A total of 39 Versa hybrid vehicles designed specifically for use as school buses, and which are thought to be the first hybrids dedicated solely to this type of operation, are set to enter service after the Easter holiday.
They are also believed to be the first buses built specifically for this application that fully meet R66 roll-over regulations.
Produced at Optare’s new plant at Sherburn in Elmet in Yorkshire, the Versa hybrids represent an investment by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) of around £9 million under its ‘Yellow School Bus’ scheme and are part-funded through the Government’s Green Bus Initiative.
Optare’s modular construction was a key factor in the design which is based on a specially adapted version of the Versa model. This has resulted in a total passenger capacity of 57, achieved by using a 3 + 2 seating configuration, with all passengers on Rescroft CT Lite seats fitted with full 3-point safety belts.
Power is provided by a Mercedes-Benz OM904LA 130kW, Euro 5 diesel engine. This drives a generator and resultant energy is stored in roof mounted super capacitors.
There is no physical connection between the engine and the rear axle. Propulsion is provided through twin electric motors and a summation gearbox connected to the axle. During deceleration the drive motors regenerate brake energy which is used to top-up the super capacitors. When the vehicle pulls away, stored energy is used to accelerate, and engine rpm does not need to increase.
This combination is expected to achieve fuel savings of up to one third when compared to a conventional diesel driveline. Other significant environmental benefits include lower carbon dioxide emissions, reduced noise levels and a smoother ride.
The Versas will be operated by several bus companies in the Greater Manchester area under contract to TfGM and in compliance with its ‘Yellow School Bus’ requirements. This includes using regular drivers who have been specially trained, strict rules on behaviour by users of the service, and the fitting of a comprehensive CCTV system on each vehicle.
These vehicles represent the final deliveries of a total of 88 hybrid buses ordered by TfGM under contracts through the Green Bus Fund 1 & 2 initiatives.
John Horn, Sales Director at Optare, added: “We are very pleased with the outcome of our close collaboration with TfGM, which has resulted in these high quality school buses, built at a very competitive price, and which are cost effective to operate.
“The young people travelling in these vehicles will be doing so in considerable comfort and safety while the use of hybrid technology is contributing to a cleaner and quieter environment in their local communities.”