A customer’s perspective of evaluation buses

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Delegates to the Australian Bus and Coach Conference in Canberra were treated to an unusual bus show presented by the ACT Government Operator – ACTION.

Over the past twelve months ACTION has purchased six buses for evaluation alongside its new Renault/Mack PR100.2s. For the benefit of operators from around the country, ACTION assembled the buses at its new Tuggeranong Depot and conveyed delegates to the depot and workshop in BUS 905, the latest Renault/Mack Mark II and BUS 808, a Mark I version of the PR100.2.

Whilst operators throughout Australia regularly have purchased one-off buses for evaluation, it is believed that this is the first time that a group of rigid buses have been purchased to operate alongside each other in the one fleet. (Brisbane City Council has purchased several articulated buses for evaluation.) ACTION will soon be calling tenders for the supply of buses to replace the MANs. Irrespective of the outcome of that tender, it is believed that all the evaluation buses will be sold in the next year.

THE BUSES

In this report TA proposes to examine the features of the evaluation buses and the new Renault/Mack Mark IIs from a passenger perspective. Aspects of the vehicle designs to be considered are:

– Access – step heights, floor levels, hand rails etc

– Comfort – seating, suspension, ventilation, noise levels etc

– Passenger information – destination signs

– Other facilities such as stroller accommodation

– Overall styles of vehicles including interior and exterior colour schemes.

Comments will be made in fleet number order:

 

– 730/731 Leyland Lynx with Leyland UK body.

– 732 Scania N113 with Ansair Kingston body.

– 733 Scania K113 with Volgren body.

– 734 MAN SL202 with Ansair Tullamarine body.

– 736 Mercedes Benz O.405, PMC Sydney body

The buses make an interesting comparison because five of the six have bodies developed for other operators while the MAN is fitted with a body having close links to that developed for the Renault/Macks being delivered to ACTION.

Bus 730/731 – Leyland Lynx
These 11.2 metre single door, 47 seat buses were diverted to Canberra from a large order for West Midlands Travel, Birmingham. Only minor modifications were made to the body to meet ACTION requirements. All large windows have opening hoppers and the seating layout at the front has been altered to accommodate the stroller rack. A push-out rear window is fitted. Alnor, Sydney, installed the driver air-conditioning. The Lynx are powered by a Cummins L10 engine developing 157Kw (210BHP), coupled to a 4-speed ZF auto gearbox.

Bus 732 – Scania N113
Bus 732 is a 42 seat Scania N113, originally part of an order for Metro Hobart and delivered to Canberra after driver air-conditioning and a conventional driver-operated centre door were fitted. Apart from these two modifications, 732 is virtually a standard Hobart bus minus Metro?s green stripes. It was the first kneeling bus with ACTION. The Scania engine develops 189kW (210bhp) and is coupled to a Scania 4 speed automatic gearbox

Bus 733 – Scania K113
The K model has the same engine as the N series, only mounted in a north-south direction as opposed to the east-west (transverse) direction in the N chassis. This bus also kneels. Bus 733 has a 49 seat body, the first 12.2 metre unit in the ACTION fleet and the first all-aluminium body.

Bus 734 – MAN SL202
This 43 seat 11.7 metre unit is powered by a 177kW (240bhp) engine and a 3 speed Renk transmission. Apart from the front and rear, and the doors, the body is similar to the Ansair-built Renaults. 735 was to have been a second MAN SL202 with Ansair body. However, ACTION cancelled the order late last year.

Bus 736 – Mercedes Benz O405
Bus 736 is a Mercedes-Benz O405 with an 11.7 metre PMC160, 47 seat body, and an extension of the order for Sydney STA Buses. However, the ACTION bus has different seats and destination signs to those in Sydney and a luggage rack is fitted. The Mercedes-Benz has a 177Kw (240bhp) engine and a 3-speed MB automatic transmission.

ACCESS
According to TA measurements, the Leyland Lynx 730/731 wins the low floor height stakes, with a height only just below the normal Scania N. However, when the Scania kneels it achieves a much lower height and the Lynx is relegated to second place. The two Lynx and Scania N have only one step inside the bus to the saloon although the Scania seats can only be accessed by way of a plinth. Next lowest floor height is the MAN (which is almost the same height as the Renault/Mack) followed by the Mercedes Benz and a poor last is the Scania K. The Volgren Scania 733 has two quite high steps by comparison with all the other buses.

