Optare Excel 1 -
The Optare Excel was the first low-floor type to enter regular service in Reading, and all apart from those wearing FastTrack park & ride livery were branded "LowRider" from new. The first batch of ten (901-910) arrived in February 1997 and replaced Metrobuses 150-159. Here is 909 in September 1997.
A further five (911-15) arrived in May of that year to operate "FastTrack", Reading's first park and ride service. The service proved so popular that another Excel (916) was soon ordered, joining the fleet in November. The revised timetable came into effect during October, so Excel demonstrator N330 EUG was hired to cover in the interim. 911-6 were transferred to the town fleet upon renewal of the FastTrack contract in the second half of 2002, being replaced by newer 932-7.
Above is 911 on West Street in July 1997 and below is 913 at Reading Station on 23rd September 2002. 911-6 are the only Excels in the fleet to feature the simplified LowRider branding first used on the low floor Spectras:
In January 1998 eight Excels arrived (917-24), February 1999 saw another seven (925-31), and in June 1999 another nine (932-40). They were all put into use on town services. The 932-40 batch were originally ordered for forthcoming park and ride services, but as the contracts had not been awarded to anyone at the time of delivery, the buses went into service in standard LowRider livery. After that one of the services was awarded to First Berkshire using 6 low floor Wrights, and the other sidelined. However upon the re-tender of the Loddon Bridge FastTrack contract in May 2002, 932-7 were gradually repainted into a modified FastTrack livery during the second half of 2002 to replace 911-6. At the same time they were fitted with 15" TFT monitors for a real time information system. Below we see 932 on the first day it entered service in the new FastTrack livery, Tuesday 3rd September 2002:
Here we see 934 in August 1999 before its move to the FastTrack fleet:
This is the view under the bonnet of 937 on 8th August 2002:
In July 2007 931-36 were replaced on FastTrack by Scania / East Lancs Olympuses 835-40, and were returned to the ordinary town fleet in base blue and cream livery. Destination displays and cash vaults were transferred to the vehicles from older 911-5 which were selected for withdrawal in their place. 931-6 are not expected to remain in the fleet for very many more years, and so are not going to receive fleet livery. They may however be selected to receive ColourBus adverts should the opportunity arise. 934 is seen below on 21st July 2007 not long after being returned to ordinary services:
932 was first noted on town services on 20th July 2007, 934 on 21st July, 933 on 24th July, 931 on 26th July, 935 on 27th July and 936 on 31st July. Following this the batch were repainted into plain white ColourBus liveries advertising bus fares in Reading. 935 was returned to service by 6th November 2007.
Two Excels arrived in September 1999 (941-2) and were allocated to what became Newbury's Vodafone fleet. They feature Vodafone logos towards the rear instead of the strapline "No need to collapse the buggy..." along the skirt, and have a different version of the Newbury Buses logo with Newbury written in burgundy with a green outline (more like the Reading logo), rather than being entirely green.
This is 942 in October 1999 at Newbury Bus Station.
In December 1999 three Excels were delivered (943-5) to the Reading Buses fleet. 945 is seen below with 929 behind at Reading Station on 22nd January 2005. Both have by now lost their white NO NEED TO COLLAPSE THE BUGGY... JUST ROLL ON, ROLL OFF! lettering from their skirts.
Fifteen Excels (946-60) were delivered from Cardiff Bus in June/July 2000 to replace the final Reading Mainline Routemasters. The first five 946-950 arrived in June 2000, a month before needed so the engineering team stripped the buses of all their (newly painted) panelling to apply a rust protection agent to their insides. 951-55 arrived in mid-July a week ahead of the final Routemaster day and were more rapidly prepared for service than the first five, presumably the rust guard wasn't applied to them. These ten entered service on 24th July 2000. The remaining five did not arrive until after the final replacement of Routemasters. All fifteen carried dot-matrix style destination equipment rather than the digital numbers and power blinds that new Excels bought by Reading had. They were also fitted with an internal information system which can display company messages, such details of route changes, fares etc. When the bell was pressed the message changed to "bus stopping". Apparently when the buses first went into service these displays still had details of route changes Cardiff Buses were making on them, including some wording in Welsh! After a few weeks the batch had extra fleet numbers added to the front and rear to because some drivers were in the habit of looking at the registration numbers to find their bus - the registrations on these didn't match and so caused some confusion!
951(left) and 947(right) at Reading Station in September 2000:
Below is 955 on it's third day in service on the three day old service 31, the replacement service for Routemaster operated Line D.
960 was fitted with a new high visibility destination display as a test before specifying similar displays for new buses in the future. It is seen here at Reading Station in August 2001 with this equipment:
In October 2001 a deal was signed with Eastbourne Buses to exchange 6 of their Optare Spectras for 10 of Reading's Excels. Excels 951-60 were chosen to go and started leaving the fleet at the beginning of the November at a rate of about one per week. Oddly enough in November, a few weeks before 960 left, the first new buses with the new high visibility LED displays like 960's were delivered, these new buses also being Optare Spectras! 960 had it's display swapped with the one on 946 in December 2001 so that the test display could stay in the fleet rather than go to Eastbourne.
951-60 were withdrawn from Eastbourne in July 2006 and sold to South Gloucestershire Bus and Coach, owned by Rotala. In October 2007 951/52/54/56-60 were then transferred to sister company CentralConnect (West Midlands). 956/8 were sold to TM Travel in November and October 2007, changing ownership in May 2008. 951-5/7/9/60 were advertised for sale in April 2008 and sold to Dawson Rentals in May 2008.
