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Recycling waste needn’t stop at running your vehicles on biodiesel derived from spent cooking oil.
Waste can be put to lots of other uses. Suitably processed, it can even be used to cover seats.
That’s the view of E-Leather. Its Peterborough plant makes seat trim material from shavings, trimmings and other bits and pieces discarded by tanneries that would otherwise go to landfill, and it’s looking to make inroads into the bus and coach sector.

Producing the leather used to make everything from stylish jackets to the cover on your brand-new sofa creates vast amounts of liquid and solid waste, E-Leather points out. A tonne of hides generates no more than 255kg of finished, tanned leather but almost three-quarters of a tonne of what on the face of it is rubbish.

The technology E-Leather employs allows it to take roughly a third of this detritus and turn it into fibre that is then transformed into a tough-looking material known as composition leather. The fibres are physically interlinked in a patented process that does not involve the use of adhesives.

At first glance it is almost indistinguishable from traditional leather – it looks and feels pretty much the same – but costs slightly less.

It has further advantages, the company claims. It’s up to 50 per cent lighter than traditional leather and up to 30 per cent lighter than moquette, which spells fuel savings and potentially a higher payload.

“What’s more, it’s more durable than conventional leather,” contends E-Leather head of marketing, David Parkinson. In particular it’s scuff-resistant, he says.

However you still get to enjoy the onboard atmosphere of restrained luxury that leather can create.
“You can have it in any colour you like, and it can be embossed with your company’s logo,” he continues. “It stitches like a fabric and its use produces very little waste.

“We supply it on rolls 1,400mm wide and both the quality and the colour remain consistent,” he adds. So does the grain; a wide variety of surface grains are available.

It’s safe, says Parkinson. Produced in line with EC Directive 95/28 governing the flammability of materials, the fire retardant standards it complies with include BS 5852-2:2006 CRIB 7 and BS 476 Part 7 (Class 2).

Furthermore, it’s easy to keep it looking good. You can wipe it clean with soapy water.
Composition leather can be used as a roof lining and to line passenger saloon side panels in order to co-ordinate them with the seats.

E-Leather’s own manufacturing procedures are geared towards preserving the environment. The Peterborough factory recycles 95 per cent of the water it uses during processing while a thermal oxidiser has cut natural gas use by between 50 and 70 per cent.

Composition leather is now being used in aircraft – five airlines have opted for it – and trains and even in the taxi version of Mercedes-Benz’s Vito. You can buy footwear made from it and it’s employed in various other sectors of industry.

Sometimes used as piping or in inserts rather than to trim the entire seat, conventional leather is becoming increasingly popular, not just on coaches, but on buses run on selected routes; intercity services or routes patronised by commuters for example. Both it and composition leather are a long way from breaking moquette’s grip on the seat trim market however.

The days of strident moquette patterns with colours that shriek at you have pretty much departed. These days both colours and patterns are in the main more sober.

That’s the case with roof and wall linings too, with muted blues and greys the tones favoured according to Wendy Fraser, a director of Automotive Textile Industries.

“Velour tends to be used in both cases,” she says. It’s easier to fit because it’s less-directional than cord.

Downbeat blue or grey carpets tend to be preferred as well.

“We’ve seen a definite move away from the bold, larger patterns with busy, multi-coloured designs which literally shout out for attention,” adds Janina Crook, Holdsworth design manager  “In the past these were embodied by the centre panel stripe designs, random ‘paint-splatter’ textures and larger scale multi-coloured highlights which were all hugely practical in nature with the inherent ability to hide dirt and disguise staining.

“The more recent trend has been towards a plainer, calmer look, with tonal colouration rather than multi-colour effects and warmer highlights such as orange and beige.

“Whereas in the past a seat may have been upholstered with both a main body pattern and coordinating plainer trim, in some cases we now find that the plainer option is now being used to furnish the entire seat.”

