VIDEO REVIEW: Wrightbus Streetdeck 10.6m

By: Paul Aldridge


Hybrid, let alone fully electric, buses are still a long way off for many operators, so clever use of ‘ancillary electrification’ may well prove diesel’s savior. On a Wrightbus 10.6m double-deck, we came away impressed.

VIDEO REVIEW: Wrightbus Streetdeck 10.6m
The Wrightbus Streetdeck 10.6m double-decker - we’ll possibly be seeing more of this on our roads.

IF childhood memories serve some of us well, a double-decker was the type of bus you saw in English movies and TV shows and a bus often thought of as a tourist mode of transport.

Some successful operators run only double-deckers, ferrying tourists around the cities, sites and villages. Their height is definitely a distinct advantage to take in the sights and views.

The drive today is the second Wrightbus vehicle in recent times; in the previous interview speaking with Tony Fairweather, managing director of Dandenong-based importer Patico Automotive, we asked who was Wrightbus and why Patico had chosen to add that company’s vehicles to its range of luxury and niche buses.

Fairweather explained that Wrightbus is a UK-based family-owned company, originally founded in Ireland in 1946 and selling locally. It now has expanded to have major manufacturing facilities in south-east Asia providing buses to the heavily populated Hong Kong and Singaporean markets – this soon will expand to include the Malaysian plant sending bus product directly to Australia and New Zealand.

BEHIND THE WHEEL

With a growing need for effective public transport systems within major cities to meet the needs of increased populations living, working and playing in them, a double-decker makes sense for a lot of different reasons.
It’s easy to anticipate a growing presence in our busy city areas.

Today’s test drive of a Wrightbus Streetdeck 10.6m would hopefully give a feel for how this big vehicle handles and if what makes sense on paper translates to both a manageable drive for the operator and a comfortable journey for the passengers.

The benefits of a double-decker are obvious; the capacity to carry a larger number of passengers without an increase to the vehicle’s footprint on our congested city roads is probably the most important one.

Space required for buses at stops would also be a benefit if comparing needing more buses to service the same number of passengers. This advantage would also translate to depot storage for inner city operators, where space is extremely costly and any reduction in storage capacity whilst increasing passenger capacity would also be a distinct benefit. Operator savings would also be gained from reduced driver costs per passenger.

In 2017, the NSW Government commenced progressive phasing out the articulated buses in favour of double-deckers, so we can expect to see more of these big buses in our cities.

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ROBOTS IN DISGUISE

Externally, the front is angular and modern. Visually, the distinctly shaped nose reminds one of a Transformer – we reckon kids will like this one. The wraparound windscreen gives the driver excellent visibility while the angled windscreen is also devised to help reduce glare for the driver. This design feature would certainly benefit drivers’ comfort in summer.

In fact, the driver’s cabin is spacious and roomy; simple in design and use, but more than ample for a comfortable drive – even on a longer stint like we have done over several hours driving from Dandenong to the Chelsea Beach area in Victoria.

Driving a double decker you might be concerned with how you would go with passenger visibility, with a total maximum capacity of up to 101 passengers – including standees. That’s a lot of passengers to ensure are safe.

There are two mounted cameras that have exceptional visuals of both the stairs and the upper deck. With such good passenger vision on a bus, they are essential on a bus like this for a driver’s peace of mind and passenger safety. Again, one feature we love, as per our previous test drive of a Wrightbus Streetlite WF 8.8m, is the emergency-exit door located on the rear drivers’ side. It’s something few have ever seen on a bus before, and it would be of even more benefit on this large-passenger-capacity bus in case of an unexpected accident or emergency.

POWER STATION

This model is the third generation of Wrightbus’s Micro Hybrid technology, featured with a Daimler Euro 6 OM934 stop/start engine. It’s a 5.1-litre four-cylinder diesel that delivers 231hp and a maximum 900Nm@1400rpm.
Most of the test drive area was flatter suburban roads, so maybe not where the Streetdeck would normally operate, but power was smooth and powerful at take-off.

We would have liked to have driven with a full load to get a true feel of the power-to-weight ratio. Unloaded there was extremely little body roll. This was expected to be a lot more noticeable with the upper deck, but surprisingly you often didn’t even feel this was anything other than driving a standard bus.

If not for the cameras visually in front of you a constant reminder, we might have even forgotten the top was there. No low bridges, thankfully.

