Manual milestone

The stick shift transmission school bus is not dead as Hino delivers a six speed manual on the chassis supplier’s first Euro 5 in Australia

Manual milestone
Manual milestone

By David Goeldner | June 28, 2011

Hino and Mills-Tui have put together a school bus package that’s basic to the eye, but pretty much guaranteed to go the distance over the life of a government contract.

Specced to creep under the Queensland Government’s Category 5 $315,000 school bus funding cap, the austere Mills-Tui Orbit body on a ‘functional’ Hino RK8J chassis ticks most boxes on the rural school bus operator’s list.

It’s neat, tidy, and comes with few frills – perhaps a touch ‘old school’, but Mills-Tui Sales Manager Steve Moss and Hino’s Queensland Bus Sales Manager Steve Buxton both believe that rural school service operators want a bus they can confidently say will still be working in 20 years from now.

Just why operators like Dudley Burns at Atkinsons Dam in southern Queensland’s Lockyer Valley would choose to stick with a manual transmission is obvious, says Buxton.

"It’s a manual transmission with a spring suspension and what that means in dollars and cents is it’s a cheaper chassis, but still able to fulfil the role of a full size school bus as a 61 seater," he says.

"It comes in under the $315,000 cap, and in combination with the Mills-Tui body it provides the operator with a simple, basic school bus – and we find there is still a market for that type of bus."

Buxton is aware that many fleet operators won’t entertain spring suspension opting for airbag suspension, and similarly manual transmission is bypassed for automatic.

Burns took delivery of the new school bus in late June, replacing a 22-year-old Mercedes-Benz and taking the honour of being supplied with Hino’s first Euro 5 chassis in Australia – which just happens to have manual transmission.

"It’s Hino’s first Euro 5 engine delivered in Australia, and it could have been an automatic but it just happens to be a manual," says Buxton.

"There will be better fuel economy mainly through the turbo-charged diesel engine settings."

Buxton says Hino has a reputation for better fuel economy in a school bus application compared to similarly specced buses.

And there’s no need for adblue – the Hino manual is a genuine Euro 5.

"Fill up with diesel and away you go," Buxton says.

The 12.5 metre RK8J comes with a ZF six speed manual-synchro transmission gear box with cruise control and pushed along by a 280hp engine. The manual transmission is reported to be smooth with plenty of retardation for hilly country roads.

Buxton says exhaust brakes are standard, giving sufficient retardation coming up to school bus stops.

He says drum brakes on the RK8J tend to be a preferred option in school buses.

"Some operators don’t like running discs, and from a cost point of view there is not a lot of difference," he says.

"It’s a well accepted braking system in addition to the fact that it’s something we’ve had for years and operators are happy with it."

The chassis is also fitted with ABS to prevent lock up in hard braking situations.


The Mills-Tui Orbit body is uncomplicated providing a no-frills school bus, but it’s not a drab experience.

"Functional is a word I like to use," says Mills-Tui’s Steve Moss.

"It’s functional and designed to carry kids and do it well."

The 61-seater features vinyl-trimmed Styleride Premier Protean seats chosen by the operator.

"Hard wearing vinyl seats are still well thought of in a rural application," Moss says.

Given the rural environment, ease of cleaning the bus is a major consideration.

As with the seats, the floor is also vinyl-lined.

Introduced on Mills-Tui’s Urban Edge low floor city bus in 2010, the Orbit school bus also gets a Thermo-Lite composite floor.

"A composite floor gives you a weight saving and increases lifespan over marine grade ply," Moss says.

The school bus also comes with a Ness EDR410M camera surveillance system linked to a hard drive stored above the driver.

Moss says it’s the surveillance system of choice by Mills-Tui and widely used in the bus industry. Mills-Tui also supplies the hard drive reader.

The rural preference for split front windscreens in two pieces is considered, with each pane flat in the frame, and readily replaced roadside.

Two front windscreen shades can be lowered behind each pane, and for the driver – nestling in an Isringhausen driver’s seat – the kids can be brought to attention with a driver’s microphone and PA system, which comes standard.

The driver’s side window is larger than most you might find in a school bus, but it’s needed as there’s no air-conditioning.

Consequently, there are ten high mounted hopper windows, five down each side of the bus from front to rear.

"Air-conditioning funding under the Queensland school bus cap is a hot topic at the moment," says Moss.

"We are out of line with other states with Queensland Transport and Main Roads providing 50 percent of the cost of the air-conditioning."

Moss says it’s down to the operator as to whether they want to be out of pocket for the other 50 percent or whether they will go without the option of air-con.

And another Queensland school bus contract quirk sees the bus without passenger seat belts and a body-wide bench seat at the rear.

What lies underneath might surprise a few operators, particularly those that work the school charter market and rely on bin space.

The RK8J chassis rail runs through the bins, which Buxton says was a request from the operator to avoid installing a space frame.

"We’ve extended the chassis rail to get out to 12.5 metres," he says.

The cost saving by choosing not to install a space frame does appear to limit bin space, but the vehicle still comes with four bin doors – two each side.

Buxton and Moss are both keenly aware that the Mills-Tui – Hino school bus lines up in direct competition with vehicles being supplied from Asian-based manufacturers.

"Our main competition in the school bus market is Chinese imported product," Buxton says.

"They are hitting the market with a product that is more complex, has a lot more features and is cheaper."

But Buxton doesn’t see price or the addition of a few creature comforts as stacking up against what’s required to service rural school runs over several years.

He says the Hinos being delivered to Queensland’s school bus operators like Dudley Burns are tied to 15 year contracts.

"This is a purpose built school bus and I can categorically say that you will get this bus today and still have it in 20 years time," Buxton says.

Standing back and taking a good hard look at this tidy all-white school bus you can’t help but think that Buxton might well be right.

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