Sunday, 12 June 2016

Optare Metrodecker Final Review

As promised here is the report of my in service ride on the Metrodecker, which has recently been on loan at BorderBus, and my final conclusions. If you haven't read the first post on the demonstrator you can do by clicking here

I met with the Metrodecker at picturesque Wangford, just off the A12 not far from Southwold. A gloriously sunny morning tested my new phone camera to the limits and I'm pleased to say it passed!

Optare Metrodecker YJ65 EPU at Wangford
As you will have seen from my first report I was impressed by the ride, and so settles into my usual front nearside seat upstairs and settled down for an expected enjoyable trip to Norwich. If you look through the top deck windscreen you will notice a rather wide pillar after the short front nearside window. I first thought this would be an issue as it was dead level with my shoulder, but no, if anything it was a bonus and I could have easily nodded off had I been so inclined.

I also mentioned that acceleration was smooth, and not savage enough to throw people down the bus. This again was the case, and I found acceleration from bus stops pleasant and not unduly sluggish. However, that is all well and good for passenger comfort, but not necessarily good for timekeeping. Because the Metrodecker lacks the extra poke when needed it means gaps you could take advantage for in other vehicles at roundabouts etc you can't on the |Metrodecker, and this is an issue I think Optare need to examine. With increasing amounts of traffic on the roads buses need to be more nippy off the mark when needed and the Metrodecker is certainly not that.

It also lacks power going up hill. As we climbed out of Thurton on the A146, which lets face it is hardly a mountain, the Metrodecker lost power like an old Fleetline. I checked with the driver when we got to Norwich if he had had his foot to the floor and he confirmed he had. So the conclusion has to be the Metrodecker lacks torque, which is an issue with Euro 6 engines, but needs to be addressed.

Apart from that I have no complaints whatsoever about the ride. No rattles, comfy sears with more than adequate leg room, smooth braking with no screaming retarders, and just as quiet at speed as at low speed. Sort the power out and there is a truly excellent vehicle in the making. I was racking my brains to think of a similar ride from the past, and I kept coming back to the old Olympian coaches. Yes the ride was that good.

However a chat with the driver at Norwich revealed issues a passenger wouldn't necessarily notice. Take another look at the pic above. I was delighted to see the pillars at the front were nothing like the width of the Streetdeck. However they are actually wider at the bottom than the top and this has an impact on driver's vision. The driver said he had never driven a bus with so many blind spots, and even with a side camera which with so many cyclists around now has to be a good thing, there is a panel behind the doors which makes pulling out at an angle very difficult. Looking through my pics I haven't got one that shows it perfectly, but this one gives the general idea. Imagine you are the driver having to look behind the doors for approaching traffic. The driver also mentioned the dash and steering column were not able to be adjusted, and this is also something Optare need to look into.

Even when doors are closed there is quite a blind spot behind them
One thing I mentioned, and indeed compared were the stairs. I felt a difference immediately I climbed them and measured them against one of the Presidents at Borderbus. They are the standard 9 inches. However the driver told me that one thing he had noticed was the school children had taken much longer to get down the stairs than they did on the Presidents, and some had commented that the stairs on the Metrodecker were steeper. If kids have more problems on these stairs then older, less supple passengers are going to have real troubles, which again will affect timekeeping. I was glad it wasn't just me though, as I made a big point about the stairs on the trial run we went on.

Optare's parent company, Ashok Leyland have insisted that all issues are ironed out before the bus goes into mass production, which is why they are asking for feedback from operators (and I hope bloggers). I think this is an admirable way of doing things, and is certainly better than releasing a vehicle, making a quick buck then years later when everyone has had enough making 300 changes before you finally get a half decent vehicle. Yes the Metrodecker has some issues, but they shouldn't be too difficult to rectify, and we were unable to test for things such as interior light reflection in the windscreen due to the time of year, or how it performs in high winds being so light. I confess in the past I haven't been Optare's greatest fan, but get these issues sorted out, and in my view the Metrodecker will be the best double decker available on the market.

I got off at Norwich, took another pic that my old camera would have really complained about, and wondered when I would enjoy a ride on a new bus as much again.

The Metrodecker gleaming in St Stephen's St, Norwich


  1. On the Power issue this is not inherently Euro 6 (the E400MMC doesn't appear to suffer) but down to the selection by Optare & Wrightbus of smaller engines for their new models. Both use 4-cylinder Mercedes engines similar to those used in some Solos (for weight & fuel consumption reasons) rather than a larger 6-cylinder unit which ADL use. Their thinking appears to be that they see deckers as more urban vehicles where these engines are largely sufficient for the task but misses out on the growing demand for deckers on more interurban work like the 146. It's the eternal trade off of big engines vs small engines & power vs fuel economy.

  2. Andrew Kleissner13 June 2016 at 13:47

    There always used to be a feeling that larger engines working well within their power capacity lasted longer than smaller ones being "pushed" ... Is that true nowadays?

    1. Not really anymore (even the 6-cylinder Cummins in the E400MMC is half the size of the engines in early Olympians) and the advent of modern emissions regs & other issues have changed the view. The other issue is that exhaust after treatment requires the exhaust to reach a high enough temperature to treat the exhaust which is very difficult with a big engine working less (it is an ongoing problem on buses which do lots of stop start & struggle to build up heat). If this isn't done naturally with the normal heat of the exhaust it has to be forced which either requires the engine to be run at high revs for a significant period of time to get the temperature up or you have to remove the exhaust filters and get them cleaned by a specialist company.

      The big issue at Euro 6 was about offsetting the extra weight of the exhaust after treatment needed to meet the new regulations and all manufacturers have worked to get weight out from elsewhere to compensate. The bigger the engine the more cooling is needed and the more after treatment equipment is needed so the more space in the vehicle is taken up by the engine bay.

  3. Any idea when this leaves?

    1. Middle of this week I believe. It was here for a fortnight

  4. Dwarfer's right I got a nose in the engine bay and most of it is a whacking great filter thing, the engine is a farty little lump on the left! But strange when you are used to seeing a Gardner or a Leyland Plus the choking effect all that filtration has.

  5. Is the destination display a much-improved electronic one or roller-blinds?

  6. Third anniversary of launch 21 May 2014 and not a single sale announced by Optare. Is this a record of no sales since a launch of a new model in the British bus industry?