The Interiors of the Lynx and the MAN are spacious with flat floors gently sloping to the rear – easily the best interior layout. Engine intrusion into the saloon of both Scanias and the Renault/Macks mar the interior of these vehicles with high steps to the rear seat, especially on the Renault/Macks – a totally unsatisfactory feature of a city bus. The Mercedes Benz layout is satisfactory, despite the coach-like interior and high floor line.

Provision of hand rails within buses varies enormously. Other operator/manufacturer ideas make an interesting comparison with existing ACTION Buses. Large numbers of vertical stanchions and an abundance of rails around the front platform has been a standard feature of buses in Canberra since the MANs with VOV bodies started arriving in 1975. The number of vertical stanchions, including those at doors are:

– 730/731: 11

– 732: 4

– 733: 8

– 734:14

– 736:14

– Standard:14

Clearly the Hobart 732 is deficient in terms of passenger accessibility inside the bus, and though the Leyland Lynx has only three less stanchions than 734 or 736, the difference is surprisingly noticeable within the Lynx because of the placement of the stanchions, especially at the front of the bus.

COMFORT

Seating standards vary considerably. The level of comfort offered by seats is obviously a very personal matter and assistance in compiling this report has come from a number of commuters in Canberra.

The Lynx are fitted with very basic, flat, shallow seats with no hip or arm rests. If built in Australia the Leyland seats could be described as a utility school bus model. The only redeeming feature is the attractive blue and red woollen mixture upholstery. It is interesting to note that in its publicity on the new Lynx, ACTION refers to the seats and says ‘We think we can do better. Also in the utility seat category are the green vinyl upholstered seats in the N series Scania 732. Although the seat backs are slightly contoured, there are no hip rests on most seats, the exception being those at the front of the bus. Unlike the Lynx which have upmarket fabric upholstery, the Scania’s vinyl looks cheap. The facing seats at the front are too close together for comfort.

Seats in the Scania K113 are interesting being of Keil manufacture in Germany. They are similar to the individual moulded bucket seats in the Sydney STA PMC160 Mercedes Benz O405. Although somewhat austere in appearance, the Keil seats provide excellent lateral support and are surprisingly comfortable on indifferent road surfaces. They also offer more leg room and/or more seats, being more space conscious than traditional bench seats. They are easily the best seats of the group.

Bus 734 has the standard Ansair VOV Mark I seat as fitted tot the Renault/Macks and the earlier Mercedes Benz. Its origins go back to the original VOV MAN buses and is still very functional after 22 years but is becoming dated and now is eclipsed by the Keil and similar seats. Bus 736 is fitted with the standard Sydney STA/PMC seat, itself a local derivative of the VOV seat. Seats in 733, 734 and 736 were all upholstered in Frontrunner. 733 in blue and 734/736 in grey.

It is interesting to speculate why operators are willing to accept a bus costing over $200,000 fitted with utility style school bus seating.

Whilst all buses were equipped with an air bag suspension, the Scanias appear to have a softer, quieter ride. All evaluation buses were rated superior to the Renault/Macks unusual air bag/coil spring front suspension and air bag/leaf spring rear suspension which, while reasonably comfortable, is very noisy. The disconcerting rattles from the rear suspension are somewhat reminiscent of cheaper buses in the 1950s and 1960s.

All buses had similar levels of window ventilation with top sliders or top hoppers. The Lynx lacked roof hatches – a serious deficiency in Canberra’s hot summers.

As in the determinant of comport levels, noise is a factor which affects humans in different ways. It is disappointing that some manufacturers appear to have made little attempt to suppress noise on their buses. This is surprising in view of current environmental issues relating to noise. TA did not have access to noise measuring devices so the following report is very subjective in nature.

The Lynx appeared to rank part way up the scale- they were not noisy buses nor were they exceptionally quiet. The N Scania was an extremely quiet bus, possibly the quietest bus in the ACTION fleet and set the standard for all other buses. The K series Scania was not as quiet as the N, but was pleasantly quiet except when the exhaust brake was applied. By comparison, TA considers that the Renault/MACK engine noise was second quietest to the N Scania but the overall ranking of the Renault/MACK was below that of both Scanias and the Lynx because of the intermittent chassis/suspension noise on the Renaults.

