and many operators have a long way to go if they want to create that desire and encourage a bit of modal shift; they could make a really good start by having a chat with Ray!

Neil said...

"Yes, I thought it was and that's why I felt that the sticker was giving the wrong directions. Surely not Open to the left. That closes it!"

You're right. Perhaps the whole thing is mounted backwards.


Anonymous said...

Well said Michael T @ 22:07.

The phrase "create desire" isn't one I'd use, but I understand what Ray Stenning meant and agree that it's what the industry need to do.

However, having created this desire, an experience with the manufacturers current offerings isn't, I feel, going to keep people coming back.

All the flash-looking, high-frequency buses in the world aren't going to entice people out of cars if they give you back ache.

Neil said...

Seat width is another big problem that is rarely addressed - 2+1 is one solution, wider coaches like those found on Stagecoach X5 another.

Anonymous said...

Presume this means coaches in general - I'm sure those on the X5 aren't any wider than standard.

Neil said...

I am pretty sure they are. They certainly look a bit bulbous from the front.

The seats are quite wide with a wide centre armrest.


Anonymous said...

Re the Elite i

10 out of 10 to Plaxton for actually building something that the customer wants.

I have to say that I feel the end product looks truly stunning.

Watching the comments on here unfold (especially about the stair bar), I am sure that the boffins at Plaxton are as pleased as punch that the only fault found by Omnibuses bloggers are just that; a non legal requirement option specified by the customer.

Looking 'beyond the bar', the only downsides to the vehicle are that specified (or not so) by the customer.

Firstly the interior is no different to a refurbished Premier inter-urban. Perfect for the job in hand but with coaches (and the art of operating same), the real money is selling off the vehicle when the finance is paid off.

Secondly, the aditional exit on the nearside..... why? If Stagecoach are intending to dip their toe in the English Channel and go head to head with Eurolines, surely a continental exit would be the answer?

A cracking motor I have to say, but these models have a dated interior before they hit the road and a poor spec. With £10000 more spent on each one and that nearside door removed, Ensign could sell them off quicker than you can say 'Megabargain!'

My prediction is that these 'blue elephants' will be what is known in the coach side of the industry as a 'TO THE DEATH' motor. Cascaded down and down and down until you see them operating a village service around Perth circa 2032 with a dent on each corner before being weighed in as they are of little use to the average coach operator.

Annon said...

Another set of buses with tables, albeit single deckers:

The Optare Tempos used by Regal Busways on the "Essex Pullman" 1 series services between Chelmsford and Canvey Island

Tables or not, still a very much less upmarket feel than a Stagecoach Gold fitting out

Anonymous said...

Don't think the X5 coaches are any wider. Surely they are the maximum 2.55m wide as per C&U regs, unless, of course, anyone knows different?

Neil said...

Done some research and I guess I got this wrong. However the seats definitely seem wider than normal. Possibly, then, this is at the expense of a slightly narrower aisle.


Anonymous said...

I suspect Stagecoach is not too worried about resale after a ten to twelve year life clocking up 200k+ miles a year.

Regarding the interior, I agree it is not to top flight touring standards, but then on the market they are to be used, customers generally want a nice clean and comfortable journey for the cheapest possible price - the dark seats and easy clean areas help the operator achieve just that.

The advantage of the Elite i is just 12 seats less than a decker for the best part of £100k less.

Toilet seemed a tad tight to me and the design is more Panther i than Elite i, but as a tool to move lots of folk, it looks hard to beat.

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"Anonymous said...

Metro City was an eighties Austin Rover product!!

Scania had a gas chassis on their own stand which I think was for Reading"
That it was my friend, that it was...

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