£13 million down the tube

Monday 7th December 2020

The order was announced in a fanfare of publicity on 4th March: “Europe’s most frequent coach service set to get even better with 34 new coaches this summer…. the largest single order of coaches in the history of Stagecoach …. the latest technology designed to enhance the customer experience”. Their deferment two months later was more muted, notably because the service had gone into lockdown hibernation. Then, relief all round with the order’s reinstatement a few weeks later after lockdown ended, with completed coaches delivered soon after and now they’re hitting the southern end of the M40 and A40 to upgrade Stagecoach’s famous Oxfordtube coach route between Oxford and London.

They’re 34 Plaxton Panorama coaches built by Alexander Dennis costing a cool £13 million. £382,353 each. That’s a lot of Oxford to London bus fares that’ll need taking even in normal times. For upcoming months, sadly, there’s no chance the coaches will reach their full earning potential.

I understand about a dozen are destined for service elsewhere in Stagecoach until passenger journeys return closer to pre-Covid levels on the Oxford London corridor.

The service frequency increased today with a timetable now offering a 20 minute frequency rather than half hourly as applied during November’s lockdown. And of course, Stagecoach have the road to themselves following Oxford Bus’s withdrawal at the beginning of the year, ending many years of fierce competition on the corridor, so that must be of some comfort to the Oxford commercial team.

The bright red and blue livery with large size Oxfordtube branding has been retained on the new vehicles with the addition of a ‘brought to you by Stagecoach’.

The coaches really do stand out especially their impressively long length, which seems to go on for ever. I know they’re the same length as other tri-axles on the road, eg those used by Scottish Citylink, but perhaps it’s the red and blue livery that makes these seem extra long.

The front destination blind is also nice and bright and stands out as the coach approaches.

There’s quite a few messages around the front entrance to take in as the coach draws up and awkwardly many become hard to read once the door opens, rather ruining the point of their existence.

The extensive coach length has enabled some comfortable seat spacing albeit not overly generous – I was struck by just how many seats there are both on the upper deck and in the smaller lower deck with its level boarding and mini width pair of tables. The seats are reclinable.

The lower deck seems to have gone overboard with blue lighting almost to the point it looked like one of those public toilets to discourage drug injecting.

There’s improved access arrangements for wheelchair users at the rear of the seating area in the lower deck.

I was a bit surprised tables weren’t included upstairs which would have broken up the layout a bit although I appreciate it would have reduced total capacity. Bus companies which have introduced tables have spoken highly of the innovation, saying passengers travelling together welcome them. For me, travelling mostly alone, I’m always a bit wary of using them not wanting to deny groups travelling together; or in current times not wanting another passenger to plonk themselves down facing me.

Talking of current tines. Stagecoach have gone for the window sticker with green-tick-and-red-cross approach although it was well into the journey before I noticed it.

It seemed a bit odd to ask the front seat passenger (above) to use the aisle seat rather than the window. My ear picked up a recorded announcement played rather softly over the PA as we left the Shepherds Bush coach stop – between Victoria and that point there hadn’t been any announcements, although there is a bright screen at the very front on the upper deck and another towards the rear which displays the upcoming stops.

Fortunately the screen isn’t too intrusive into the upper deck front window but I doubt it can be seen from very far back – especially the messages in small print, which I always think ruins the point of displaying such stuff.

There are two staircases on the coaches. Both are quite tight, the front being a 180 degree affair…

….. the rear a 90 degree one, located behing the lower deck seating and the wheelchair space.

The front staircase behind the driver looks quite attractive with its red coloured strip lighting on the steps.

I found the height on the upper deck to be quite restricted, banging my head a few times as I wandered up and down the central gangway, but to make up for that I very much enjoyed the spacious leg room on the front seats.

I read the coaches are fitted with solar panels, which sounds impressive, but I wasn’t sure where they are – presumably on the roof. Fortunately there are some windows in the roof which let light in, but even so the dark blue interiors, combined with the length, does give a rather dark aura and contrasts with the bright white strip lighting spaced out above the slim-sized overhead luggage racks – only wide enough for a coat or carrier bag or small rucksack. But, of course there are more spatious luggage facilties at the rear of the lower deck.

Naturally the coaches also come equipped with the usual stuff at each seat passengers come to expect these days including a coat hook, usb socket and wireless charging option and a holder to put your phone in as well as a fold down tray which extends out and a place to put a cup. But, to be honest, for getting on for £400,000 a vehicle I’d expected ADL to have made these a little bit more substantial than just the plastic they are encased in.

It’s good Stagecoach haven’t extended their latest policy of ceasing wifi on local bus routes to longer distanced routes such as the tube but I couldn’t get the system to move off from the landing page prior to logging in, so no good for me this morning.

More positively the coaches really do give a very smooth ride. We just glided along the road, even in central London’s traffic, and once we hit the A40 it was noticeable how our driver was at ease with his new coach – he was telling me it was his first day in service with his new steed and was very much enjoying it.

Just one annoying vibration rattle from the front panel.

Otherwise a big tick for a big coach from me. Good luck with those passengers that need generating to pay for them.

Roger French

3 thoughts on “£13 million down the tube

Add yours

  1. Very nice coaches indeed, but I just wonder, that seems lack of any big change makes it stand out from the coaches it replaced. I doubt if an ordinary passenger could tell the difference from the previous coaches.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. They are indeed very nice vehicles and even better, at least made in the UK. But, as a very regular user of this excellent service (which, lest we forget runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year unlike parallel London bus services), apart from the more sombre seat colouring, the average passenger would be totally unable to tell the difference between “old” and “new”. Which, on reflection, shows just how good all the vehicles are and possibly cannot be bettered. And mercy of mercies, they are to retain the splendid Oxford Tube livery unlike the rest of the unfortunate Stagecoach fleet, soon to be awash with ill-matched, wishee-washee, weak colours that most certainly neither blend nor inform the Great British Public as to their meaning.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “There’s improved access arrangements for wheelchair users at the rear of the seating area in the lower deck.”
    I’m surprised at the lack of your usual detail in describing such a measure.
    Like their Scottish cousins, one presumes that wheelchair access is via the rear door utilising a stow-away, fold out ramp stored in the luggage locker door? The Oxford examples have an advantage here, at least in their London terminal location – kerbside loading (subject to street furniture not getting in the way). However, try loading a wheelchair in the cramped nose-in Gloucester Green bus station in Oxford. The same problem occurs both in Glasgow and Edinburgh where at the latter location these coaches have to be re-located to a stance with extra wide loading/unloading space.

    The wheelchair issue could have been solved by simply removing the lower deck front nearside seats and table to create a special zone, allowing front door (with lift out manual ramp) access as Volvo claim the front axle throat is wide enough for wheelchairs to pass through. It would also do away with the ramps causing issues with vehicles unable to engage drive due to overly sensitive interlocks on the stowage compartment doors.

    Liked by 1 person

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