Last week’s Coach & Bus Live show saw Optare reveal its new Tempo SR city bus model which was uniquely created for operator Trent Barton.

Bus manufacturer Optare used last week’s Coach & Bus Live show in Birmingham to reveal a restyled version of its Tempo city bus model.
The first Optare Tempo SR will enter service in December with TrentBarton and, uniquely, much of the design of the bus is down to the influence of the operator and its design consultant, Ray Stenning of Best Impressions.

Perhaps with a cheeky nod to Transport for London’s New Bus for London project, TrentBarton is marketing the new bus as its ‘New Bus for Nottingham’. In total 13 of the type will enter service on the ‘Rainbow 4’ between Derby and Nottingham via Sandiacre and Stapleford.
With their introduction the route will be rebranded as the ‘i4’ and TrentBarton is also introducing a new corporate identity, once again created by Best Impressions. It retains the existing trade mark TrentBarton bow emblem as an abstract pattern of circles, a move that the operator says aims to reassure customers that its standards remain high.

The new Tempo SRs form part of an £8m three-year contract placed by TrentBarton last October, under which Optare was awarded preferred supplier status. As part of the deal, 65 Optare buses from across its product range will be delivered to the operator over the period of the deal. It obviously came with some commercial leverage as TrentBarton was able to specify that it wanted a bus that was “fundamentally different to anything else on the market”.

Using the existing framework of the Tempo model, Stenning worked in partnership with both the manufacturer and operator to create a new look that he believes aims to address some of the failings associated with the current generation of bus designs.

It builds on the work of the Bus Design Group in which Stenning and the late Matthew Bradley, Go Ahead’s former group marketing manager and who was a champion for good bus design, were instrumental in its formation. Since the untimely death of Bradley in 2008, Stenning admits that some momentum has been lost, but the ethos of the Bus Design Group has been “bubbling away in the background”.

“In the 1960s, there were bus designs like the standard BET single decker that were just as radical and innovative as any car design,” Stenning told Passenger Transport. “There are still some nice design ideas out there, but on the whole buses today are just square boxes with wheels. It’s design for design’s sake and curvaceousness and good design is not in the vocabulary.”

“Although there are some nice bus designs out there, we’ve lost that with bus design on the whole. The design of cars has really moved on and their are some wonderful pieces of automotive design out there, but it’s an area that’s neglected by bus manufacturers far too often.”

He continued: “Sometimes a new version of an existing [bus] model comes out and it seems to be just tarting it up for the sake of it. There’s no elegance and simplicity. Why put a fake grill on the front of a bus unless there’s a need for it? Design is a servant of need and a bus just doesn’t need a ‘face’ or fake grill to make it look attractive.”

Taking inspiration from Stenning’s “design heroes” Raymond Loewy and the Italian design studio Pininfarina, he has given the Tempo SR flowing lines that he says are more harmonious. “There’s a prominent line that rises from the front and flows in a continuous blade around the bus. There’s a natural flow and every line has a purpose,” he said.

Careful attention has been paid to ensure that ancillary items like air conditioning pods or running lights are hidden away or conform to the lines of the vehicle rather than being placed on the vehicle as an afterthought. The rear of the Tempo SR has also been carefully styled to achieve what Stenning calls balance and continuing the lines of the design.

“There’s a couture look to it,” he believes. “The entire product has been finished off. It’s like a good garment; it looks good due to the cut and the close attention to the finishing and the detail. Good design lasts and it looks fantastic too. That’s what we’ve tried to create here.”

Many innovations in bus design by manufacturers in the past have been copied or been the inspiration for their rivals and Stenning hopes this will be the case with the Tempo SR. “I’d be highly flattered if it was emulated by other manufacturers and gets them to think more about the importance of good design. Engineering plays an important role, but there’s still a need for vision. I hope this spurs them on,” he concluded.