Sunday, August 29, 2010

A review of the SBST Scania K230UB and SMRT Mercedes-Benz OC500LE [Part 2]

Part 1 focused on the Scania K230UB by SBS Transit

Now for Part 2 it will focus on ‘rival’ of the Scania K230UB, the Mercedes Benz OC500LE by SMRT. As mentioned in Part 1 it is also bodied by Gemilang, is environmentally friendly and also introduces revolutionary firsts in Singapore’s public transport.

So how does the OC500LE fare?

SMRT Buses – Mercedes-Benz OC500LE – Euro V

The demonstrator (SMB1H) [top] and the production version [bottom]

The OC500LE marks many firsts for SMRT Buses.
  • first bulk purchase of buses since the formation of SMRT Buses after rebranding TIBS with its parent company SMRT.
  • marks the start new registration range that starts with the prefix SMB (SMRT Buses) from SMB1H, discontinuing the TIB registration range at TIB1257C (a UMW Dennis Lance)
  • the first (or F1RST on the SMB1H’s advertisement)  Euro V bus in Southeast Asia at the time of its introduction last year when the SBST Euro IV Scanias were still being delivered.
  • the first Wheelchair Accessible buses in SMRT’s fleet
  • the first buses to use Orange LAWO LED Electronic Destination Signage (EDS) for better visibility (previous TIBS buses used Green Flip Dot EDSs).
  • the first public buses in Singapore to utilise voice announcements similar to that of their SMRT Trains counterpart, such as “Thank You for travelling with SMRT Buses.” and “Doors are Closing”.
I was delighted when i heard that SMRT Buses had continued on with the tradition of Mercedes-Benz buses, which comprises the main bulk of TIBS fleet; although i was a little bit disappointed that SMRT went with Gemilang bodywork instead of TIBS’s favored Hispano Carrocera bodywork. Given the impressions i had with Gemilang bodied Euro IV Scanias from SBST (read : “brittle and cheap feel”), i wasn’t optimistic of Gemilang bodyworks.

To be honest, i did half expect the OC500LE to vibrate the Gemilang bodywork even though Mercedes Benz buses aren’t known for any earth shattering vibration buses given my experiences with majority of the SBST/TIBS fleet of O405s. I also recalled the cheap and boring interior/exterior of the Scania K230UB and gotta say i’m half excited yet half suspicious if this Gemilang-bodied OC500LE’s gonna have the flaws of the Gemilang-Scania? Cue the buzzer once again, i was wrong.

My first trip on board an OC500LE was on 189 on a trip home from Clementi MRT. The bus’s exterior looks modern, attractive and new from the front to the rear and the moment i stepped in, the bus seems rather luxurious. Sliver grab poles, whitish-grey interior, Vogelsitzes that reflect the company’s colours, the flooring and even the interior design (add on a nice new bus smell). As the bus moved off, i realised something : I’m actually getting getting excited to be in a comfortable and attractive bus! Though it’s kind of a pity there’s only 132 buses purchased.
Exterior design/bodywork
  • Front
    • When the bus was first announced at the Go Green with SMRT at NUS , there were many mixed comments on the front of the bus.
      • The big Mercedes Logo resembles the O305 double decker buses by SBST in the past
      • The black area behind the Merc logo looks like a jet intake
      • It’s a copycat of the SMRT’s Volgren Mercedes front
      • It’s a Citaro (literally) instead of an OC500LE
    • It’s actually a licensed Mercedes Capacity front.
    • As expected from Mercedes, the front is pretty attractive. it isn’t a full Capacity front because of the black area that’s replaced with an SMRT logo. Doesn’t detract much though but I'll find it looks weirder if the black’s there. Also, because of the difference in height of the real CapaCity and the Gemilang bodied bus, the front windscreen’s kinda large and the front flattened to the body…^^;. Add on the bumper foglight, i believe a first in any public buses, makes it look pretty stylish. It is also complimented by the broad wipers.
    • The Konvekta aircon pod – looks fitting for a citybus.
    • Continuing the tradition for TIBS, the LAWO EDS is using the font that’s used with previous TIBS Buses, which is actually quite nice and having a good reputation for visibility. Fixing up one of the complaints by passengers, SMRT moved the route number to the right for easier visibility if the OC is hidden behind any buses. And it doesn't really appear as a blob of light from far (can at least see there’s numbers on the right and words on the left.)
    • On the whole, the front’s attractive! though the windscreen’s look too big too big if you get too close to the bus, like if the bus is not really proportionate. Well, who can resist a Mercedes front?
  • Side
    • With the black areas defining the interior walls as the rear half of the bus is not low floor, unlike the sides of the Scania K230UB which seems pretty natural, the OC500LE’s side walls look like as if they pop out of nowhere (although in my opinion if the black’s lowered it’ll probably look nicer). The black areas end at the rear with a stylish signature of |\_ due to the rear row of seat’s being angled.
    • The side indicators are all using LED bulbs for better visibility,continuing the tradition of TIBS
  • Rear
    • The rear’s black area that curves nicely towards the grille at the engine cover is a nice touch, though it does give the impression of the rear as a bit of a feminine touch due to the bumper that’s integrated to the bodywork, and the curve. The tail lights and the third brake light all seems to be inspired (or inherited) from the O405G Hispano Habit’s rear lights.
    • It looks Wright-inspired.
  • Overall, the bodywork design seems to be actually fully thought out, looks any Mercedes bus, pretty attractive and eye-catching. It also follows the TIBS tradition of European-styled buses and being different. The bodywork does not need to try very hard to turn heads.

