Scania OmniCity double decker

Although the Trident and B7TL dominate ex-London stock looking for new homes, once exhausted their places will be taken by other models.

Among those will be the double-deck version of Scania’s OmniCity, which has proven a popular buy in the capital. .

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The first of these to hit the used market are several returned off-lease to Santander. Purfleet-based Ensignbus is handling their sale and Operations Director Ross Newman kindly made one available for a secondhand test drive. The bus is a two-door, Euro 4 model, and entered service in August 2008.

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The bus is typical Scania and heavy-duty, tipping the scales at 12,020kg unladen.

Bus is large but well designed
Bus is large but well designed

It has a solidly-built feel throughout, with things such as doors, the bonnet and various access flaps closing with a satisfyingly robust clunk.

Space beneath the bonnet is relatively limited and components are crammed in, which may have implications when heavy work is necessary.

Space at a premium in engine bay
Space at a premium in engine bay

The engine and transmission are mounted transversely; Scania’s nine-litre power unit is noticeably larger than those in both the B7TL and Trident, but has only five cylinders.

The radiator sits above the engine at the offside. It faces forwards, with a fan behind it drawing air through a large side-mounted grille. Its position appears born of necessity, but delivers the dual benefits of receiving a reasonable airflow and avoiding road dirt from the rear wheels.

Radiator is mounted out of harm's way
Radiator is mounted out of harm’s way

The latter, from experience, is not something which agrees with Scania cooling systems.

Diesel is added at head height behind the cab. Besides a conventional filler, there is also a high-pressure nozzle.

Diesel added at head-height behind cab
Diesel added at head-height behind cab

Inside, the bus is well put together. It has been well used, showing 269,000 miles, and the on-board computer reveals that the engine has worked well in excess of 27,000 hours. Unsurprisingly it has developed a number of internal rattles, many of which predictably come from the anti-assault screen and cab windows.

The most noticeable aspect of this bus is its sheer size. At 10.7m long and 4.38m high, it’s big and imposing.

Bodywork shows a handful of battle scars, but in view of its former life this isn’t surprising. A sturdy bar is fitted to the nearside of the upper windscreen to protect against tree damage.

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Access to the OmniCity is excellent. Its entrance door is over 1,100mm wide and the step, when lowered, is just 210mm above the ground.

Kneeling and lifting is rapid. The gangway is uncluttered and the low floor extends almost to the rear of the bus, although all seats behind the centre door are on a raised platform. The upper deck is reached via nine stairs, each 190mm deep. The staircase is straight and reasonably well-lit, although taller passengers must take care not to make contact with the TfL-specified air chill unit mounted immediately above.

Headroom, for a double-decker, is excellent. Downstairs it is no less than 1,950mm, reducing slightly to 1,820mm upstairs. Similarly leg room is good, particularly towards the rear upstairs, where seats are widely-spaced to satisfy axle loading limits.

Access for wheelchairs is via an electrically-operated ramp at the two-piece plug centre door. The ramp will operate only when the door is closed and does so with an audible warning. The middle door is directly opposite the wheelchair bay, which is large and has no tip-up seats.

Centre ramp is powered
Centre ramp is powered

Total seating capacity is 63: 22 downstairs and 41 upstairs. 25 standees and a wheelchair user can also be carried, to give a total of 89; the GVW is 17,800kg.

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Both saloons are fine for short-distance journeys although the seats’ lack of padding means that a longer-distance trip may become an endurance test. Their basic nature means they have worn very well in the demanding London environment.

Both decks are spacious and airy
Both decks are spacious and airy

The Scania is well-designed internally and allows good passenger circulation, aided by the flat floor downstairs and large wheelchair bay, which can also function as a standing area.

Seats at rear of upper deck very well spaced
Seats at rear of upper deck very well spaced

Flooring is a dark blue along the gangways and stairs, and a lighter hue in seating areas and the wheelchair bay. This, too, has proved durable, but the bus’ hard life in the capital shows in the amount of ingrained dirt present. A heavy clean throughout would be imperative before returning it to service.

Large wheelchair bay opposite centre door
Large wheelchair bay opposite centre door

The ride is excellent, and the air suspension did a good job of absorbing shocks generated by some awful road surfaces in Aveley. The engine is exceptionally quiet, both at idle and under load. At the front of both saloons when driven at speed, the dominant sources of noise are tyres and wind.

With the test taking place on a moderately warm day, heating and cooling of the saloon were difficult to judge.

Both decks are equipped with many opening windows, but the large expanses of glass – while giving excellent views – no doubt generate significant internal warmth during the summer.

