This year we have a bumper crop of volunteers, with 10 minibuses, minicoaches, buses and coaches all lined up for six months of scrutiny. Which will emerge as the most reliable and best value? Mel Holley outlines the runners and riders
Our major survey of PSV maintenance experience is poised to start. Since our Maintenance Diary debuted a decade ago, we’ve monitored 68 vehicles from as many operators to find out what it’s really like to live with them.
And, the results have been a revelation – not only for readers but for the volunteer operators taking part too. The discipline of tracking the performance of one vehicle from your fleet can reveal things about your operation that you didn’t know, enabling you to improve your efficiency.
For 2016 we’ve got a mix of coaches, buses and minibuses of various ages. Each month our volunteer operators will report the mileage, duties worked, fuel, oil and AdBlue consumption along with details of maintenance or repairs.
Not only is there a spread of vehicle types, but ages too, with brand new vehicles, alongside older ones that already have many miles under their belts.
One of the newest is Stanley Travel’s Yutong TC9 midicoach. Seating 35, it was recently delivered to the northeast firm and needs little introduction as it’s only just appeared in routeONE for a Test Drive (23 March).
Even newer is a Volvo B11R with a 12.2m Plaxton Panther body with EYMS, best known for its bus services, which has only just been delivered. It for the East Yorkshire Coaches fleet of 14 vehicles all based in Hull, used on private hire, day excursions, holidays and short breaks. EYMS has another 14 coaches, but these are all on National Express work.
It is one of EYMS’s first non-National Express coaches with internal and external CCTV, and has been fitted with GreenRoad telematics (as have all its coaches) since arriving. The livery will be the traditional pre-NBC East Yorkshire coach colours of primrose and Riviera blue.
In contrast, our third coach is also a Volvo B11R, but with the highly cost-effective Sunsundegui SC7 body, and run by Cozy Travel of Royston, Hertfordshire. It completes our Euro 6 line-up and the former demonstrator was bought from Volvo Coach Sales on 5 February 2016. Says Transport Manager Gary Titmuss: “We part-exchanged a 2004 MAN Neoplan Skyliner; we had found that group sizes had dropped so we were using the Skyliner less.”
The SC7 has been bought mainly to over Cozy’s UK and European tour work. Within seven days of taking delivery it was on its way on a nine-day ski tour to Austria.
Cozy’s, a family business of 30 years, runs 22 vehicles from minibuses to double deckers; most of the coaches are Volvo.
Completing the coach section is Centaur Coaches’ Scania OmniExpress, bought new in 2013 as part of fleet expansion. It came with a two-year Scania repair and maintenance plan, which finished in August 2015. All routine maintenance is now carried out in-house.
Predominantly used on commuter services to London and local private and contract hire work, it’s occasionally used on international tours. Founded in 1975, with its main depot at Crayford, Kent, Centaur has a mixed fleet of just over 100 minibuses, buses and coaches.
Matching the coaches, we’ve four minicoaches/minibuses in this year’s survey. Paul Herdman is a big fan of LDV Convoys, which he’s run for the last 20 years on school contracts: “They were simple to work on and the shortest wheelbase 16-seater on the market, so they tended not to get so many bodywork knocks and scrapes.
“We took the last one off the road in December 2015, but if they were still making them I would still be buying; especially with the automatic plug doors that we used. Alas you can no longer find a tidy one so we had to sadly move on.”
Instead, Brecon-based Herdman Coaches now has three LDV Maxus, with the 120PS, rather than 95PS engine and manual front door. The 2009 example offered for the survey was bought from an auction on 17 December 2015. A Tawe/Cymric conversion originally owned by a church group, it had only covered 15,500 miles.
Adds Paul: “The drivers like it but we are hoping the mild winter will continue as we know the front wheel drive will be poor in the snow and ice as it spins in the wet on sleep hills, so I guess it will eat the front tyres a bit.”
More regular fare is provided by Plants Luxury Travel of Cheadle, Staffordshire, with a Mercedes-Benz 516CDi Sprinter, converted by EVM. It’s one of four of the model, ranging from a year to three years old that the firm operates. The 16-seater selected was bought new in September 2014 and is used on private hire work. The firm mainly operates minis, with the largest being an Unvi 41-seater.
Providing a contrast is mid-Wales-based Vamplew Delta Services’ Sprinter. Says owner Jon Vamplew: “It was bought new direct from Cento in Romania (a Mercedes-Benz van partner)â€¨ to replace a DAF 40-seater used on schools.
“Having run coaches between seven and 15 years old, we think a brand new vehicle with the reassurance of a warranty, means that the depreciation will more than balance out what we are currently spending on repairs.” Vamplew has two vehicles, the other is a 12m 2001 Setra 315 GT HD.
Completing the minicoach quartet is Enigma Travel’s 16-seater 1998 Iveco 49-10. Director Tim Waller has been in the industry for 24 years and the family-run Colchester firm was set up eight years ago. It runs three vehicles; the others are a 29-seat 1998 Plaxton Cheetah and a 48-seat MAN Noge. Schools contracts and private hire are the main work.
Two very different buses are in this year’s survey. The newest is an ADL Enviro200 with BorderBus, first registered on 1 April 2011. It was previously with Whitelaws, and was bought from Mistral in November 2015, since when it’s been retrimmed in e-leather by Eurogroup/Essex Upholstery.
It is used on route 146, a commercial service from Southwold to Norwich via Kessingland and Beccles.
BorderBus, owned by Andrew Pursey, started in January 2014 and now operates 16 buses from Beccles in Suffolk, on a mixture of commercial school runs, a contracted school run, a contracted bus service (both for Suffolk CC) and the commercial route 146.
Our final vehicle is a 2006-built (2007-registered) BMC 220SLF with BMC Condor bodywork operating with Merseyside-based PeoplesBus.
Bought in October 2013 from York Pullman to strengthen the single-decker PSVAR-compliant fleet, says MD Andrew Cawley: “We wanted something that was ‘bomb proof’ and easy to maintain.”
It was initially used on Merseytravel contracted service work and schools. Since the fleet size was reduced, it is now used primarily on a school service each morning and afternoon and the PeoplesBus Cruise Connector service linking the Ferry Terminal to the City Centre.
It was fitted with an Avid E-fan last year and in January was fitted with a Green Urban Technologies SCRT system. Let’s hope it lives up to expectations.