  • The interior’s mostly greyish-white,with tan-orange side walls and complimented by the sliver grab poles make the interior of the bus looks luxurious. Yellow priority seats, with red and black seats that reflects the company colours.
  • The designers probably took another page off the Hispano Habit’s interior, with the curved-in aircon ducts and Hispano Habit-like aircon vents. It seems that this time round the designers put actual efforts into creating an interior with substance.
  • The bus stopping lights are inherited from TIBS buses, one at the front, one at the middle. For better visibility they are now red in colour.
  • The Next-Stop LED panel is absent from the OCs, though i believe one day they’ll be installed ~.
  • As expected from Konvekta.Cooling air, though also at the rear it’ll be a bit warm and stuffy for the middle seat.
  • The priority seats passengers may not be able to adjust the aircon vents, while the rear half of the seats, the passengers seating nearer to the aisle do not have an aircon vent to adjust, having the aircon blown directly to them.

  • This is where this bus really shines!
  • Yellow, red and black Vogelsitzes compliment the interior, and the material for the seat cover’s quite luxurious and comfortable. The material also traps heat abit slower so for a long journey you can actually seat there and fall asleep comfortably. The cushions though are thinner than expected. A comparison of the thickness can be found on the O405G Habits/Volgren (with the same Vogelsitze design).
  • Legroom for the priority seats seems quite little, though still quite comfortable for the rest of the seats.
  • There is very little vibrations, if any and they’re pretty tolerable.
  • The bus is actually a CBU (completely built up) bus and therefore the assembling is done overseas, continuing the TIBS tradition that CBU buses have better quality. The interior is pretty sturdy, no feeling of cheapness and well-designed.
  • Also inheriting from TIBS, the engine noise insulation found in coaches. When the bus stops at a red light, the interior’s very quiet, you can barely hear the engine idling (instead all you’re hearing is the aircon filter working). And when the bus is moving off, i actually struggled to hear the barely audible engine and gearbox changing.
  • little to no jerking, very smooth ride.
  • Though sometimes the voice announcements seems to be irritating to hear at first, sooner or later it’ll get used to as being part of SMRT.
  • Super smooth on highways, feels like you’re floating down the highway when the bus speeds at 6th gear and quiet.whenever it goes over bumps the interior doesn't rattle and crack. Quick acceleration and deceleration.

The 2nd batch OC500LE
Exterior design/bodywork
  • Unlike the Scania K230UB IV/EEV batch, the OC500LE only has a few minor difference at the front, and the rear wheel hub is a bit different.
    • The front windscreen has a blue tint below the EDS to reduce glare from the sun ; given the windscreen’s so big, and sun being low can cause discomfort for passengers and drivers alike.
    • the driver’s side wing mirror also have the yellow warning stickers

  • Instead of having the difference in the exterior, the main difference in the batch 2 is the interior.
    • the most obvious difference when viewing from the outside is the new blue/purple seats.
    • From the entrance, when you look up – Welcome aboard SMRT Buses, turn right after tapping ez-link – the rear SMRT logo and the seatbelt logo for the middle seat, once seated, there’s another SMRT logo in front. Before you alight, look up – Thank you for travelling with SMRT
    • The rear row of seats now have more grab poles for standing passengers. Also it have a 4 instead of 2 aircon outlets at the rear row to provide more cool air to the rear rows of seats as the engine is directly below them and the heat can make the passengers seating there stuffy.
  • though i feel they can squeeze more seating they remove one PIW bay for additional 2-4 more seats
  • Check out the interior of the batch 2 at
  • Same as batch 1. Comfortable for all rows now, though the adjustment of the aircon for outer seats still remain.

  • More or less the same as the batch 1 OC500LEs, apart from the extra aircon ducts at the rear rows of seats. Also the seats which are now blue and purple.And as the saying goes, appearance is only skin deep. The seats are now of a new material cover and provides an additional degree of comfort as compared to the batch 1s. The cushion’s still not thick though.
  • Same as the first batch.
So there’s the second part of the review focusing on the OC500LE first and second batch. Both batches are the same, and the thing that the batch 2 improves on is the passenger comfort and more uniform experience when travelling on SMRT Buses/Trains/Taxis. Currently like the Scania EEV buses, the second batch’s delieveries are ongoing, and it sets a new standard for travelling in public transport.

The Mercedes Benz OC500LE gets 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Next up – Conclusions!

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