The latest double decker offering from Optare continues the integral idea, with typical flare and style, using the Mercedes-Benz OM934LA 5litre engine. Coupled to the ZF Ecolife 6AP transmission, ZF steering, nearside emergency exit, in two lengths of 10.6 or 11.1 meters. The Metrodecker is now entering the demonstration stage, with Reading Buses and First South Yorkshire sampling this Yorkshire built product.
Ever since the release of the rather impressive styled 'Rapta' body shell in 2009, Optare have been waiting to build on the successful Solo minibus model. Using its favored choice of Mercedes-Benz engine coupled to the Alison gearbox, the IDD4 chassis with the former East Lancashire/Darwen Olympus bodywork was earmarked for a 2010/2011 release.
However Optare was undergoing several changes, with new management (Ashok Leyland), new premises in Sherburn in Elmet and introducing the new Solo SR, Versa, Metrocity and Tempo SR range, leading to the double decker chassis being put on the back burner.
The Optare Spectra bodywork was built on the DAF SB250LC chassis, which was based on the MCW Metrobus integral double decker model. Optare with DAF, who were partners at the time, purchased the rights of the Metrobus and Metrorider from the Laird Group in 1989. Optare continued with the Metrorider and later improved the appearance of the integral minibus, until the introduction of the low floor Solo. For the double decker both Optare and DAF worked for a couple of years, correcting the problems with Metrobus chassis and designing a new stylish bodywork. The finished product was displayed at the 1991 Bus Show at the NEC in Birmingham, in Reading Bus livery. Reading became a customer for the Spectra, along with Travel West Midlands and Arriva Yorkshire, plus many independent companies too.
The DAF SB250LC chassis was redesigned as a low floor vehicle in 1997/8, thus allowing the Spectra to continue for a few more years. The low floor version of the Spectra is identified by the longer upper deck window at the front on each side.
East Lancashire Olympus
Long established Blackburn based bus builder East Lancashire (ELC) continued to produce very stylish. some what bespoke bodies for operators. The final body style to be designed by ELC was the Olympus, which was stylish and pleasant to look at. ELC itself was subject to a takeover by the Darwen Group, who were in turn acquired by Optare. The Olympus double decker body was continued, by Optare, with a pause in 2009 as the 'Rapta' body was unveiled.
This Ipswich example shows off the curved lines and the gasket glazing used by ELC at the time. The Olympus was built on the DAF, Scania and Volvo chassis, with examples still in service around the country.
When this new uniquely styled double decker was unveiled outside the Covent Garden, London Transport Museum in 2014. Optare was now in the hands of Ashok Leyland (75% share holding), which was formed in India during the 1970's by Leyland. The bus was finished with full TfL specification interior, but with a dark blue overall livery, this bus was eventually registered OP14ARE, the event drew interest but no orders were forthcoming. With the Bi-annual Bus & Coach Expo held at Birmingham's NEC, the London bus was displayed outside and joined by a longer prototype inside the exhibition hall.
The neat and uncluttered lower saloon shows of the Estaban Civic V3 high backed seating, with wheelchair zone and the nearside emergency exit. The kidney bowl effect rear window is an interesting style to say the least. Overall the light and bright interior is very welcoming, this particular bus was eventually used by Reading Buses as their 109 YJ65EPU during early 2016. It was also used at Newbury as well as Reading during the evaluation trial, YJ65EPU had moved on by mid February 2016. Another Metrodecker is currently in build for TfL to evaluate, which could lead to a trial period and orders. As operators are now looking for each manufacture to produce, light weight and fuel efficient double decker chassis with light weight bodies too. As Optare knows the UK double deck market is dominated by both ADL and Volvo, with Scania coming in second all competing for business. Bodywork by ADL and Wrights feature in most UK fleets, but MCV are gaining interest with the new Evoseti double deck style, with a batch of Evoseti/Volvo making it into Go-Ahead London's fleet. This does leave Optare with some serious ground to catch up on in the next few months.
First South Yorkshire 35000
Optare has had the Solo and Versa products purchased by First group in the past, so it was quite logical that the Metrodecker might be evaluated within the First group. First as a major bus operator has seen plenty of changes in recent years, the appointment of Giles Freanley, introduction of the refreshed 'Olympia' livery and over £455 million pounds spent in the last few years on new buses across the First group UK fleets.
First South Yorkshire's X78 service has been a little test bed in recent times for potential new buses for the South Yorkshire fleet. The route had been operated by Rotherham based Volvo/Wrights double deckers, with 'Olympia' livery and X78 branding, lately operated by new integral Wrights Streetdecks in a dark/light and grey livery and marketed as the X78 'Steel link'. Two integral Wrights Streetdecks 35101 and 35102 were placed into service with First, with 35101 seeing service in Manchester and Halifax before heading for Rotherham. In late 2015 another demonstrator arrived in Rotherham in the shape of 36301 a Volvo B5TL with new MCV Evoseti bodywork.
