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Scania/ADL gas buses arrive in Reading

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The gas bus race is now well and truly on. Scania’s first gas buses for the UK have been delivered to Reading Transport with the first two unveiled this week, to be followed by the balance of the order for 20 buses within the next fortnight.

The ADL-bodied Scanias are based on the KUB 4x2 chassis with 9.3litre OG9 GO4 gas engine rated at 270hp. Unlike the earlier experiments with gas buses in the UK, Scania stresses that this is a purpose-built gas engine which can run on CNG or bio natural gas (BNG). A high degree of commonality with Scania’s 9.3litre diesel platform means that there are only 40 new components for the gas engine which does not require EGR. Scania, which has considerable experience having supplied more than 3,800 gas engines around the world, claims that its ‘Otto’ combustion process has a leaner fuel mixture which should lead to improved fuel economy compared to other gas buses.

Reading’s first batch of gas buses will comprise ten plus one spare for a new Reading borough council contract which starts in May. These have been finished in a new green livery with the balance of the order for 20 buses being spread between three other Reading routes.

The Enviro300 body has had some adaptations including a roof treatment to mask the eight gas tanks and additional information screens inside, influenced by Reading’s design consultant Ray Stenning. The 12.2m bus has 40 seats and will run on ‘virtual biogas’, with fuel supplier Gas Bus Alliance arranging for biogas generation to match Reading’s consumption.

Reading Transport chief executive James Freeman admits that he was very sceptical of gas buses before embarking on a trial at the beginning of last year, ironically with Scania’s gas competitor, MAN. With bitter experience of the 1990s gas bus experiments Freeman says: “The trial impressed me, and I wasn’t expecting to be impressed. It showed that new gas buses could work.”

The temptation to maintain Reading’s allegiance with Scania product however meant that the order went to them rather than MAN. And the alliance with Reading’s chosen bodybuilder ADL was an added boost for Freeman who describes the combination as “a marriage made in heaven”.

Having set a tough timetable for delivery of this order, driven by the new council contract, Freeman is now considering a second batch of gas buses. The company is investing around £800,000 in infrastructure for fuelling of the vehicles and it will make more sense if there are further gas buses in the fleet. Mains gas supply is running behind the delivery of the buses however, and the vehicles will be supplied by tanker until August, although as Freeman points out, this is how its diesel fuel arrives as well.

Work has been carried out at the Great Knolly Street depot with a ‘tin hat’ fitted in the workshops which will funnel any gas that escapes up to the roof vents. New scaffold structures have also been acquired to handle the regular inspections of the gas tanks. The vehicles will be maintained by Reading’s own engineers who will receive training at Worksop, and in addition they are going to be certified to look after the high pressure elements of the system.

The interiors have been fitted with ‘coffee shop flooring’, a first for Reading Transport, and have full audio next-stop announcements, including an external system to alert waiting passengers when it arrives at bus stops. Freeman reports that more than half of the company’s fleet is now equipped with this system and sees benefits for all passengers, not just those who are blind or partially sighted. “We think it is a big win for everybody,” he says.

The order was placed without Green Bus Funding, and Freeman points out that the project stacks up commercially, even though gas prices have risen sharply since the order was placed. Hybrid buses could not be afforded without external funding support, according to Freeman, whereas the much smaller premium for gas buses can be covered by the fuel savings. He expects the fuel costs to show be slightly lower when compared to diesel, but the main advantage is the low emissions and carbon neutral status from using ‘virtual biogas’. This was an important USP when the company was bidding for the new borough council contract as the local authority is very sensitive to environmental and air quality issues.

One of the side effects of the new gas buses for Reading may be an enforced change to its fleet replacement policy. The company currently boasts an impressive average fleet age of just four years, but uncertainty about the second hand market for gas buses - as well as Reading’s 31 Enviro400 hybrids - means it may have to consider mid-life refurbishments and longer retention for the new vehicles.

Freeman does see other opportunities however, including the possible sale of gas once it has the full onsite installation to other fleet users, including municipal vehicles and taxis.

Scania reports that it has had interest from some much smaller fleets in gas buses and it is planning to announce a partnership with a fuel supplier to make it viable to handle orders in single figures.

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