Thursday, June 16, 2011

Nice running gear, shame about the body.

People very often ask me what I think of the new coaches that we are using under contract to the nationwide company. My employer has purchased 11 of these new coaches as part of his contract. They are a Caetano Levante fitted to a Volvo B9R chassis.

The Volvo B9R is very good and I can find no faults at all with it. It is an excellent workhorse and should provide the operator and driver with many years of loyal, reliable service. It is simply the business and does all that you have come to expect from a modern coach.

The body is a Caetano Levante and is a big disappoint. The Levante demonstrates that we have not moved on in the last 30 years from the Duple Dominant - which was better built and more suitable to the job. The Levante body is a bad design and to illustrate my view, here are some 15 faults for you to consider...

1: The front door is a plug type that has problems of wind whistle noise, that is inherent in all plug doors. Also you have to be careful of road camber when closing the door to ensure that the top clip and rear catch are secure, otherwise the door will blow open at speed. At the Cardiff University stop you have to pull the door shut by hand to be sure of it not opening along Eastern Avenue at 50 mph.

2: The forward mounted mirrors are very expensive, gaining the nickname of P45 mirrors. You get nothing more for this unnecessary extra expense, the view is no better and the offside mirror is blocked from your view by the windscreen pillar. To solve this blocked mirror view an extra lower mirror has been fitted. So you have the offside mirror just for show so that it gives a balanced look with the nearside mirror.

3: The interior mirror is mounted too high and the driver would have to move his head right up to get a view, therefore driving blind.

4: The sun blind if turned down obstructs your view of the nearside mirror.

5: The step lights above the front door simply do not work, they will only come on when the wheelchair lift is in operation.

6: The monitor screen for the CCTV is on the right hand side of the dashboard. The problem is that at night the image reflects onto the offside mirror making it useless. The work-around is to cover up the monitor with a baseball cap so that you can see in the mirror! But then you can't see which nutter is creeping up behind you!

7: The wheelchair lift. What a waste of money, it is very over-engineered, has too many moving parts and has to cope with too many levels. It is a maintenance disaster waiting to happen, for equipment that will be rarely used. The industry should have stood up to the disability lobby and not adapted coaches to be wheelchair accessible. The cost on a low floor bus is quite small but on a high floor coach it is ridiculous. Once you get a wheelchair user on board, you lose one passenger seat with no increase in revenue.

8: The front seats move to allow a wheelchair user to travel in their wheelchair. Only thing is, it is not like moving a couple of deck chairs! There are simply loads of locks and levers. It is a right jigsaw with locking plates and sliders as the window seat moves through 90 degrees and the aisle seats moves back. The window seat is then taken out of service and this whole procedure takes a very long time, is too complicated and a bad design. Because these mechanisms take space, it means that the passengers in the left hand back row can't recline their seats.

9: The heating and ventilation system is of the climate control type. Only thing is that the control panel is located in the luggage rack, on the right hand side, behind and out of reach of the driver! So once the controls are set and the coach is moving, the controls can't be altered. The passengers are forever complaining that it is too hot or too cold but you have to tell them that it is preset and that you have not control over it. What a silly place to put the control panel!

10: The reading lights for both passengers are located next to the window. The passenger next to the window effectively has 2 reading lights and the passenger in the aisle seat has no reading light. Stupid design fault probably to save 50mm of wiring!

11: The Levante used to seat 49 passengers but this latest model is down to 48 passengers. The back row is now 2 seats rather than 3, the reason given is too allow better access to the toilet. But this alleged better access is at the steep price of lost revenue on that extra seat. Through the lifetime of the coach you can loose quite a bit of revenue from this missing seat.

12: The Levante body is very tall at 12' 9" - that 9 inches in extra height makes the coach sway quite a bit in strong winds. Not the best thing to inspire confidence among the passengers. There is no need for this extra height as a regular 12' high coach provides enough luggage and passenger head room. Also those extra 9" will have a negative effect on fuel consumption, which will add up over the year.

13: The Levante body weighs an amazing 13,570kg unladen. 30 years ago a top touring coach was weighing in at 10,000kg. There is no need for that extra 3,500kg on a 12 metre coach.

14: The toilet flush is very generous. Trouble is all than water is wasted down the pan and if the toilet proves popular then it will run out of water and will stop working. There is no need for a generous flush, as most waste falls through by gravity.

15: The driver's cab window is electric and not full width. Of all the coaches I have driven over the last 30 years, the Levante is the worst for windows misting up. Rather than have the buzz of the demister fan, I prefer to have the cab window open 25mm. The old style manual slide cab windows on the Duple Dominant were ideal for this, open the front section 25mm and the windscreen would never mist up, all day long. The Levante cab window does not slide across but is a narrow window that drops down and does not work as well as a slide window that opens from the windscreen. There is no need for the gimmick of a narrow electric window in the wrong place.

There is only one good thing about the Levante body, it has a sliding toilet door which should prove more reliable than the swing type and is a better use of space. So that is why I have titled this blog post, Nice running gear, shame about the body.
That extra weight probably comes from the wheelchair lift and the mirrors and the complex seat-moving-about bits of metal.

Don't see why you need a wheelchair thingy anyway. Why can't you just get a couple of the more strapping passengers to carry the cripple on board and sling their chair in the cargo hold with the suitcases.
I agree with you about the body Stephen but I disagree about the engine, it's complete and utter shite!! No power whatsoever from the stationary position, I've nearly come a groped on many a roundabout and junction! The engine at first appears to stall with no movement at all. It's horrendous machine, cheap and nasty
Grumpy Dragon: The extra weight comes from a lot of unnecessary kit and from not using the lightest materials like fibreglass and modern plastics. The wheelchair lift is due to schedule 1 of the Disability Discrimination Act - something the industry should have stood against rather than waving a blank cheque. I agree with you it was far better for the cripple to crawl up the steps like they do at home whilst the driver puts their wheelchair in the boot - something I have done without question for years. Generally the disabled passenger welcomed this procedure because it protected their dignity and independence which they loose whilst being lifted like a pallet of baked beans on a wheelchair lift like a supermarket delivery.

Matthew: Sorry I disagree with you. I think that the 380bhp Volvo B9R is the business - power when you want it. Okay, I would prefer a manual gearbox rather than the i-shift which can hesitate. You can't have a ZF 5 speed automatic gearbox because they have a design limit of 340bhp. The Volvo B9R is not cheap and nasty, that award goes to the Bova Futura, remember WA54HYC.
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