Then we come to the two noisy German buses – the MAN and the Mercedes Benz. It was disappointing to ride in two such noisy new vehicles in 1991. Both appeared to emit more noise than the original VOV buses of the late 1960s which may be partly due to the addition of engine retarders. The retarder on the MAN is especially noisy.

PASSENGER INFORMATION

When delivered, the buses were equipped as follows:

Bus 730/731 – 4 track number blind on the front, side and rear with very large numerals on the front, destination roller blind on front only.

Bus 732 – 3 track route number blind on front only, destination roller blind on front only

Bus 733 – 3 track route number blind on front and side, destination roller blind on front only.

Bus 734 – Alcatel STC Cannon dot matrix route number and destination sign on front, route number only on side

Bus 736 – Alcatel STC Cannon dot matrix route number and destination sign on front, route number only on side.

In April 1991, the roller blinds on 732 were replaced by Alcatel STC Cannon electric destination equipment and a route number was added to the side. The next month saw 733’s roller blinds being similarly replaced by Alcatel STC Cannon displays.

All the dot-matrix displays are clear and exceptionally easy to read under all lighting conditions, day and night, but it is disappointing that the displays on the MAN and Mercedes Benz do not take advantage of the wide, deep headers on these vehicles, particularly the MAN. In its homeland, some superb electronic displays are available for the MAN with very large numerals and letters.

Of all the roller-blind displays, only the Lynx meets contemporary standards as regards route numbers. The destination blind fitted to the Lynx, the standard unit as supplied to the Renault/Macks is woefully small and its weakness is highlighted when viewed against the West Midlands two-level display in similar buses. Ever since the lynx entered service in Canberra this year, the rear route numbers have not been used ? another serious omission from passenger information displays. Whilst the roller blind route numbers on the Renault/Macks are clear the destination blind is totally inadequate in width and height. Coupled with the lack of side destination signs and rear route numbers on both the standard Canberra bus and most of the evaluation buses, it is believed that passenger information displays on Canberra buses are still quite some way from meeting acceptable community standards.

OTHER PASSENGER FACILITIES

The Leyland Lynx has a considerable number of innovative passenger features:

– Coloured zigzag edges on steps to aid the visually impaired

– A raised metal tag on the front doors to indicate to blind passengers the number of steps on the bus

– Bell buttons which are palm operated to aid personals with arthritic fingers

– Brightly coloured, textured hand rails to aid elderly and disabled passengers.

The Lynx bodywork shows a degree of flair, matched in part by the Australian Builders to varying degrees. The Mercedes Benz and K Scania have some coloured hand rails.

Luggage accommodation varies both in size and location. The Lynx has a very shallow stroller racks at the front which has limited potential use because of it s small size. Scania 732 has a large luggage bay immediately forward of the rear door, to encourage persons (In Hobart) to exit via the rear doors. However, most mothers with young children and elderly passengers still prefer to exit at the front under the watchful eye of the driver. Therefore, the placement of the stroller rack half way down the bus is not particularly useful, particularly in Canberra. Nor is the design suitable for bags and briefcases because of a paucity of railings. Other buses have reasonably sized racks at the front.

Passenger communication with the driver had improved considerably in recent years with the rapid adoption of European style bell pushes on stanchions. Rather oddly the N series Scania from Hobart has bell pushes on the wall panels together with an old-fashioned bell cord hanging from the roof. If there was to be a criticism of the other buses, the Lynx receives the only other adverse comments ? there were insufficient bell pushes,

Body Design

All the evaluation vehicles are attractive vehicles in their own manner and exhibit and unusual blend of international styles.

The Leyland Lynx were designed and built in England. The angular style of its high roof body is very noticeable. The large windows and high ceiling give the bus a light and airy feeling. The two Scanias have Australian designed bodies with both displaying a very different approach to city buses. The N series Scania has an Ansair body using the VOVII body design features, a body derived from the VOVI which was originally developed by Ansair for the ACTION Mercedes Benz contract in 1981. Features of the VOVII come from the Renault/Mack contract for ACTION. Sections of the Tasmanian Ansair body are derived from the standard Scania bus in Sweden.

Volgren have built a fairly conservative, yet pleasing bus with a style which will not date quickly.

