Optare Delivers Quality

Bus manufacturer Optare have had an esteemed relationship with London bus operator Quality Line for over a decade so it is no surprise that the operator is one of the first to introduce the new Optare MetroCity with London United.

The Epsom Coaches Group placed the first order of the new Optare MetroCity.
Lloyd Rich with another reputable photo in Sutton. ©All rights reserved.
The Optare MetroCity demonstrator was unveiled back in November 2012 at a bus show in Birmingham. Built to Transport for London specification, its entrance to service was left unannounced until August 2013 when London United had confirmed route 391 would be getting a prototype of the new MetroCity in December 2013 upon the retaining of its contract with the operator. The demonstrator's delivery had been postponed, suggesting that it would be a week late. However, 2014 arrived and although the MetroCity was spotted a few times roaming around the country, presumably on course for delivery at Stamford Brook (V) for the 391, its arrival was still anyone's guess.

MCD01 (YJ14 BFY) entered service four months late. Empty on the
X26 in Heathrow, it's a tense approach to the overpopulated first stop.
KS Chow, © All rights reserved.
Meanwhile, Quality Line had announced the purchase of twelve new Optare MetroCity buses for route S1 upon its extension to Lavender Fields in Mitcham from the previous Mitcham terminus at The Cricketers in January. However, these buses and the extension was postponed, too. The extension went ahead soon after with the route's new buses absent, during which a reliable source informed us that London United had changed their plans to instead allocate four new electric buses to Hounslow (AV) for route H98. These buses, the Optare MetroCity EV, range from OCE1-4 and after almost a month after delivery, OCE2 sneaked in a test run halfway into May. But not before the original Optare MetroCity demonstrator entered service in late April on loan with Quality Line providing a lucky new experience for Teddington School children going home on school route 641. From here, the demonstrator primarily operated on London's longest route, the X26, getting the occasional experimental escape onto other Epsom (EB) routes before allocating itself to route S1 in the latter half of May.

The Optare MetroCity has an overtly similar structure to the Versa type, to conflicting reviews from enthusiasts who initially criticised how the design looked like an effortless attempt of combining the Tempo and Versa types. However, the MetroCity has since been positively for its delivery of  superlative fuel efficiency with the Optare Eco-Drive feature compulsory to all new buses to ensure efficient transport and safe driving. I believe this system to be very effective, as noticed with the introduction of the Optare Solo SR to route 470 back in November 2012 when I wondered how the bus was not a hybrid.

The Eco-Drive system was even more effective with the electric vehicles. Notwithstanding the smoothness of the bus, the engine acted like a car the way it quietly went about its operational business as the bus coasted along the road surface, creating only smooth, gentle feedback regardless of how uneven the road surface. When the bus stopped moving, the electric motors sounded like an open fridge - constant but quiet. At slow and build-up speed, the engine would emit a wave-like sound accompanied by a high-pitched low volume whistle and an unnoticeable hum. As the acceleration increased, the waves would turn into ripples, the whistling increasing in pitch but still at a level of serenity and the low engine hum converted into a low growl as the speed bounced off the limiter. Additionally, these buses have the best headrests in London as they are actually padded headrests that are comfortably larger than your head as opposed to the less comfortable curved ones accustomed to all modern London buses. The only negative point about the Optare MetroCity EV, then, is that upon pedal change a clicking sound from the wheel arches is produced and felt slightly, however this is unnoticeable for the average passenger so there is really nothing to disapprove of about the bus.

In southwest London, OM03 (YJ14 BFF) sounded off-key, its engine imitating a very loud air-conditioner and a louder Optare Versa, and its performance just did not compare to the electric buses at all. I boarded it briefly, more interested in boarding MCD01 (YJ14 BFY) that followed fifteen minutes down the road. This was much different to batch OM1-12: it acted like the newer Alexander Dennis Enviro200 Dart buses, the way it shuddered upon a small bout of continuous pedal change and the engine sound was very similar to the popular Dart. At the new Lavender Fields terminus in Mitcham, the driver benevolently used his off-peak time to discuss the new bus with the company of a by-standing passenger.

'The MetroCity has a very good suspension,' Quality Line driver Andy started. 'It has a bigger tank for the fuel: the [preceding allocation] could do thirty miles, this can do about forty miles. We have one service from Kingston to Dorking which is thirty-three miles, so these buses are good for that. These also have very good blinds, the lights are very powerful and brighter than the yellow ones - when it's dark and all the lights are on, you see it well illuminated. Unfortunately, it also reflects onto the driver. The seats are much more comfortable than the other buses as it is well padded, and the flooring is much lower so you don't even need to lower it for the [older passengers].'

However, he went on to continue: 'The cab is smaller. The steering lock is very bad: if I am doing the roundabout, I have to swing the whole thing around but other buses you can just swing and do it. The mirrors are too big; it has a lot of blind spots and you have to pull it all the way up before you can see the road around.'

The most interesting part of the discussion was when the driver said, 'Normally, when the front door is open, you can still drive. But this one, if the front door is open, you can't drive. Very different, it has a safety mechanism like the back door. It's just a safety thing, the drivers can forget. So you can never drive unless both doors are closed.

'But a new bus is a new bus so it's [something different] but it has many problems,' he concluded before it was time to depart in which we boarded, but not before Andy took interest and noted down our blog and my Flickr profile!
OCE1 (LJ14 SZO) gets a recharge while OCE2 (YJ14 SZP) takes its place in service.
In Welcome to Electric Waterloo, an enthusiast suggested a British manufacturer like Optare should build an electric bus to compare their efficiency and performance with the Chinese Build Your Dreams (BYD). A good suggestion, as I think Optare have outperformed BYD and have manufactured a fantastic new bus type. The electric variant of the Optare MetroCity is the favourite, although the diesel variant still impressed with a quality service to accompany its generally approving performance. The electric MetroCity is definitely a step forward to expanding the green London bus scene and whilst the Chinese have built the dreams introducing London's first electric bus, it is evident Optare have made the dreams a reality with the MetroCity.

1 comment:

  1. New buses are very good quality.. these buses looks so nice..thanks for information