Oxford Special Part One - A comparison: Leather or Moquette, Wright or ADL?

Yesterday, I visited the City of Oxford. Somewhere I have never been before, and somewhere I must pay a visit back to. To me Oxford appears to be the centre of Go-Ahead investment; it would also seem that this has resulted in the sheer number of passengers using the buses, which would go full circle and raise the money to invest of course. Stagecoach too have an outstanding operation in Oxford, with passenger numbers clearly much higher than here on home turf.

In Oxford, Go-Ahead group have two operations split into many more sub operations. The main is Oxford Bus Company, who's history spans over 130 years. Within this operation you have City, Park&Ride, the airline, X90, and Brookes Bus. I travelled on the day under the City, X90 and Brookes Bus brands - and all were simply outstanding, as you will now read. Also under the Go-Ahead brand is Thames Travel, who's network spans to the more 'out-of-town' areas of Oxford, including Bicester and Didcot.

An Oxford Bus Company Wright Gemini 2 bodied Volvo B7L
Oxford Bus Company operate a stunning fleet of around 170 buses, including some new types and some very interesting types. With so many new types, and some from Stagecoach too, it was an excellent opportunity to compare the varying model options. My first ride was onboard a Volvo B5LH-based Wright Gemini 2. There is fundamentally not much difference in the ride quality to your standard B9TL-based Wright Gemini 2 like first operate here in Norwich. What did strike me is how little the hybrid mode appears to kick in; posters on the bus say "at times to increase fuel economy". From my four journeys on the types yesterday, when stationary the engine comes to a complete halt - almost feeling as though your bus has just broken down - when the foot is put back on the accelerator the hybrid drive is turned on for maybe ten seconds until speed is gained, then the diesel engine is back in with a bit of shudder - similar to how the NB4L works. I believe there are nineteen B5LH based Gemini 2s in the Oxford fleet.

Stagecoach Oxford's new Alexander Dennis Enviro400MMCs
My next journey was on an Alexander Dennis Enviro400MMC from Stagecoach. It was pleasant, as have all my other journeys with the type. But it still feels like an standard Enviro400, although it is supposedly massively improved. Yes, there are a few nice tweeks - a more stylish look, fast replace windows, higher fuel economy - but it feels identical to a Konectbus' new standard Enviro400s delivered this September. Undoubtedly, in a few years it will feel just like an old Enviro400. On the plus side, it was quiet and in the adapted Stagecoach livery for the type it really is a stunner. Take a look at the one to the right on Oxford High Street. Note also the font used on the destination screen, a nice change to the standard fonts which most operators use.

I next travelled on a near enough brand new Wright Streetdeck from Oxford Bus Company. A Streetdeck is an integral double decker, which can be offered either with the traditional Gemini front or the new more angular design. The Streetdeck is powered by a Euro 6 Daimler engine, which feels considerably different to Volvo drivelines - which I still prefer. It feels very different to its Volvo based Gemini 3 counterpart, which I travelled on back in September. The Streetdeck feels a lot less sturdy and a lot cheaper than the Gemini 3. I do not know if a Streetdeck is cheaper than a Gemini 3, but I would hope it is.

One of a fleet of new Wright Streetdecks from Oxford Bus Company
As a direct comparison from my day in Oxford, the Alexander Dennis Enviro400MMC tops the Daimler powered Wright Streetdeck. That is something I have never thought I would say - I am a massive Wrightbus fan, even more so when it is a stuck on a Volvo chassis. However, between Wright Streetdeck and Wright Gemini 3 bodied Volvo, the latter wins. The Gemini 3 tops the older Gemini 2 - but neither, in my opinion, quite top the Alexander Dennis Enviro400MMC, though I am contemplating if I prefer the appearance of the Alexander Dennis competitor.

My other comparison for the day was between leather and moquette seats on long journeys, and there is a definite winner for me. To get to Oxford, the method of transport was a National Express 490 to London - run by leather seated Caetano Levante bodied Volvo B9R BF63ZSN from the Ambassador Travel fleet. It was rather nice, and the seats were comfortable - especially when I took into account that the journey into London took almost five hours thanks to Mr Boris Johnson choosing to simultaneously dig up almost every road in the capital. I then connected to a Plaxton Elite Interdeck bodied Volvo B11RT from Oxford Bus Company's X90 division. This has cloth seats with leather headrests, and by god were they comfortable. Not once on the hour and forty minute journey did you wiggle about trying to find a new position to stop your bum aching. The interdecks are fully wheelchair accessible, and definitely up there on the list of best coaches I have travelled on. Far from my opinions of the somewhat shaky Caetano Levante I had alighted just ten minutes before.

One of the stunning Plaxton Elite Interdecks in Oxford City Centre
Travelling back from Oxford, I used the Stagecoach X5. It is very much the local equivalent of the X1 - a three hour, cross county, cross city, cross town and cross just about everything route. My opinions of the X1 here are mixed, I still think coaches should be used and a more direct route taken and to see Plaxton Elite Interdecks on the route would be like a dream come true. The X5 coaches used Plaxton's clever wheelchair lift integration, which folds to form one of the steps into the front of the coach. They are also just short of fourtreen metres long, and with a very smart Best Impressions designed livery they look quite the part. They nowhere near match the standard of the Elite Interdeck option. These have leather seats, but not a comfortable soft leather - more like a sticky plastic sort of leather. Infact, it feels more like sitting on a pair of wellington boots if anything. When you travel the full length of the journey (Which is, very impressively, free for those with council issues OAP or disabled concession passes) they soon become very uncomfortable. They also have three-point seatbelts, which are very tight and feel like being drawing pinned into the seats.

The smart interior of the X90 Plaxton Elite Interdeck coaches
So leather of moquette? Moquette, obviously. Leather is some kind of big craze on buses which has escalated from nowehere in the past few years. Some operators have nailed the use of leather seats - for example, First's real-leather seated X1 vehicles are very nice. Others have recently strayed away from it for the reasons I outlined in the analysis of the X5 coaches above; Konectbus and their 8 and Norwich Park and Ride Alexander Dennis Enviro400s did not have leather seats for the reason that the leather is uncomfortable in the summer. The moquette certainly is more comfortable in this case, but in the case of the X1 it is more comfortable than the moquette seats on the older Wright Eclipse Geminis. I think it is down to the seats being used; the Lazzerini seats in the old X1 Geminis are, for me, uncomfortable however you cover them, but leather would not suite them. Esteban Civic are best moquette covered, but the seating used on the X1 Enviro400s probably would not suit moquette seating.

So there we have it, my comparison of ADL and Wright competitors and leather or moquette seating. I will soon be publishing a second part looking at the excellent investment and key ideas which the local operators have in Oxford.
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About Kieran Smith

Norwich Buses Blog was founded in December 2013 by Sam Larke after he left another popular blog, Norwich Bus Page. Since it's launch, the site has grown dramatically, especially whilst written solely by Kieran Smith during 2015. The blog is now in it's third year and we look forward to more success and growth in the future. If you think you'd make a good writer for Norwich Buses Blog, please do get in touch via email: samuel.larke@gmail.com
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1 comments :

  1. An interesting report. Of course, a big part of the reason for both operators in Oxford having such modern fleets is the local council (like Brighton and London) having strict emission controls within the city centre. I think I'm right in saying that everything has to be Euro 5 or better to enter the centre of Oxford on local bus service?

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