Having seat belts, a tachograph and high backed seats fitted in its newest Optare Versa service bus has brought added flexibility to its use by Surrey independent operator Safeguard Coaches of Guildford.
The company, which next year celebrates its 90th anniversary, will normally use the Versa on its busy town circular routes 4 and 5, which take in the Royal Surrey County Hospital. But with seat belts and a tachograph fitted, the bus can also be made available for private hires by local schools where the journeys are short. Added comfort comes from the specification of high back Rescroft CT Lite seats with an integral head restraint.
Another feature of the Versa that will appeal to passengers is easy accessibility for people with disabilities. Wheelchair access is by a simple fold-out ramp with a gentle gradient resulting from the low access height of the vehicle, especially when ‘kneeling’, and which leads to a spacious wheelchair bay immediately to the rear of the right hand front wheelbox.
Managing Director Andrew Halliday says that this brings the added advantage that where a school party includes a person in a wheelchair, the entire party can travel together in one vehicle. He adds that the company strongly supports safer school bus transport through its membership and active support of the campaigning organisation BUSK.
“ This is now the fourth Versa in our fleet and these additional features allow us to use it alongside the other three on regular service work but we are also able to take it off that from time to time to use for private hires, particularly school parties on local trips,” he says.
“ Since Versa is a model that we already operate, it also helps to ensure that we have a greater degree of commonality across the fleet. From our experience we know that we have a tried and tested product that our drivers and passengers like and which delivers good fuel efficiency.”
The new Versa is an 11.1 metre model powered by the six-cylinder Cummins ISBe engine of 6.7 litre displacement and which is Euro 5 emissions compliant. With a power output of 201 bhp (150 kW) at 2,300 rpm, this can cope easily with the local hilly terrain without compromising on fuel economy. The engine is matched to a five speed Allison 2100 Series automatic gearbox that has an inbuilt lock-up torque converter which, along with a Klam electro-magnetic retarder, also aids fuel efficiency.
Seating is for 37 of which 34 are fixed and three are tip-ups in the wheelchair bay. Mobitec LED destination equipment has been specified.
Optare Sales Director, John Horn, comments: “We’re delighted that Safeguard has again chosen Versa based on their good experience of the model in service.
“ The flexibility of our assembly processes at our Sherburn facility meant that we were able to meet their specific requirements in respect of the seating and the tachograph. And this has given Safeguard the added flexibility to use the bus in different ways that could contribute to delivering a better and faster return on their investment.”
Alongside its large coach fleet, Safeguard operates nine buses on local services in and around Guildford of which eight are Optare products.