NUMBER ONE
FOR COACH & BUS

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December 06 2017
By Tim Deakin

Tim is the Senior Journalist at routeONE magazine is also the title’s chief test driver, with considerable vehicle knowledge


Custom-built Scania ADL Enviro400s hit the road

It’s not all standard spec for the big groups. Stagecoach has demonstrated that by taking delivery of 11 new Scania ADL E400 ‘deckers at Preston depot that include a number of customer-friendly aspects

The buses are largely standard on the outside, but custom-built within

In recent years the bus industry has clamoured for vehicles of a higher standard than those that went before. Comforts that would have been considered cutting-edge a decade ago are now often standard, so how do operators respond to ever-increasing passenger expectations?

The answer is to develop even more imaginative ways to differentiate their flagship vehicles and routes. Stagecoach was an early adopter of that concept, and its Gold brand has steadily and successfully grown across the UK.

But now its Merseyside, Cheshire and South Lancashire subsidiary has gone even further. It was given practically a free rein on 11 Alexander Dennis Enviro400-bodied Scania N 250 UDs for route X2 between Liverpool and Preston, and the results are impressive.

“We had an almost blank canvas to come up with something that can perhaps be considered even better than Gold,” says MD Rob Jones.

“The idea is to attract non-users. They may not travel with us every day, but by offering this product, we stand a chance of converting them to occasional passengers at least.”

End-to-end, the X2 takes over two hours, but it has an important mid-point traffic generator in Southport. Commuters have been considered in the buses’ specification, but seen as most significant for growth potential is the leisure market.

To that end, differences to Gold specification include a silver-based internal colour scheme, additional leg room, a number of tables, and - perhaps most significantly - individual, coach-like passenger service units (PSUs) on the rear of every high-backed seat that have led to a major improvement in upper-deck ambience.

The buses entered service on Monday, and they have thrown their hat into the ring for the title of the UK’s best. Last week, routeone put one to the test.

Build

Scania’s N 250 UD chassis has the 9.3-litre DC09 engine rated at 250bhp coupled to a ZF EcoLife six-speed automatic gearbox. “The new buses replace older Scania Enviro400s, and over more than eight years and around 800,000km, we hardly laid a spanner on their engines,” says Engineering Director Tony Cockcroft.

Power is from a 250bhp DC09 engine; Around 7.5mpg is expected return

“We favour Cummins-engined integrals for urban services, but Scania is ideal for high-speed work.” They will see plenty of that, getting numerous opportunities to reach their limited speed of 62mph over the three or four round trips they work daily.

The outgoing Euro 4 buses have returned 7.2mpg. Tony is hopeful that - with the Euro 6 driveline including electric radiator fans - that figure will increase on the new ‘deckers.

Unlike the DC09 at its higher ratings, the 250bhp variant retains EGR to go with the standard SCR. As is the Scania standard, it is on the offside with the gearbox opposite. The radiator is above, meaning that the lower deck has no rear window.

Externally, the body is Stagecoach standard except for one thing: The destination displays. White LEDs are fitted all-round, including the full-width rear screen. That, says Rob, is to aid visibility in darkness.

One thing he would like to see on future buses is the Enviro200’s curved rear window extension into the roof line incorporated into the double-decker. At the moment, it cannot be.

Passenger access

Entry arrangements are typical, with a two-piece door and a book leaf manual wheelchair ramp. ADL’s ‘squarecase’ is fitted. It is a compact affair, but easy to use with clear step edges.

Handrails throughout the bus are finished in silver, and a further noticeable item is the staircase modesty glazing. It has blue LEDs at the bottom, which reflect throughout.

Separate buggy and wheelchair bays are provided. The latter has only one tip-up seat, as part of the back rest. That’s deliberate, says Rob, and it is intended to dissuade other passengers from occupying the area.

The buggy bay has three tip-ups, but on future deliveries they too may be deleted for the same reason. Priority seats are clearly marked, and lower deck headroom is excellent.

Upper deck ambience benefits from a general lack of upright handrails

Upstairs, just two vertical handrails are present, at the top of the staircase. That’s because the high-backed seats have individual grab handles in the aisle-side top corner, and bell pushes have been relocated to the seat-back service units.

Removal of the vast majority of handrails does wonders for ambience. Not only is the upper saloon much more airy, but it is also completely quiet, as no squeaks are generated by body flex on poor surfaces.