The MAN and Mercedes Benz are both built on chassis which share common components in Germany and Australia. In Germany both buses look very similar – possibly the biggest difference is the badge and grille. In Canberra, however, the MAN and Mercedes Benz are entirely different buses. Mercedes Benz 736 is fitted with a PMC160 Body, one of the last to be built at the Sydney factory before its closure late last year. It is an unusual body for a city bus. Gently rounded in all profiles, the PMC160 is more akin to a coach body. Whilst very stylish, the body is excessively high for a transit bus, especially as it is built on a relatively low floor chassis. On the other hand the MAN is equipped with an Ansair version of a VOV Mark II body having an impressive front end and a neat side profile. The rear end of the MAN is a week feature, being very bland.

COLOURS

The Leyland Lynx were imported in the West Midlands livery of grey with dark blue trim and thin red lines. Both buses remain in this livery. While restrained the livery is quite distinctive but it lacks freshness, being dominated by the grey. The interior colour of the Lynx is dominated by the very attractive ark blue and red seat upholstery which relates well to the exterior livery. Contrasting with the orange stanchions are the mottled grey side panels. The floor is a red brick colour Treadmaster which looks very grubby when a few weeks old. All up the Lynx has a nicely coordinated colour scheme even if it is somewhat subdued by the large expanse of grey.

Scania 732, the Ansair built N series, is in factory white, hardly the most inspiring livery, but in the context of an evaluation vehicle, it is distinctive. The interior colours are subdued but well coordinated. The dull olive green vinyl seats tone in with a brighter green rubber floor which has the plinth edges trimmed in yellow. The side panels are cream.

Interior colours on Volgren’s Scania 733 are also well coordinated. The blue Frontrunner upholstery looks good against the black rubber floor and mottled grey side panels and roof. Bright yellow stanchions contrast well with the rest of the interior. The exterior livery of the Volgren is somewhat complex. The front end is bright yellow which extends around the middle of the bus to the rear. Below the yellow is grey and above the yellow is an off white. Orange/red and blue band separate the grey and yellow and sweep up around the back of the bus to the rear window. Thinner versions of the orange/red and blue bands appear on the roof. It is quite an interesting livery but overly complex and does not quite hit the mark.

Easily the freshest and most attractive exterior livery is the one borne by the MAN. With just a hint of influence from the German VOV Mark II vehicles, 734 carries a relatively simple but sparkling 1991 impression of the ACTION colours. Predominantly white, the MAN has two broad bands around the base of the bus below the rub strip – the bottom one of blue topped by a light orange which is supposed to be the ACTION corporate ‘yellow fire’. These bands are repeated above the windows but in narrower stripes. These lower bands continue around the front and back of the bus. The white stripes highlight the freshness of the livery. Unfortunately, the interior does not measure up to the same standards. The inside of the MAN is essentially the same as the Ansair bodied Renault/Macks ? brown rubber floor, grey Frontrunner upholstery, brown hand rails and buff side panels. A very sombre, uninspiring and poorly coordinated interior.

The Mercedes Benz has quite an extraordinary exterior livery. All over fluorescent yellow has been relieved by six large flashes, resembling gift wrap ties, painted in a salmon pinkish colour ? two big squiggles on each side and one smaller squiggle on the front and rear Not a ‘real’ corporate livery but certainly one which attracts attention. While the interior of the Mercedes Benz is finished in subdued colours, the entire livery is well coordinated – grey Frontrunner seats, grey side panels and black rubber floor which contrasts well with the yellow hand rails.

The exterior liveries of the MAN, the Scania K and the Lynx are superior to the ACTION livery as displayed on the Renault/Macks. In recent years none of the ACTION liveries have related well to the body design. In most cases colours have stopped at the edge of panel joins, showing no relativity to adjacent sections of the bus, with the result that there are ‘slabs’ or ‘blobs’ of colour. Whilst the livery of the Mark II version of the Renault/Mack is superior to the original model, it remains poorly coordinated and degrades what are quite handsome vehicles.

Summary

There is no single outstanding bus from either a chassis or body viewpoint. Some of the buses are very noisy, some have high floors. Some buses have inadequate head room at the rear. Some have austerity seats with no lateral support, other have seats too close together. Some buses have insufficient hand rails and excessively small destination signs and route numbers.

A combination of the best features of the Lynx, the Scanias, the MAN , the Mercedes Benz and the Renault/Macks and the best features of the bodybuilders Leyland UK, Ansair, Volgren and PMC would produce an excellent city transit bus. We will wait with interest to see what combination of the above is next delivered to ACTION.

Article by Ian Cooper.
Source: Transit Australia, September 1991