Find­ing lo­cal so­lu­tions

Our test drive of the B8RLE Euro 6 CAT bus comes packed with an ex­tra el­e­ment of nerves, be­ing one of 32 re­place­ment buses Vol­gren is in the process of de­liv­er­ing in Perth

ABC (Australia) - - DRIVEN - WORDS & IM­AGES PAUL ALDRIDGE

Here we are, driv­ing the B8RLE Euro 6 CAT (Cen­tral Area Tran­sit) bus only mo­ments be­fore its de­liv­ery to the Pub­lic Trans­port Au­thor­ity (PTA) of Western Aus­tralia. Let’s hope for an in­ci­dent-free drive!

Be­fore the drive, I was told this new B8 CAT is a very light­weight, ul­tra- quiet eight-litre turbo- diesel on a Volvo B8RLE chas­sis – with Euro 6 low- emis­sion tech­nol­ogy and some pretty great claims made by Vol­gren about its buses; so I was in­ter­ested to see how it achieved this and what sets a Vol­gren bus apart from the oth­ers.

Vol­gren’s Western Aus­tralia state man­ager Matthew Smith says the bus will be used for Transperth’s cen­tral area tran­sit, the CAT bus. This is a free ser­vice that runs around the cen­tral CBD of Perth.

“This bus will op­er­ate on the free cir­cuit and is funded by the City of Perth’s park­ing levy,” he says. “This sys­tem is de­signed to en­cour­age peo­ple to not drive into town and to use the free pub­lic trans­port pro­vided to travel around Perth city.”

The buses all sport a fe­line-like logo and the routes are distin­guished by four colours: red, blue, yel­low and green. The ser­vices op­er­ate about ev­ery 15 min­utes to dif­fer­ent parts of the city and pas­sen­gers can get on and off as many times as they like with­out pay­ing a fare. This con­ges­tion- eas­ing ser­vice has op­er­ated in Perth since 1996, and sur­pris­ingly, with the suc­cess of the sys­tem, we haven’t seen sim­i­lar sys­tems adopted in many more cap­i­tal cities.

DRIV­ING THE CAT

Leav­ing the Vol­gren plant at Malaga, we headed to the stomp­ing ground of this new CAT bus; this was its  rst drive be­fore be­ing handed over to the PTA. The paint­work and brand­ing make these CAT buses an eye- catch­ing combo, eas­ily recog­nis­able on Perth streets.

The in­te­rior is sur­pris­ingly roomy, has bright colour­ful up­hol­stery and paint trims, am­ple legroom and plenty of grab han­dles for pas­sen­ger safety. This model has two dou­ble- door ac­cesses for quick pas­sen­ger en­try and ex­its with suf cient room for dis­abled and el­derly pas­sen­gers. I have driven Vol­gren buses over the years at the de­pot I work at and have been re­ally sur­prised at how well the in­te­ri­ors with­stand heavy ev­ery­day wear and main­tain their looks.

I guess be­ing a route bus you ex­pect a cer­tain level of ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties and not the lux­ury of its more elite com­pe­ti­tion, but the low level of in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal noise was im­pres­sive and not some­thing I would usu­ally as­so­ciate with an ev­ery­day op­er­a­tor ─ I had been told it was quiet but the level was un­ex­pected. This, of course, would have a pos­i­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as well as in­creas­ing driver and pas­sen­ger com­fort.

The B8RLE chas­sis is called a midi for­mat with a short­ened mid­dle sec­tion to al­low greater ve­hi­cle ma­neu­ver­abil­ity; this would re­ally benet the driver in the busy Perth CBD with the con­stant quick stops and starts of the CAT ser­vice in trafc. Pow­ered by a Volvo Group D8K en­gine, which in this ap­pli­ca­tion is rated at 320hp (239Kw) with 1200Nm of torque, you re­ally no­tice that the com­bi­na­tion is well-suited to this bus ─ but af­ter a drive on the free­way I could see it com­fort­ably han­dling more than just its city routes.

