MAN 19.360/Beulas Spica C body

Wheelchair accessible coaches represent a niche part of the private hire and tour market. Runcorn-based Anthony’s Travel has recently grown its presence in this sector, taking delivery of a lift-equipped Beulas-bodied MAN 19.360.

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Wheelchair accessibility has often been filed under ‘too difficult’ by many coach operators. There’s no real reason for that, and a number of bodybuilders and lift manufacturers offer products which meet the demands perfectly. It’s also important to remember that when accessibility is not needed, the coach can do the same work as other members of your fleet.

Award-winning operator Anthony’s Travel, based in Runcorn, purchased its first accessible coach in 2012. Like the vehicle tested, it was a Beulas-bodied MAN, and the operator quickly found that it developed a niche of its own.

On the back of that success, MD Richard Bamber placed a repeat order with BASE Coach Sales for another Beulas Spica C-bodied MAN 19.360, complete with side-mounted lift and a variety of other adaptations to suit its role.

Delivered in early June, Richard kindly made the new coach available for a routeone Test Drive. It is the first Euro 6 addition to the Anthony’s Travel fleet, and continues the operator’s strong affinity for MAN products.

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The medium-height Spica C is well-known in coaching circles and is rated highly by Anthony’s Travel. Power comes from MAN’s Euro 6 10.5-litre D2066 engine driving through a six-speed ZF EcoLife automatic gearbox.

In the past Anthony’s has specified the AS-Tronic automated model, but Richard notes that fuel consumption is less influenced by the driver’s style with an EcoLife.

A compact PLS wheelchair lift is mounted on the nearside behind the front axle. When not in use, it is stored at the bottom of the luggage lockers beneath a carpeted shelf, allowing bags to be stored on top of it.

Wheelchair lift is simple to use
Wheelchair lift is simple to use

Locker doors are one-piece and powered, and their operation is accompanied by an audible warning.

One-piece locker doors are powered
One-piece locker doors are powered

A small flap is opened to access the lift, which is controlled by a unit attached to a cable almost three metres long.

This, says Richard, has been incorporated based on experience with Anthony’s earlier wheelchair accessible coach, and allows the lift operator to move freely without worrying about the cable being long enough.

Wheelchairs are loaded through a side door, which again has been specified based on experience.

Its curtains are on runners top and bottom to prevent them from being blown around when the door is open, and a heavy-duty latch is present at the bottom to prevent gusts of wind damaging the hinges.

Elsewhere, Beulas has made good use of the available space to maximise luggage capacity. A water tank is built into the stairs to the continental door, and even at Euro 6 the chassis has enough room to accommodate below-floor storage behind the offside rear wheel, an area used by Anthony’s for cleaning materials.

Access to the engine, radiator and exhaust is through large top-hinged panels, and a hidden tow-bar has been specified.

Engine access reasonable for Euro 6 coach
Engine access reasonable for Euro 6 coach

This was added by BASE prior to delivery and sits behind a flap in the rear bumper. It is reached in seconds, requiring the removal of four screws and repositioning of the numberplate.

Exhaust system comparatively small
Exhaust system comparatively small

An offside cab door is provided, although it won’t be the easiest for larger drivers to negotiate. Two small and slightly awkward steps are present and the door’s opening angle is restricted, although it will be useful in some circumstances. It can be deleted from the specification at no cost.

Offside driver's door is unusual
Offside driver’s door is unusual

A 480-litre fuel tank sits between the front wheels and can be filled from either side.

The AdBlue tank is immediately behind the continental door. Originally it required a small locker door to be opened, but at Richard Bamber’s request BASE installed a more conventional flap to allow easier access, one of a number of bespoke modifications the dealer carried out prior to delivery.

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Passengers boarding through the front door will find a four-step layout which is little different from those in many other coaches. A useful addition is a handrail sited where the courier would otherwise rest his or her feet, a big help for infirm customers.

Two steps lead from the platform to the sunken gangway, and the rear two rows of seats and floor-level toilet are accessed by a further step to clear the engine. The toilet has been specified with accessibility in mind; Richard felt that disabled passengers would be unable to reach a sunken cubicle.

This coach’s ace up its sleeve for accessibility is, of course, its lift. Richard explains that it is used just as often to load and unload passengers who aren’t wheelchair-bound but are unable to negotiate steps.

The lift has various handrails and built-in safety measures and is large enough for a wheelchair user to be accompanied. It docks perfectly with the door. A total of four wheelchair users can be carried, with the front eight nearside pairs of seats on tracking and easily removable.

The door cannot be opened from the inside. It is not an emergency exit, meaning it can be locked when not in use. An external CCTV camera is mounted above the door, monitoring lift operation.

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The Spica C has much for its passengers, able-bodied or not. The 49 seats – a figure which drops by up to 16, depending on how many wheelchairs are carried – are finished in a red moquette with substantial white leather inserts in the headrest and shoulder support areas.

Well-appointed cabin comes complete with rear toilet
Well-appointed cabin comes complete with rear toilet

Lap belts are fitted, complemented by drop-down tables, footrests and aisle armrests. The aisle seat in every pair slides apart to give passengers more space. Recline is good.

