British B55 earw praise hi Colony
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Hong Kong operators and c rivers are more an ready to sing e praises of he B55.Yet only eight Volvos have been exported the Colony. Noel Millier repot
VOLVO'S British-designed double-decker bus, formerly .known as the Ailsa but now designated the B55, has proved popular in the Crown Colony of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong island's secondlargest bus operator, The China Motor Bus Company, has seven Ailsas in service on its route Operating between North Point (Pak Fuk Road) to So Uk in owloon on the mainland via
e cross-harbour road tunnel. On a recent visit to Hong long, I found that both CMB ngineers and some of the combany's more experienced bus rivers were prepared to sing the vehicle's praises.
CMB originally took delivery f an Ailsa double decker in 976. This bus, fleet number AV1, was once involved in a major accident which caused xtensive front-end damage. Thanks to the robust contruction of the Ailsa under rame, however, the damage, hich could have caused other
ehicles to be written off, was localised and allowed the bus to be rebuilt. It has since returned .io everyday service.
CMB engineers praised the 4Vsa mainly for its reliability. eliability is of course the keyord in any successful bus peration but perhaps more so , n Hong Kong where passenger oads per bus are generally well n excess of 100 and public ransport has to negotiate a umber of steep hills in tem pertures considerably higher than hose in Great Britain.
AV1 was followed by seven ore buses with wheelbases xtended to increase seated assenger capacity to 107. This ncreased passenger capacity oes not necessarily mean a derease in legroom, as in Hong Kong regulations still require 26in between each seat. The buses also feature seats which n accommodate three or two people.
Bus availability for the Ailsas is high and well in excess of 90 per cent. In fact, the eight Volvo buses are amongst the most consistently reliable in the 800strong China Motor Bus fleet.
At the time of my visit the company had yet to experience a major unit failure with the buses. Any member of the maintenance staff at CMB garages operating Ailsas told me without hesitation that in his opinion the buses were among the best in the fleet.
The company's most experienced drivers are pleased
with them. The driving position gives a commanding view of the road. The performance of the brakes and the automatic transmission, combined with the front engine which gives natural and efficient cooling and makes for easy service and maximum reliability, has meant that the buses are able to cope well with the overloading which is an almost permanent feature on the Colony's buses.
With the Volvo, the operator also has the advantages of running an old-generation front engine vehicle, het which t the low steps and low floor le similar to that found in modi rear-engined buses.
The Chinese drivers seem find no undue problems fri engine heat or noise on 1 buses, which are operal totally as one-man routes.
In addition to the sevenAil: operated by China Motor Buf. Hong Kong, an eighth vehicli operating in the Colony.
The first Ailsa ever built, E
iich was revealed at the ScotMotor Show six years ago,. now the flagship at John iy's City Bus fleet.
Former CMB chief engineer in Blay has recently started. own business on the island ering private hire and con:I double-deck transport. He wired the AiIse after it had rated as a demonstrator in Thai capital, Bangkok.
Although the Alexanderdied vehicle served well -ing its brief stay in Thailand, Thais appear not to be as Nessed by the double-deck lcept as they might have. )n. Unfortunately this partiBr bus is of the one-entrance e and the crowded and often Iticconditionsin Bangkokcry for dual-entrance vehicles. This pilot bus is now resplenit in the yellow and maroon
Bus livery chosen for John y's bold venture into nonnchised bus operation in ig Kong.
M present the only other i-franchised buses in Hong 1g are single-deck coaches I buses, but initial demand City Bus services is in ping with the overall growth le Colony.
Expanding bus fleets have, pite the introduction of other Isport modes such as the ss Transit Railway, more 3ntial passengers than they cope with.
lohn Blay made no secret of Dpinion that the British Volvo 5 is probably the most suit double-deck bus operating °pica! climates.
)espite the obvious rational success of the buses long Kong, and with opera, in Great Britain for that ter, only eight buses have so )een exported.
)ne problem for Volvo GB is both Kowloon Motor Bus the smaller China Motor Bus Company which provide stage bus services in Hong Kong and Kowloon operate large numbers of very reliable Gardner-engined buses. These provide the backbone of the companies' fleets and both companies have extensive maintenance facilities for them.
Hong Kong does prove beyond question the fact, often doubted by Continental vehicle manufacturers, that the double decker offers greater advantages to bus operators in towns with heavy traffic congestion and heavy passenger loadings than any other type of bus.
Passenger flow on and off buses in Hong Kong is as quick as that on the other vehicles, including articulated types, and fare collection is straightforward.
Carrying capacities can meet. most requirements and, most important, the maintenance needs and costs can be kept down as unnecessary complications (or sophistications) can be avoided.
One story I heard whilst in Hong Kong was of an extremely overloaded Ailsa being stopped by China Motor Bus staff and the driver, a very experienced man, pointing out that the bus was obviously strong enough to take such a load.
John Blay keeps one driver on one particular bus in the City Bus fleet and his Volvo driver, Tai Wei, told me that the bus is the best double decker in Hong Kong. Whether this is true or not, it is certainly one of the cleanest.
Volvo's British B55 double decker proved itself conclusively in Hong Kong, It remains a mystery, though, why only eight buses have so far been exported and all of these to Hong Kong.
The Volvo Bus Corporation has, however, announced orders from Pakistan and Thailand to supply large numbers of front-engined B57 single deckers.
The double decker is no stranger to many parts of Asia and the B57 uses many engine components used in the B55. The B55 underframe design also allows, uniquely, the low floor advantages of rear-eng ined double deckers coupled with the undoubted advantages of a front engine which can be kept cooler in hot climates.
With these advantages the fact that only nine buses have been exported becomes even more puzzling and has caused some operators I spoke to in South-east Asia to mistrust the vehicle and suspect there must be something wrong with it.
The experiences of China Motor Bus show no grounds for such a speculation. The unique British-conceived, designed and built bus is a product of a Continental manufacturer and it is this hybrid that seems to place the bus in a marketing quandary.
Those who have operated the B55 under what must be one of the world's most difficult conditions, have described it as an ideal export bus. Let's hope its export potential as a provider of good and much-needed public transport will make it the British and Swedish flag waver it should be.