Looks Aren’t Everything…

…but inevitably they count for something.

The same is true of buses. Yes buses. Those big things on wheels that get in your way as a motorist and are about as devoid of style as…well…the bus that took you to school. Now THAT wasn’t a looker, was it?

But buses these days are getting makeovers. Gone are those square boxes of the 80s and 90s and now today’s buses are – whisper it slowly – getting rather cool designs.

Perhaps the biggest shock to the system of recent bus design is Wright’s Gemini 3 body. Gone are the rounded swoops that got it dubbed the “Nokia” bus (as it kind of resembled the mobile phone fascia of the day) – today’s flagship Wright body has hard angles to consider at the front. The side and rear are, to my eye, more pleasing. This looks a real classy beast from behind. As ever, the more daring the design, the more a talking point it becomes…(see previous blog “Eye Catcher…or does It Matter?” here)

For the technical amongst us, this bodywork is a Gemini 3 when coupled up to a Volvo chassis. Wright also offers it as an integral design, where it is known as a Streetdeck.

This is where you can spot the difference.

Recently, I tried out Transdev Harrogate & District’s new Volvo / Wright Gemini 3 combination on their route 36 between Leeds and Ripon. You can certainly believe the hype here. The spec is superb and the ride quality equally as impressive. The integral Streetdeck, however, loses a little something.

National Express West Midlands has bought one to trial. It is currently operating on route 9 from Stourbridge to Birmingham, and with a little help locating it via a helpful friend deep within the NXWM machine who knew it’s location, I managed to finally ride it.

I’ve tried Streetdecks already down the road in Worcester. First Worcester has 4 operating between the Cathedral City and The Malverns (see here), and I’ve had a whirl on the solitary Arriva Derby example too.


One of the 4 First Worcester Streetdecks, seen in Great Malvern.

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Arriva Derby’s solitary Streetdeck

My impression is that the Streetdeck loses a little something in the ride quality department. It feels a little jerky and bouncy, compared to it’s sibling coupled up to a Volvo, and to it’s contemporary models, such as the ADL Enviro 400.  I’d also add that the bus had an annoying alarm going off every time the door was open – but I presume that is easily fixed….

It’s all about weight though. Like the imminent Optare Metrodecker (which was recently on trial in Reading, see “Is This Bus Slimmer Of The Year?” here) it is the potential cost savings from having less fuel-guzzling buses that is getting the bus industry excited.

I want to love the Streetdeck. I really do. Having initially gasped at the first pictures of the model, I’m now getting to like it, now I’ve seen it “in the flesh” and had a go on a good few examples. It’s certainly an eye-catcher and a talking point. It also provides a challenge to brand / livery designers like Ray Stenning, who is famous for swooping and swirling designs to complement the contours of buses. The hard edges of the Streetdeck / Gemini 3 requires a change of heart. Ray has managed this brilliantly with his design for Transdev’s revamped 36.

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Ray Stenning’s superb livery on Transdev’s 36 route


Whilst most bus users probably won’t consider certain nuances with how a bus rides around a corner, for me it’s all about the entire package of a bus ride, and whether people who have a choice will consider it again. Transdev’s 36 is right up there challenging the motorist seriously with all it’s pulling points. The others less so. National Express West Midlands’ new livery applied to their Streetdeck has a certain amount of classy “wow” factor – it does look really smart out in service – but it’s current users on the 9 route usually have a diet of recently-delivered ADL Enviro 400MMCs. And although most may not be interested enough to spot the difference, they’ll have a smoother ride on the Enviro.

But will the weight loss and the good looks trump other endearing qualities?

Looks aren’t everything. it’s often more subtle than that…..


  1. greenline727 · March 1, 2016

    The annoying alarm in re the doors is probably the driver releasing the handbrake a fraction too early before the doors have fully closed and the microswitch has . . . erm . . . . switched!
    It’s a standard fitment to similar Volvo/Wright buses in London; from a driver’s perspective once the door closed button has been activated the right hand moves immediately to release the handbrake, ready to force (sorry . . . . move smoothly away) into the traffic flow.

    • philtonks · March 1, 2016

      Yes, I’m used to that scenario, but this seemed to be when the doors were open all the time. Perhaps the driver was doing something wrong as I was upstairs. As soon as he stopped, the doors opened, the alarm was on permanently until they closed and the bus pulled away!
      However, I am literally talking on text now to a friend who is on the bus as we speak, and apparently that isn’t happening now!

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