All bell pushes are wireless; those on the lower deck are mounted more traditionally to satisfy PSVAR. All generate a traditional two-bell chime, and the driver also benefits from a red light within the cab to remind them that a passenger wishes to alight.

Passenger comfort

Chief attraction of the new ‘deckers is their passenger environment. Although 10.9m long, they have just 67 seats thanks to enhanced legroom and the addition of tables. 21 standees can be carried.

Most seats are from Lazzerini, although both of the rear fivesomes and those over the axles downstairs are ADL’s standard type, albeit upholstered with the silver E-Leather fabric to match the remainder.

The rear-facing pair over the nearside back wheels have been sacrificed for a small table. With space ahead of it for a bag, and a USB charging point, it’s an ideal place to work. On the offside, access to the emergency door precludes doing the same.

Three full-size tables, each with a cluster of USB points and a bell push, and a smaller one behind the staircase, are upstairs. The full-size tables have two fixing points but the smaller example is attached only to the side wall. Stagecoach will likely add a further brace to it.

Elsewhere, USB power comes as part of the PSUs where present, or within the sidewalls. 3G wi-fi is also fitted and the buses have a dash-mounted unit that drives app-based tracking and real-time information.

Full-length strip lights are fitted, complete with a dimming facility, and each PSU has a down-facing light. Heating is by blown air, and particularly on the upper deck, it proved to be highly effective.

Small table on the lower deck rear offside complements four upstairs

Bins are a further addition. One is mounted at the bottom of the stairs, and two are on the upper deck between the ‘back to back’ seats around tables.

Flooring throughout is silver wood effect, and to complete the coordinated effect, the ceilings are a discrete grey.

Driver comfort

ADL has done much for the driver in its MMC range. The Enviro400’s cab is well laid out and there is useful storage for a running board, a flask and a smaller cup in the door; when the cab door is open, an interlock prevents handbrake release.

Pulled-back A-pillars enhance visibility, but the nearside mirror is tricky to see in low sun thanks to reflections in the anti-assault screen. To the offside A-pillar is fitted a coach-like microphone that is connected to speakers throughout both saloons.

Reflections apart, the view to both sides is good, and Stagecoach has specified a sun blind on the signalling window to to complement the one in the windscreen. The latter is a little difficult to reach, however.

Switches are rocker types and two coat hooks are fitted. The seat is from Chapman. It is not sprung, but instead it has two large dials on the side via which the driver easily sets his or her preferred ‘ride height’ when taking over.

The handbrake is more conveniently sited than previously, and adjacent to it are cruise control buttons. They remain connected, although there was no opportunity to try them out.

Performance

The bus was driven from Gillmoss depot to Liverpool’s Pier Head and back via a route that included dual-carriageway and urban running. The EcoLife is set for economy, and gearshifts come very early. That takes the edge off low-ratio performance, but at higher road speeds the engine is allowed to rev harder. Overall, acceleration from a halt is fine, and there is no doubt that the buses will take high-speed running in their stride.

Typically for a Scania, the bus handles superbly and it displays no over- or under-steer. Equally predictably, the ride quality is firm, but Liverpool’s pothole problem is well-known and no chassis will do much about most of them, and firm suspension means negligible body roll.

The buses are set for a hard life on the high-speed X2 from Preston depot

Scanias have traditionally enjoyed superb brake feel, and the N 250 UD is no exception. It is possible to stop very smoothly with only a minimal amount of care, and that will be particularly welcomed where some passengers are discretionary travellers.

Manoeuvrability is good, as displayed when negotiating a carelessly-parked open-topper on the waterfront. Care is required when getting very close to obstructions, however, as the mirrors protrude some way.

Verdict

As explained by Rob, the X2 has been successful since launch, but to continue its record of strong growth, buses that provide an exceptional passenger experience were required.

Between them, Stagecoach and ADL (and Scania) have delivered on that. But this project is no reinvention of the wheel. Instead, it represents a relatively simple yet highly-effective development of an existing specification.

USB charging and wi-fi are now almost expected on new buses. Likewise, tables are not a radical idea. But coupling those with new concepts such as PSUs and the widespread removal of upper deck vertical handrails gives a further improvement in ambience that users will like.

These are excellent buses, and ideal for the X2. Stagecoach is ensuring that they will remain in good condition by instigating an enhanced cleaning regime for them; while that represents an additional cost, it is, says Tony, seen as the correct thing to do for such highly-specified vehicles.

The high-spec gauntlet has been thrown down once again. Who will come up with the next new idea?



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