There are three gearbox options available; it can be specified with either a Voith Diwa .6 four-speed, a ZF Ecolife six-speed automatic – both of these options feature integral retarders – and the third option is a new Daimler G90 AMT gearbox.

The passenger access and comfort was surprising for the bus’s capacity. There is a lot of flat-floored area downstairs, and there are seats with armrests that would be a bonus for safety with elderly or parents with young children.

In ‘ancient’ double-deckers many a childhood ago, the staircase was spiral, small and near impossible to navigate. Fast forward to now and this staircase is mostly glass sided with windows travelling up the bus for an open, light rise. Beautiful!
The upper deck isn’t as tall as downstairs, but it has a large clear glass skylight centrally that helps the area feel more open and spacious. Awesome!

The driver’s camera also ensures they would know at all times if a passenger was disembarking or travelling down the stairs from above, or see upstairs if no seating or if a passenger was standing.

LET ME UP!

Overall, it was a positive driver experience and with the clever technology behind the scenes the Streetdeck 10.6m – with its larger-than-expected glass areas for the passenger capacity – would certainly be a great city people-mover with savings and efficiencies to make it a smart choice in its class.

The kid in us all knows too it would be a fun ride for families, as long as us kids get to go upstairs!

Patico’s philosophy is to bring high-quality, proven products to the Australian market and with Wrightbus’s company slogans – "Shaping the future of passenger transport" and claims to "change perceptions about public transport" – it will be interesting to see if these well-proven overseas imports can have a positive impact on our local busy city transport systems.

Advanced Technology

Wrightbus encourages global expansion of the business. As Fairweather explains: "They are realistic and realise entry into the local markets will take time. They are very supportive of expanding globally. As an example, they recently had a request for a demonstration model in South Australia – they built one to Australian specifications with higher air-con capacity.

"They literally gave it to the South Australian Government; it’s been there for 12 months. Wrightbus know that this trial model will validate the technology, validate the service and will help build their reputation in the local marketplace".

"Wrightbus are industry leaders in the field of minimising fuel consumption through design weight reduction and the use of efficient driveline technologies that they have developed. Every Wrightbus is designed to minimise its impact on air quality and the environment with a focus on responsible manufacturing – it is their tried and tested reputation along with their advanced technology that make the Wrightbus vehicles a perfect fit for the Patico brand.

"We focus on the specific criteria of safety features and total cost of ownership; with the Wrightbus products they are class leaders - in fact, world leaders - in this category," Fairweather explained.

Beyond Diesel

Recognising that electric is the way of the future, Wrightbus acknowledges that cost can be prohibitive for operators when technology is in its early stages of development. With increasing pressure from governments to look at alternatives to diesel-powered vehicles and options that are more environmentally friendly, Wrightbus’s Micro Hybrid technology is a cost-effective alternative to meet growing environmental and operator demands while the technology advances to a point where it becomes financially viable.

Fairweather explains why Wrightbus fills the price gap for operators while current technologies are developing: "In particular they have a proprietary driveline technology that is extremely unique. They have recognised that electrics and hydrogen of which they do produce technologies are still currently expensive. When you look at the total cost of ownership model they have developed, Micro Hybrid technology – which is still using the highly efficient diesel engine (Euro 6 Daimler) – they have taken it to a form of electrification which is not a battery style electrification but is an ancillary electrification. That is, by fitting extra alternators the electricity is being generated by the diesel engine".

"With the Micro Hybrid technology Wrightbus are getting an extra 18 per cent fuel efficiency over the standard diesel engine. Another benefit is that it isn’t substantially more expensive to fit this technology in comparison to the costs of a full hybrid; that was another major reason why we chose Wrightbus," said Fairweather.

With Wrightbus providing double-deckers to the Singaporean and Hong Kong markets the demands of the vehicles in these heavily populated areas and extremely busy tourist destinations would be extremely demanding of the Streetdeck.

"Wrightbus are very flexible. You can get anything you can get in a conventional route bus. There are options with wheelchair and disabled access, colour options, anti-graffiti options, lighting options, security device options. Even with the technology there are options with the hybrid – parallel and series, electric, hydrogen. Alternative fuels is their thing," said Fairweather.

Specs

Distributor: Patico Automotive
Make: Wrightbus
Model: StreetDeck
Engine: Daimler Euro 6 four-cylinder, 5.1-litre OM934
Power: 231hp/172kW; 900Nm@1400rpm
Transmission: Voith D854.6; ZF 6AP1000B; Daimler G90

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