- Unique, tram-style design inside and out
Since November 6, 2006 anyone waiting for the number 4 bus in Nantes could be forgiven for thinking that a tram has turned up in its place. In fact what they are actually looking at is one of the most cutting-edge articulated regular-service buses in Europe. The new vehicles are part of Bus-Way, an innovative transport initiative developed by the Nantes municipal authority. The concept is based on Mercedes-Benz Citaro buses with natural gas drive and a special, tram-inspired interior and exterior design. The weekend of 4-5 November 2006 saw the ceremonial launch of the first of these unique buses.
The Nantes authority is made up of 24 boroughs which joined forces to implement a plan to strengthen the region and its economy. A key part of the plan involves upgrading local public transport. Bus-Way is the first joint project in Nantes and is designed to promote bus use and public transport routes. In total 20 Citaro articulated buses were ordered for the number 4 route, and these now connect the 15 stops along the eight-kilometre route between Nantes and Porte de Vertou in less than 20 minutes. The key premises behind the new concept are protecting the environment and ensuring the smooth flow of traffic. The project not only involves the purchase of the new Mercedes-Benz buses but also the creation of dedicated bus routes which are separate from other traffic.
The Citaro articulated bus, which is painted in iridium silver with black and yellow highlights, surprises the observer inside and out. The tram-inspired side profile of the 18-m long Citaro G is highly distinctive. The side panelling extends above the roof of the vehicle, and this fake height extension means that the gas tanks on the roof are almost completely hidden from view.
To ensure that the design continues across the articulated section, the bellows have been extended upward to correspond with the new roof height. The long downward extension of the wheel-arch trim on the centre and rear axles and the double-glazed, venus green-tinted side windows give the perfect illusion of a tram. Inside, the hallmarks of Bus-Way are instantly recognisable. The attention is drawn first to the maple wood ceiling trim above the central aisle. The recessed LED spotlights divide the interior into three distinct areas by colour: the front is illuminated in yellow, the centre in white and the rear in blue. Polished aluminium LED uplighters at selected window pillars round off the special lighting effect. All of the grab handles on board have a distinctive Bus-Way design, made from ground stainless steel tubing, curved at the top and bottom and with a non-slip matt surface in the area used by passengers. The dark blue seats, with their antivandalism design, have a hollowed, elliptically-shaped backrest. The shape is reflected in the padded wheelchair rest.
The entire interior is video-monitored. Six cameras monitor the entrances and exits, the passenger area and the wheelchair spaces at the front. The driver’s work-place is totally isolated from the passenger compartment. The driver accesses this “driver’s cabin” via the first wing of the door. A partition separates this entrance completely from the entrance for passengers, who access the vehicle via the second wing. To make access easier for passengers with restricted mobility, door 2 and door 3 are fitted with truncated ramps. When the fold-and-slide doors are opened by the passenger the ramps automatically extend within two seconds. The new-design bus stops, which have been raised by 270 mm, ensure virtually level access for passengers.
In addition to the usual route number and destination display, the Citaro G features further passenger information: there are four illuminated route map displays at ceiling height, four 15-inch TFT screens and four LED-lit advertisement panels, offering Bus-Way passengers extra information, advertising and news.
The Bus-Way Citaro is powered by a Mercedes-Benz M 447 hLAG natural gas engine with an output of 240 kW (326 hp). The fuel, compressed natural gas (CNG), is stored at 200 bar in the eight tanks on the roof of the vehicle. These have a combined capacity of 1,520 litres – sufficient for a full working day. Gear changes are made via a six-speed automatic transmission.
Route 4 is a public transport project which combines the advantages of the tram with those of the bus. The new Bus-Way line from Nantes to Porte de Vertou has involved creating a dedicated bus lane along the entire route. Those responsible for the Bus-Way project hope that it will relieve inner-city congestion and create the ideal transport link between outlying districts and the city centre. At present the three tram lines which cover the route to the city centre carry around 240,000 passengers a day, primarily commuters. It is expected that around 25,000 passengers a day will use the new Bus-Way route 4 to travel into the city centre. The Bus-Way project has attracted a great deal of attention in France – it is seen as an enlightened approach to the question of growing mobility needs and is therefore being closely monitored throughout the country.