Sunday, 18 December 2016

The Yutong City Master, a fake Routemaster?

So when I had the opportunity to book one more flight with my Wizz Air Club membership, Skopje it was!

In 2011 and 2012 the municipal operator in Skopje, JSP, took delivery of over 200 Yutong City Master buses.  They buses appear to be a Routemaster 'influenced' body on standard Yutong ZK6116HGS double decker.  The double deckers, with a more conventional layout, remain available from Yutong, which is one of China's largest bus manufacturers.  I am not aware of any other city adopting the City Master body, although internet sources suggest there are some in Guangzhou, in southern China,

The  City Masters were delivered with a white band around the whole body, making them very reminiscent of a 1970s National Bus Company livery.  However most have had the band on the body sides and rear stickered/painted over - the reason certainly isn't obvious!
The majority of the City Masters have a red electronic destination display, which is fairly unusual.  They do generally work, albeit showing routes and via points in Cyrillic.  The poor quality shown here is a factor of the camera/photographer not the bus!

However the higher numbered City Masters have a more conventional orange display.  A common feature also seemed to be non-illuminated off-side head lights.  It seemed too common to be a failure so may be a 'day light running' feature with the near side only illuminated.

Apparently 15 City Masters are fitted with removable roofs for tourist operations.  This feature was not required in my December visit!  One City Master with 'Skopje City Tour' branding (looking like a slight rip off of City Sightseeing) was parked up for much of the day in the city centre but I didn't see any bearing this livery in operation.

The unusual nose appears to present more visibility problems than ye old AEC Routemaster, with the solution being this three mirror set up on the near side mirror arm.  Say hello to me!

Whilst there is a Routemaster style cab, it is accessed from the main saloon.  Tickets can be bought off vehicle in newsagent kiosks for 30 Macedonian denars, or from the driver for 35 denars.  To facilitate purchase there is a cash tray in the cab door, which is rather inconvenient to use as it is effectively behind the driver, and the vast majority do tickets whilst they drive!  It isn't even like, say an Optare Solo, where passengers pass you on boarding: passengers may board through the centre or rear door.  The consequence of this most drivers seemed to drive with the door fully open to ease the purchase of tickets.

This is an overview of the rear saloon.  The City Master has two staircases, one on the off side behind the driver, and one to the near side at the rear.  In this photo there is luggage space under the stairs - though I never saw it used.

The upstairs of the City Master is fairly conventional in layout: there is a single bay of 4 behind for the forward stairs, and the seats are Chinese built and hard, I like to think based on the dreadful Esteban Urban 90!

The rear stairs are forward of the rear door - and the engine.  Yes, despite the Routemaster inspired design at the front, the engine remains in a vertical cabinet on the off side at the rear!  This means there is space behind the rear stairs for seats: two forward facing and one sideways facing Rowley Seat are provided as well as 5 across the back.  Like any city bus they have their fair share of grafitti,
Tight circular stairs which were relatively easy to use on a moving vehicle.

The upstairs has two roof level emergency escape routes.

The front windows are provided with window blinds, beautifully self-branded by Yutong.  The mechanism to use this one is sort of defective but enough random pulling ensured the blind eventually went up again.  I always think the Chinese manufacturers are brave to give this kind of feature to drivers let alone passengers.

Sliding opening windows are provided.  Stickers on the windows about smoking etc are faded - they are here just difficult to see.  Most emergency hammers were missing, as seen here.

There are six clips securing the access to the destination display.  On the vehicle I rode on at the front, 4 of the 6 could not lock because the lower part of the mechanism was completely missing.  Nice things for customers to catch their shins on.

The interior ahead of the forward stairs is fantastically well provided for with air vents!  Buy one get ten free!

However the air vents found in most of the bus are falling to bits.....

....or have fallen out completely.....

.....or have been covered with some gauze a local fitter has found.

And now a few more images of City Masters going about their trade.

So what did I make of it?  The design is just too quirky - it really is only about image and having something unique, and if that's what Skopje and Yutong set out to do they have succeeded.  The ticketing is weird, it will work with 100% off bus ticketing (so may be London!?) but places a great stress on the driver, and I expect moving the engine to the logical place was going to be just too expensive.  Speaking of the engine, it is smooth in motion, seems to clim what hills it can find effortlessly, and has quick gear changes, but when stationary it rattles and vibrates like....a rattling and vibrating machine.  It's otherwise a comfortable enough city bus and no worse than designs in western Europe.  I believe that Yutong are probably the most 'with it' of the Chinese bus manufacturers and will eventually crack it in the west. Would love to compare it to their conventionally laid out double decker.

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