In Holdsworth’s Aura collection the top selling colourways are different shades of blue, along with reds and greys, while the more traditional Vigor range includes blues, greys and blacks with contrasting highlight colours.

Many of the more adventurous bus operators however are opting for the sort of interiors that practically leap off the vehicle and drag passers-by in off the pavement; the effect that is presumably intended.

Merseyside’s PeoplesBus for example ordered the Optare Tempo it bought just before Christmas with pink handrails, blue moquette trim on all 43 of its Esteban seats and blue LED underseat lighting to provide the gangway with extra illumination. Blue and pink are the company’s house colours and the Tempo is the first new bus the 14-vehicle operator has acquired.

Elsewhere, GHA Coaches has put two 28-seater Optare Solos into service on the Dee Bee network, which covers an area to the north of Chester along with parts of Flintshire. They’re fitted with Esteban Civic V3 seats trimmed in black and yellow leather as part of an overall black and yellow colour scheme.

Slip-resistant vinyl flooring can now be specified with more exciting patterns and colours than in the past, and some bus companies are opting for them in a bid to make an impact.

Fraser advises against going completely over the top however. “You don’t want to make people feel dizzy,” she remarks.

UK bus passengers tend to favour properly-upholstered seats rather than perches with plastic pads, and UK coach passengers like their (air-conditioned) creature comforts.

Aside from the ability to recline, they like a seat to have a footrest, an armrest, a magazine holder, a drink holder, and sometimes a meal tray. They may want sideways adjustment too.

They want as much space as possible and they also like to see what they’re doing; as do bus passengers. These days concealed airliner-style overhead lighting is often favoured, with LEDs used for certain specific applications; the underseat illumination used by PeoplesBus referred to earlier is a case in point.

Decent lighting on a coach means, among other things, that you’re less likely to spill your hot drink over you; not that the drink you’ve bought onboard is likely to be all that exotic. In Drinkmaster’s experience coach travellers still tend to prefer those good old stalwarts of tea, coffee and tomato soup, although cappuccino is increasing in popularity.

Onboard provision of inexpensive hot drinks is becoming more popular according to Kevin Almond, Drinkmaster’s coach division sales manager, if only because of the comparatively high cost of buying refreshments at service areas.

The ingredients ought to be provided from a sealed capsule however – or sealed in the bottom of the cup – rather than spooned out of a jar in a cardboard box next to the driver’s seat, he asserts. “That’s essential on health and hygiene grounds,” he says; and while there’s clearly an element of special pleading here, he has a point.

The cups hot drinks are served in have to be properly insulated too.

No matter whether they’re on a bus or a coach, passengers want to have some idea of where they are going, especially if they’re in an unfamiliar town; and Sound Technolgies can help. It’s just introduced its EasyGuide CityBus GPS passenger information system.

Besides the familiar voice announcing the next stop, screens in the passenger compartment display a schematic map showing the bus travelling along its route in real time. As a consequence they get ample notice of its arrival at their chosen destination, giving them plenty of opportunity to prepare to alight.

At any point along the route the screen can display still or moving images in a variety of different formats, allowing the broadcasting of video advertising. The advertisements can be run at specific locations; a minute or so before the driver reaches a major supermarket for example.

Also available from Sound Technologies is the EasyGuide GPS Media Player. Designed to be fitted to vehicles on sightseeing tours, it includes multi-language commentaries as well as screens showing images of the attractions the commentator is talking about.

If required it can operate automatically, with no input from the driver required other than switching it on. It can also take the prevailing traffic conditions into account.

If traffic is heavy and the tour bus is moving slowly then the system can be configured in such a way that there will be no major gaps in the commentary.

Bristol-based v6e has had success with its digital L-Verbum system which provides multi-lingual commentaries and is used on Big Bus Tours in Hong Kong and London.