SAFETY FEA­TURES

When I asked Stu­art Wood­ward from Volvo Bus Aus­tralia about the safety fea­tures, he told me: “This chas­sis has an EBS (elec­tronic) brak­ing sys­tem, and for the  rst time on a model mix within Aus­tralia on this chas­sis, we have in­cor­po­rated ESP (Elec­tronic Sta­bil­ity Pro­gram) on a low-oor bus which is stan­dard on the 8-litre B8 low oor. Depend­ing on cus­tomer re­quire­ments, we can also pro­vide a  re sup­pres­sion sys­tem that is used through­out the en­gine bay.”

From a driver and pas­sen­ger safety as­pect, Smith added that “the video

se­cu­rity sys­tem used on­board is a great safety fea­ture that helps protect both driv­ers and pas­sen­gers on­board, and iden­tify route and traf c prob­lems and in­ci­dents as they oc­cur”. I had no­ticed there were driver cages on some of the buses; CAT buses mainly op­er­ate for tourists, work­ers and shop­pers in the CBD, so the routes are con­sid­ered low risk and cages are not re­quired. They op­er­ate mainly in day­light hours through the week, with only the blue CAT route op­er­at­ing dur­ing later hours on week­ends. Be­ing cash­less too, this also re­moves the po­ten­tial dan­ger of theft for driv­ers.

DRIVER COM­FORT

As a bus driver, I am al­ways in­ter­ested to know how this bus con­sid­ers the com­fort of the driver, as I sus­pect driv­ing in busy city con­di­tions would be a some­times stress­ful job.

“Vol­gren have spent a great deal of time in col­lab­o­ra­tion with other op­er­a­tors in the in­dus­try to get in­put and feed­back for the de­sign of the driver’s area ─ to de­cide what are driv­ers look­ing for,” Wood­ward says.

“That in­for­ma­tion has given rise to that whole fu­ture bus front area that has paid great at­ten­tion to the de­tail of the er­gonomics of the driv­ing area.

“There has been great con­sid­er­a­tion given to how the driver is sit­ting, the com­fort of his seat … the spac­ing of the con­trol area, and the num­ber of times re­quired to use the con­trols and per­form cer­tain func­tions, as well as the reach re­quired to do so ─ ev­ery­thing that can be seen as repet­i­tive and neg­a­tive for long-term driver com­fort and health has been con­sid­ered. There are (also) booster fans pro­vided for the driver from the air- con, heaters and a demis­ter unit to en­sure the driver is al­ways com­fort­able,” he de­tailed.

With some buses it is the vis­ual ap­pear­ance or sheer power that im­presses, but with this ev­ery­day work­horse it is the smart tech­nol­ogy from the Co-Bolt fram­ing sys­tem to the Volvo B8RLE chas­sis be­hind this bus that make it an im­pres­sive ve­hi­cle ─ ex­ter­nally sim­ple in de­sign but with the tech­nol­ogy that makes the CATs any­thing but ev­ery­day. With a suc­cess­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion that benets both the PTA and the peo­ple of Perth, I am sure the CATs will be roam­ing the streets of the cap­i­tal for many more years to come.

EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL AND FUEL SAV­INGS

Volvo Bus Aus­tralia con­tracts and tech­ni­cal sup­port man­ager WA, Stu­art Wood­ward, says this new model will have a num­ber of benets for PTA.

“Ob­vi­ously go­ing from the B7R ─ which is be­ing phased out ─ to Euro 6 emis­sions stan­dards to achieve cleaner emis­sions in terms of both gas and noise emis­sions, we also go to a com­plete in-house Group en­gine, whereas our B7R en­gine was sourced ex­ter­nally,” Wood­ward says. “We have also seen a re­duc­tion in fuel con­sump­tion for like op­er­a­tions with the new B8R prod­uct in Perth, es­pe­cially within the CAT op­er­a­tions. We have seven Euro 5 B7s in op­er­a­tion and

We have also seen a re­duc­tion in fuel con­sump­tion for like op­er­a­tions with the new B8R prod­uct in Perth, es­pe­cially within the CAT op­er­a­tions.

we also have 20 Euro 6 B8s in op­er­a­tion al­ready, and we have seen signicant fuel re­duc­tions ser­vice wide.