Entertainment comes from a Bosch CD and DVD system. Two monitors are present, both fixed. One is at the front above the windscreen, the other above the continental door at head height.

When not otherwise in use, the front monitor displays a feed from the front-mounted CCTV camera. The Synectics CCTV system includes a microphone above the driver which records all conversations and this has, says Richard, proven its worth many times over in other members of the Anthony’s Travel fleet.

The hard drive is particularly well-hidden, being mounted out of harm’s way in a small external side locker immediately behind the offside driver’s door.

Nine 240v sockets are fitted in the saloon and they have a high-quality, polished steel look. They are controlled by a master switch in the cab which also warns the driver of any overloads of the inverter. The rear toilet, reached through a sliding door, is noticeably easier to access than a sunken unit.

The coach’s servery and microwave are unusually placed. The former sits beneath a pair of seats adjacent to the centre stairs, and to use them the courier must descend the steps.

Novel placement of servery
Novel placement of servery

In a similar location is a microwave, which again requires the user to climb down towards the continental door.

The microwave is fitted primarily for the crew’s benefit when laying over, says Richard. Also present is a deep fridge within the dashboard.

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The most noticeable element of this coach’s cab is its door, which dictates the placement of a number of controls.

The handbrake is sited further back than is usually the case and out of the driver’s sight, although it is easily accustomed to.

The door has a large signalling window, which is electrically powered and with ‘one touch’ control. The door seals very well, with no perceptible draughts or wind noise even at speed in poor weather.

The Isringhausen seat is comfortable and includes all the normal refinements and adjustments, including a two-piece backrest for added flexibility.

Cab is a pleasant place to be
Cab is a pleasant place to be

A hands-free microphone is present. Access for drivers who choose to board by the passenger door is very good, helped by the gear selector being a small rotary switch to the right of the steering wheel, which has a good feel.

Unusually, a 240v socket is present in the cab, which will be appreciated. Three cigarette lighter-style sockets are also fitted.

Mirrors are adjusted electrically and the driver is provided with a comprehensive heating and air-conditioning system.

Ample storage is present, with two lockable drawers in the dash complemented by a pair of secure lockers above the cab and courier seat respectively.

A universal fitment across the Anthony’s Travel fleet is Alcolock UK’s handset, which prevents the engine being started before the level of alcohol in the driver’s breath has been deemed satisfactory.

On the Beulas, its remote-control sized handset is mounted on the A pillar, and the user must blow into it for five seconds.

It then displays the result and, if acceptable, allows the engine to start.

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At 10.5 litres the MAN unit is larger than a number of other engines found in two-axle coaches. Its 360bhp output is not excessive, but the 1,800Nm of torque delivered from 1,000rpm is substantial. As with most MAN engines, it is quiet both at idle and under load, and refined.

Selecting a gear is only possible with the footbrake firmly depressed, and the EcoLife unit is equipped with ZF’s Neutral Bus Stop function, deselecting drive when the handbrake is applied to save fuel.

This means that when the handbrake is released the coach doesn’t ‘creep’.

To avoid a slight jerk, it’s a good idea to depress the accelerator and cause re-engagement of drive momentarily before releasing the handbrake.

Visibility from the cab is good and its large signalling window proved its worth when paying the Wallasey Tunnel attendant. As is always the case, gullwing mirrors give an excellent view down both sides of the coach, but a quick check of the blind spot gives reassurance when moving away or changing lanes. The fully-automatic gearbox shifts imperceptibly and allows excellent progress to be made when accelerating, as demonstrated by the timings displayed on the fact panel.

The EcoLife’s standard-fit topographical sensing software takes into account power demands and gradients when determining shift points.

Climbing towards Runcorn from junction 12 of the M56, it took the engine speed to almost 2,000rpm, allowing the coach to keep up with cars on the A557.

A powerful retarder is controlled by one of three chunky stalks and is easily capable of bringing the coach down to walking pace, proving useful when descending into the Wallasey Tunnel. The variable cruise control is also a boon to the driver, and demonstrated its worth in a 50mph section of roadworks on the M53.

Manoeuvrability is very good thanks to a tight steering lock. Combined with the rear-mounted CCTV camera feeding to a dashboard screen, it allowed a three-point turn to be made in a car park with total confidence and ease on the driver’s part.

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This is a bespoke coach and has been constructed from the outset to the requirements of Anthony’s Travel based on past experience. Both Beulas and supplier BASE have incorporated modifications to the standard Spica C specification to satisfy the operator, and that attention to detail helps make it an impressive offering.

Panelling gives good scope to apply branding
Panelling gives good scope to apply branding

The MAN chassis is capable and willing and the Beulas body is an attractive setting in which to travel. Internal noise is low and the automatic gearbox contributes to a very smooth ride. It’s a solid vehicle, and if you’re in the market for a coach of this nature, the Spica C-bodied MAN will keep your passengers happy.

“It suits us down to the ground and is a great product,” says Richard Bamber.

“The build quality speaks for itself, and when I next purchase new, the Beulas will definetely be a contender in a three-hourse race.

“I’d buy another with no hesitation if accessible workloads dictated. The important parts of the deal are MAN and BASE, and I get great service from both.”

AnthonysMANFactBox

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