There is a GPS option on V6e’s system which will trigger the commentaries automatically. V6e has also integrated commentary systems with passenger informaton screens for Lothian Buses which show the commentaries in text format for those who are hard of hearing, as well as providing general information and advertisements.

On buses screens are of course often integrated with the now-widely-fitted CCTV cameras supplied by companies such as 21st Century Technology Solutions – last autumn it won a three-year contract potentially worth £6million to supply Go-Ahead – and Look. Advertisements and public information announcements can be interspersed with live images of the passengers themselves; an often-timely reminder to them that they’re under observation.

East London Bus Group’s decision last year to fit Look T1000 CCTV systems to 130 new Scania OmniCity double-deckers illustrates just how many cameras can be attached to a single vehicle. Each OmniCity is equipped with 15, nine of which are mounted internally.

21st Century can supply onboard monitors up to 20in in size which it says are protected against vandalism. Given the mess often left behind on single- and double-deckers on late-night city centre work, especially on Friday and Saturday nights, one cannot help but wonder whether fitting them with vandal-proof toilets might be a good idea too.

As far as onboard toilets for coaches are concerned, Shades Technics has been busy developing an offside-mounted rear cubicle for Plaxton’s Elite. Features include LED spot-lighting overhead and above the sink, and a 24v tamperproof smoke alarm with an optional driver’s alert.

Shades has already launched a drinks unit for the Elite. At the time of writing it had supplied ten, with seven orders in the pipeline.

For Jonckheere, Shades has come up with the 1202 cubicle. It has a standard base but offers three different top options.

The first is low, so that seats can be mounted on it. The second is high, with room for a coffee machine, while the third has an integrated hot drinks machine, a holder for cups, a worktop and a sink.
Some coach passengers want something more substantial than a drink during their journey.
Employed on a long-term agreement with Newcastle United, Northumberland-based Tynedale Group Travel’s newly-acquired three-axle Neoplan Starliner 2 boasts a fully-fitted rear galley with two ovens along with a fridge freezer and fridges; fridges are often found on more prosaic coaches too of course to store cold drinks and water.

The first Starliner 2 the company has acquired, and used to transport the team and other key people working for the club on match days, it features 36 seats and eight tables.

Nor is onboard entertainment neglected, with DVD players – now fitted to many mainstream touring coaches along with flip-down TFT screens – and PlayStations all provided. Passengers can watch Sky TV too and make use of Wi-Fi.

The Starliner 2 will be allocated to the Newcastle contract until early May, whereupon it will switch to tour work; it can be reconfigured to a 46-seater for touring.

It will be succeeded by a second Starliner 2 Tynedale is acquiring. Says Tynedale managing director, Andy Sinclair; “It will become Newcastle United’s dedicated team coach when the team is – hopefully – back playing in the Premier League.”

Wi-fi of course has wider onboard applications than its use on football team coaches and is increasingly being installed in vehicles on commuter work; in those deployed by Stagecoach on the Oxford to central London Oxford Tube for instance. It allows passengers to browse the internet and check their emails so that the journey passes more quickly and more productively.

A leading specialist in the field, Icomera has supplied Wi-fi systems for use on the Oxford Tube and on First Cymru’s Shuttle100 service between Cardiff and Swansea. They have also been installed on National Express coaches.

Other UK users include Greyhound and Excel Passenger Logistics. Icomera’s products are distributed by 21st Century.

All these extra electrical goodies do of course increase the risk that the vehicle will end up with a flattened battery. That’s why it’s worth fitting a battery guard sourced from a company such as Intellitec MV to ensure that it will always pack enough punch to start the engine.

The Newcastle United Starliner 2 has been fitted with a surface sound system. Unlike traditional loudspeakers, which produce a directional sound-wave, surface sound technology radiates sound through vibration.

That makes it easier to fill every corner of the passenger saloon with music from a vehicle’s MP3-compatible CD player; everything from highbrow opera to the latest offering from Simon Cowell if you can stand it.

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