During early 2016 it was suggested that First were going to get a Metrodecker for evaluation, by mid April Rotherham depot had been given YJ16DFG for use on the very busy X78 service which serves all the major towns and cities of the South Yorkshire operation. Both the Metrodecker and Streetdecks have the same Mercedes-Benz engine with Voith gearbox in the Streetdeck and the ZF Ecolife gearbox in the Metrodecker. The lower front end dash has echoes of the 'Tempo SR' saloon, which looks smart, YJ16DFG is the 11.1 meter version of the Metrodecker.
Riding the Metrodecker
April 29th 2016 saw the maiden voyage of 35000 the Optare Metrodecker as it started in Sheffield on the 07:03 to Doncaster, then returned to Sheffield as the 08:40 duty. Back to Doncaster as the 10:15 duty, then from Doncaster as the 11:50. It was for this particular journey, that your author travelled down to Coinsbrough, near Doncaster to photograph this new vehicle in service.
Upon arrival, with car parked and practice shot with a Streetdeck, the Metrodecker arrived on time at Castle Hill, Coinsbrough, as seen above. The town was getting very busy decorating the streets with bunting and later spray paint on the roads, for the second day of the 'Le Tour De Yorkshire' cycle race. 35000 then ventured towards Sheffield, as lunch was taken, with more shots of the Streetdecks as well. The Metrodecker returned to Coinsbrough, as the 13:25 departure from the Steel city, with the bus due to leave Doncaster at 15:00.
Your author then picked up the service on the Maple Grove/Micklebring Grove stop at 15:41, some six minutes behind time. The reasonably priced First Day SY ticket £5.00 was purchased and 35000 set off for Sheffield again, in bright afternoon sunshine. Taking a seat over the rear wheel arches the ride quality was good despite the poor condition of the 'wintered' roads the suspension coped very well, which added the smooth ride. The lower saloon was clean and fresh, with larger windows and neat LED lights incorporated within the ceiling coving panels. The light grey and white interior décor is complemented by the light blue/grey with black plastic backed seats, which are e-leather cover Estaban Civic V3s with grey coloured grab rails. There are dedicated buggy and wheelchair zones, with stickers giving priority to wheelchair passengers. The lower saloon has 33 seats in total, with the five rear seats, rear wheel arches and the single seat just after the door, all with thin cushions.
The lower saloon seats forward of the buggy and wheelchair zones, shows the bright and airy design of the vehicle, with Optare logo printed on the floor. At Rotherham, as the drivers changed, so did your author as I ventured to the upper saloon for the continued journey to Sheffield, which had 51 seats all with ample leg room. The windows in the upper saloon were shallower then the lower saloon windows, another weight saving design akin to the Wrights Streetdeck bus. Again Civic V3 seats are in this saloon, apart from the thin cushioned five rear seats.
Acceleration was smooth and jerk free at bus stops, traffic signals and stop/start traffic in Sheffield especially around Meadowhall and the city centre. Hill climbs were somewhat sluggish, depending on the driving style of the driver, however the 18,000kg vehicle got over the hills with dignity intact. 35000 took to the straighter stretches of the X78 route very well providing a fast and nippy, with smooth cornering and deceleration when necessary, the ZF gearbox and Mercedes-Benz engine proving a good combination. The only real noise in either saloon were the constant whirl of the air-con/aircool system. which were busy due to the rather cool nature of the day.
The clean and uncluttered bright upper saloon seen above, showing the high standard of finish to the demonstrator vehicle. The bus was only missing the USB charging points and free Wi-Fi, then it could really make the passengers on the X78 very happy indeed.
Overall the impression of the Metrodecker is one of a favourable vehicle, good quality seating for 84 passengers with space for 15 standing passengers. Rattle free interior, good interior lighting built into the ceiling coving, strong grab rails, good wheelchair and buggy zones and a bright interior décor, give this particular demonstrator the feel of the Streetdecks on the X78 'Steel link' service.
There is a shorter 10.6 meter version, which seems to be aimed at the London market to full TfL specification, no doubt this version could be used as a provincial bus. It will be interesting to see how the Metrodecker sells in the high competitive double deck market, and if Arriva, First, Go-Ahead, National Express, Transdev and Stagecoach will buy examples of this vehicle. One key element which Optare could have is like WrightsBus be able to complete an order for bespoke interior design, like the current Volvo/Wrights Gemini3s on the 36 Riding redefined double deckers.