Heating is provided by blown hot air rather than convection radiators. Scania engines traditionally take some time to warm up and run on the cool side, and the unit in this bus is no exception. Coupled with two large saloons it remains to be seen how effective its heating is.

Noise throughout the lower saloon at 30mph is not intrusive, with readings at the front, middle and rear being similar. CCTV coverage of the whole vehicle is comprehensive, with 13 cameras fitted: five on each deck, one externally on each side of the bus and one facing forward in the dashboard.

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The cab is a pleasant place to be, although on the bus tested it would benefit from a heavy clean. The anti-assault screen combined with cab air-con and a powerful heating system means the driver is well protected from the outside climate even when the entrance door is open.

A high-quality Be-Ge seat is fitted, in full working order and featuring air adjustment for almost everything.

Cab is ergonomic and easy to use
Cab is ergonomic and easy to use

As is usual with a Scania all switches are conveniently located, as is the handbrake and the door buttons. The steering wheel is adjusted via a column-mounted locking switch.

Space in the cab is adequate but there is an awkward area behind the seat. This is almost inaccessible and could easily become a makeshift bin.

External mirrors are good, albeit large. It’s important to adjust the nearside one correctly as this is the only way of observing the centre-mounted wheelchair ramp. The internal mirror is difficult to see, but this is hardly a fault of the vehicle, instead being more a result of the anti-assault screen.

Roller destination blinds are fitted, controlled electrically by a unit above the windscreen.

Here too is a colour monitor connected to the front-mounted upper deck CCTV camera, which provides a good view – vital on heavy-turnover routes.

Two sun blinds are present, both manually-operated: one for the windscreen and one for the signalling window.

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The OmniCity is a driver’s bus, make no mistake. The route chosen saw us head first for the terminus of Ensignbus’ service 22 in Aveley, which initially gave an opportunity for a brief piece of fast running along the empty B1335.

Acceleration from rest isn’t spectacular, and the ZF gearbox upshifts through lower ratios very rapidly in the name of fuel efficiency, giving the impression of progress being sedate.

From stationary to 30mph takes 18.2 seconds and the bus is just about capable of keeping up with the flow of traffic, both in and outside urban areas. A plaque in the cab proclaims it to be limited to 85km/h; it may differ from the rest of the batch in being specified as suitable for private hire use.

The bus’ tachometer enables shift points to be monitored. Rarely do engine speeds exceed 1,500rpm, which in most cases is sufficient to allow good progress. The green band runs from 1,000 to 1,500rpm, although the on-board computer allows it to be switched to a ‘dynamic’ setting, rather than remaining fixed.

The transmission does take power demands into account, however.

Close to Ensignbus’ Purfleet base a left turn from stationary onto a hard climb was made and the ZF held third gear until almost 1,700rpm, allowing momentum to be maintained.

Shift quality was variable, the gearbox showing signs of its hard-worked former life.

Following arrival in Aveley we then followed the 22’s route almost to Lakeside, giving a good test of the bus’ manoeuvrability. This proved to be excellent, although care needs to be taken with the large rear overhang, which at 2,800mm is susceptible to damage.

The easily-spun steering wheel contributes to a positive drive, and contrary to what might be expected of such a high vehicle it holds the road very well. It corners confidently, although the acid test would be its behaviour with a full load on the highly-elevated upper deck.

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The bus’ previous operator has definitely had their money’s worth. Unsurprisingly it needs a little work on the body and a thorough clean internally, and gearshift quality is variable.

These are not major issues, and if addressed its next owner will be provided with a highly capable vehicle.

Scanias have long proven themselves heavy-duty, durable and driver-pleasing vehicles with an appetite for hard work. The bus on test is no different. It is a delight to pilot, and in terms of cosseting the driver is way ahead of earlier double-deckers.

At 230bhp the DC9 engine is operating well below its maximum, which should guarantee a long life, and combined with a five-speed transmission is better suited to higher-speed work than a Trident or B7TL.

The OmniCity also offers an attractive proposition to passengers, although its seats are rather basic. Excellent headroom, well-spaced seating and large windows create a pleasant environment on-board to the extent that it’s the market leader in this regard.

Ross Newman tells routeone that used OmniCity double-deckers are rare, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

Santander – on whose behalf Ensignbus is selling these – regards 93,000 as the starting figure for one ‘as is’ vehicle. Single-door conversion would be available, but at significant cost.

That’s a considerable figure, way above those commanded by earlier stock.

But the OmniCity represents the next generation of low-floor double-deckers and, despite a hard life, it and its sisters are more than capable of returning to front-line service on a similarly well-worked basis for the next decade at least.

OmniCityFactBox

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