First look at Optare’s new MetroDecker double-decker bus

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Completing the Optare line-up, from small bus (Solo) to medium and large (Versa and Tempo), the long-awaited MetroDecker fills a big gap in the Leeds-based manufacturer’s line-up. Of the UK bus market, 40% is double-deckers.

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With frontal styling that takes its cue from the MetroCity (the London version of the Versa), the launch vehicle was a two-door London specification model.

And, fitted with all London equipment – including a powered centre-door ramp, iBus and roller blinds – at 9,980kg it becomes the first modern ‘decker to beat the sub-10T barrier. This makes it the lightest Euro 6 ‘decker to be launched to date.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the entire bus has been designed and built, from the ground up, in only eight months.

Contrary to expectations, Optare says that there is nothing from either the East Lancs ‘decker, or Optare’s Rapta concept vehicle, in the design.

It is a fully integral structure with no underframes but a full monocoque body, and has ZF front independent suspension, rear ZF axle and a six-speed automatic EcoLife gearbox – fitted with topography-sensing TopoDyn to ensure the most efficient gear changes according to the gradient.

Like all Optare products, the engine bay components are mounted in a frame, easily removable by releasing six bolts. Power comes from a 5.1-litre Mercedes-Benz four-cylinder Euro 6 engine, delivering 230bhp at 2,200rpm, with 900Nm torque at 1,200rpm. The transverse engine aids vehicle balance and weight distribution, says Optare.

Early stages

The MetroDecker conforms to Low Carbon Emission Bus (LCEB) requirements, meaning that it will qualify for the extra 6p/km in England BSOG and 14p/km in Scotland. The bus revealed at Covent Garden is the first pre-production model. A second is in build and will go to Millbrook, Bedfordshire, for extensive testing “to destruction”, which will also include homologation and LCEB certification.

Optare has modest sales hopes, targeting around 30 in 2014/15, with deliveries starting later this year.

The full, international, launch will be at November’s Euro Bus Expo at the NEC, Birmingham. In addition to the new two-door 10.5m London-spec model, an 11.1m single-door provincial version will be shown.

Significantly, the bus is 2.5m wide, rather than 2.55mm, specifically to target the Australian market. While other global manufacturers are pressing the Australian federal states to relax the width restriction (originally designed to protect domestic bus building), Optare has taken the lead with a market-ready product.

We were not able to measure the interior space, and the reduced size did not appear obvious, but Optare says that half of the width reduction has been absorbed by thinner side walls, meaning the interior is only 25mm narrower.

In London-spec, it comfortably meets capacity requirements, with 63 seated (41 upstairs, 22 downstairs) and 36 standees. The seat pitch is good and Optare says that while more seats could be added, it wanted to demonstrate how comfortably it meets the TfL spec.

Outside

The cooling pack is at the offside, to reduce dirt being sucked in, and also on the offside are the windscreen wash, diesel and AdBlue fillers. All are mounted at waist height, avoiding the need for platforms, or stretching while fuelling. The offside pull-out battery tray is under the stairs, and has auxiliary batteries, plus a separate set of starting batteries, meaning that the bus will always start. Commercially, the staircase wall allows space for the new ‘double-T’ ads now available, offering extra revenue for operators. On the nearside, the centre door is further forward than other ‘deckers. Optare says this is to make access to the TfL-spec offside wheelchair bay more straightforward.

The user can go into the bus, and then reverse into the bay, in just two movements, without the extra shuffling that it says other designs need.

The structure is an all-welded box section of semi-stainless steel, with rust protection and Dinol underseal. The roof is an aluminium extrusion, while the external interdeck sides are foam-cored GRP composite, to reduce weight. The lower panels are aluminium, with the lower side panels locked into the waist rail and retained by screw fasteners. The front and rear domes are single-piece GRP, while the three-part bumpers have removable sections.

All external and internal lighting is LED. The windscreen is gasket-glazed, with bonded quarter windows. The side windows use Optare’s glazing release system, which gives the appearance of bonded, and is fitted from the outside.

Inside

Small rear window downstairs
Small rear window downstairs; Esteban seats are standard

The driver’s cab has an integrated curved assault screen, designed with the vehicle rather than as an afterthought. The dashboard is Actia’s latest EcoDrive integrated system, with a TFT screen providing direct driver behaviour feedback, for harsh braking, cornering, or too rapid acceleration. It also provides automatic checks of vehicle systems, such as coolant and oil, meaning the driver doesn’t need to open the engine bay as part of his walk-round checks.

The steering wheel is adjustable for reach and rake, while a Chapman driver’s seat offers the usual adjustment. Behind the driver is the main electrical board. The new generation Actia Actimux centralised fully multiplexed electrical system offers quick faultfinding. The wiring looms are terminated in the rear bulkhead, while the wiring in the engine bay is to higher standards to resist heat and abrasion.

Optare says that its experiments found that, with the exception of the front demisters, it is more effective to have blown air from the rear of the vehicle. Downstairs, it means there’s not a heater box under the staircase, and upstairs it means that there’s no air-chiller at the top of the stairs. Instead, it is tucked out of sight, making for a very airy upper saloon, despite the more shallow than normal windows.

Upstairs air-chiller tucked out of sight
Upstairs air-chiller tucked out of sight

Air is directed behind the coving, in which the LEDs are also fitted providing diffused lighting. Wireless bell pushes are standard, while the iBus equipment has been neatly fitted.

The design sees plenty of curves: curved draught screens, curved handpoles and curved vacuum-formed ABS covings. And, this should be easy to keep clean, as all the main components are accessed from outside the bus, meaning there’s no need for grubby engineers to set foot in the interior.

Esteban seats come as standard (options available), along with a choice of interior colours.

Use of curves and lighting in entrance
Use of curves and lighting in entrance

Weight saving

There are two main ways Optare has reduced weight without, it says, compromising build standards. Firstly, because it is an integral, Optare looked at every body fitting to determine whether it needed to be there, and if it did, could it perform more than one function?

Secondly, when it came to the body, the same process was applied. For example, there is no inter-deck.

The stairwell is light and well lit, with a single handrail, and extra section for those descending. The stairwell wall has an inset white section to bounce light around. Similarly, in the lower front entrance is a circular light above the platform, with an illuminated panel facing the front seat. Behind are the air tanks (accessed from outside), so it’s a design touch.

Impressions

First impressions are of a light, airy, modern bus. As this was a static launch, the opportunity to drive and ride in the bus is yet to come.

This is the first all-new design for the ‘new’ Optare, under its majority ownership by Ashok Leyland, and is intended to be a global product. The initial territories being targeted, outside the UK, are Australia and South Africa.

Next, hybrids (mild with a flywheel and full diesel-electric) plus a pure electric version are promised, alongside an open-topper. All are on two axles at this stage. As for the price, as usual, Optare simply describes it as “competitive.”