“The B7s that we op­er­ate in the CAT en­vi­ron­ment are us­ing in the mid 60 litres per 100km and the B8s we have in the ser­vice areusing in the high 50s.“We have al­ready seen fuel sav­ings of 3-5% depend­ing on which of the routes the bus is op­er­at­ing on”

“So the thing to re­mem­ber about the CAT op­er­a­tion is that it is a very de­mand­ing ser­vice in that the av­er­age speed re­quired is be­tween 10 to 12kmh, on av­er­age they stop ap­prox­i­mately ev­ery 400m and the idle times are con­sid­er­ably higher at around 50 per cent.

“In com­par­i­son, other stan­dard bus ser­vices in the Perth area op­er­ate at a speed of 25kmh with an idle time of mid 30s. The CAT ser­vice is quite a harsh op­er­a­tion on ve­hi­cles,” he ex­plained.

KEEP­ING SKILLS IN WA

“The PTA did stip­u­late in their con­tracts with us ( Vol­gren), a clause that they wanted to al­ways be able to ap­proach us di­rectly with any prob­lems or is­sues as they oc­cur, and our lo­ca­tion means that we can al­ways be avail­able for them,” says Smith.

“With Volvo, we also have an open- door pol­icy … they can walk in at any time and au­dit our pro­cesses, and we reg­u­larly use that as fuel as to how to con­tinue to im­prove fur­ther.”

Ac­cord­ing to Smith, Vol­gren em­ploys 75 staff and that in it­self has created about an equal num­ber of jobs in the lo­cal area by util­is­ing things like parts, trans­port and other ser­vices.

“What this does mean for the lo­cal com­mu­nity is that we keep a core of spe­cialised skills alive,” he adds.

“This is also im­por­tant to the state as a whole … oth­er­wise we would need to out­source for all these ser­vices and the skills die. This main­tains ca­pa­bil­ity and we can tackle just about any­thing re­quired by our com­pany,” Smith proudly states.

BEAU­TI­FUL BUILD

“The most prom­i­nent thing about a Vol­gren is the Co-Bolt alu­minium sys­tem,” con­tin­ued Smith.

“The fact that it is alu­minium means that we can have a stronger, more durable bus on the road. Im­por­tantly, it’s mod­u­lar, which means that re­pairs are faster, cheaper and eas­ier to per­form; this en­sures the bus is more eas­ily ser­vice­able.

“These two fac­tors, when you look at the cost of the bus, mean that it re­quires very lit­tle on­go­ing main­te­nance be­cause of the ini­tial strength of the bus.

“The alu­minium Co-Bolt frame is vir­tu­ally in­de­struc­tible, it is

a beau­ti­ful way to build a bus, (and) as a re­sult, we are putting to the mar­ket some­thing that we know is safe, durable and a qual­ity prod­uct,” he says.

It’s this Co-Bolt sys­tem tech­nol­ogy, Smith points out, that en­ables Vol­gren to build buses un­like any other on the Aus­tralian mar­ket, and gives its buses the tech­nol­ogy they claim “has the power to change the in­dus­try”.

Vol­gren states that it has the low­est life­time costs of any bus on the Aus­tralian mar­ket and backed this up by re­search un­der­taken by Monash Uni­ver­sity, Aus­tralia’s largest ter­tiary in­sti­tute, with pretty as­tound­ing life­time sav­ings of around $60,000 com­pared to other buses tak­ing part in the stud­ies. So with es­ti­mated sav­ings like that, the long-term partnership be­tween the PTA and Vol­gren makes good busi­ness sense.

Vol­gren now builds close to two in ev­ery three route buses sold in Aus­tralia, so it must be­ing do­ing some­thing right and some­thing dif­fer­ent to its com­peti­tors.

Vol­gren’s partnership with PTA com­menced in 1999 and has gone onto be­come one of the long­est and most suc­cess­ful bus sup­ply con­tracts in the his­tory of the Aus­tralian bus in­dus­try. The suc­cess of this partnership has en­abled the bus builder to es­tab­lish and run its sub­stan­tial man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity in Malaga, Western Aus­tralia.

This pic: Vol­gren’s Western Aus­tralian state man­ager Matthew Smith Above right: The cabin is sleek and mod­ern

Above: The in­te­rior is roomy and caters to peo­ple with lim­ited mo­bil­ity; The CAT liv­ery is eye-catch­ing

Be­low: Easy ac­cess all around

Above: The Volvo D8 320hp en­gine has plenty of grunt

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