From Dawson Rentals 951 was sold to Premiere, Nottingham in April 2009 and withdrawn for scrap in March 2011. 952 went to Premiere, Nottingham in September 2008, then to Stafford Bus Centre in July 2009, Walters Limousines by October 2009 and withdrawn by January 2011. 953-5/7 passed to Red Arrow, Huddersfield in May (953/7), by July (954) and July (955) 2008, back to Dawson Rentals in September 2008, then 953-5 went to Stafford Bus Centre by June 2009. From there 954 passed to Edwards Coaches in April 2010 where it was withdrawn in December 2013 and 955 went to Meakin, Crewe in November 2008. 957/9/60 went to Premiere, Nottingham in October 2008 (957/60) / March 2009 (959), with 959 scrapped in February 2010 and 957 sold to Sims, Nottingham (dealer) for scrap in February 2011. 960 was sold to Stafford Bus Centre in July 2009, passing to Walters Limousines by August 2009 and withdrawn by January 2011.
Back in Reading, in August 2002 the display on 946 was replaced with a brand new Bright-Tech "Light-Tech" LED unit, identical to the ones used on the new Spectras. This time the side and rear numeral displays were also replaced, and it is seen here on 12th August 2002:
Towards the end of September 2002, 949 also had its displays replaced with the new "Light-Tech" system, and by the beginning of December 947, 948 and 950 also had them. By February 2003, 949 had lost its interior display in favour of a standard Bus Stopping sign similar to those on 901-10, and eventually the other four were modified too.
Further Excels later received Bright-Tech LED displays, the conversions are summarised below:
- 902 - April 2004
- 911 - by April 2004
- 914 - late 2002 following repaint from FastTrack livery (all five of its sisters initially received the usual calculator style units)
- 916 - by 16th March 2006
- 920 - by December 2003. Converted back to Power Blind by 4th December 2004
- 922 - by early February 2004. Converted back to Power Blind during February 2005
- 939 - October 2003. Converted back to Power Blind by 4th December 2004
- 944 - by April 2004. Converted back to Power Blind during February 2005
- 946 - August 2002
- 947 - by December 2002
- 948 - by December 2002
- 949 - September 2002
- 950 - by December 2002
- 960 - by August 2001, then swapped onto 946 when sold in August 2002
Following this Excels started to receive Hanover LED displays, which have the capacity to scroll information along them. Conversions are summarised below:
- 901 - by 21st October 2004
- 902 - between 19th and 21st October 2004
- 903 - by 21st October 2004
- 904 - by 22nd October 2004
- 905 - between 22nd and 25th October 2004
- 906 - between 23rd and 27th October 2004
- 907 - by 21st October 2004
- 908 - between 23rd and 28th October 2004
- 909 - between 22nd October and 1st November 2004
- 910 - by 1st November 2004
- 911 - by 1st November 2004
- 912 - by 1st November 2004
- 913 - between 23rd October and 1st November 2004
- 914 - by 5th November 2004
- 915 - by 1st November 2004
- 916 - by December 2006
- 926 - by 10th June 2006
- 929 - by 2nd October 2006
- 930 - by 12th May 2007
- 932 - 13th July 2007
- 934 - between 13th and 20th July 2007
At the start of March 2005, 917-24, 937, 943-45 were withdrawn following the arrival of twelve new Scania L94UB / Wright Solars branded for routes 4, 5 and 6. They were sold to Ritchies Transport Holdings of Swanson, Auckland, New Zealand and departed for shipping from Southampton Docks on 8th March 2005, one day after the Solars entered service. The vehicles left in two batches; 917-18, 937, 943-45 departing in the morning along with 201 to bring the drivers back and 304 for support, and then 919-24 followed just after 1230. They were due to travel on the ship Tampa, which was scheduled to depart Southampton on 11th March, arriving in Auckland, New Zealand on 13th April, stopping at Baltimore, Savannah and Brunswick in the USA and Manzanillo in Panama on the way. Below is 921 in operation with Ritchies as their 660, seen in either late June or early July 2005.
Thanks to Peter Thompson for this photo.
931 was repainted into FastTrack livery at the start of March 2005 to replace 937.
Then in mid-March 938-40, 946-50 were also withdrawn, these too having been sold to Ritchies, in advance of another 8 Wright Solars that entered service on 4th July 2005. They departed for Southampton on 17th March, again in two batches, with 938-40, and 946 going first, and the 947-50 later in the day. They were due to travel on the ship Tarago, which was scheduled to depart Southampton on 21st March, arriving in Auckland on 25th April, stopping at Baltimore and Savannah in the USA, Manzanillo in Panama and Papeete in French Polynesia on the way.
901-10 were withdrawn in March 2006, again for export to Ritchies. They were taken to Southampton Docks in two batches on 16th March 2006, with 901-4/7 going at approx 08:15 and 905-6/8-10 at approx 12:30. They were thought to be due to travel on the ship Taiko, which was scheduled to depart Southampton on 20th March, arriving in Auckland on 26th April, calling at Bremerhaven in Germany, Zeebrugge in Belgium, Baltimore and Savannah in the USA and Manzanillo in Panama on the way. 904/2/3 are seen below on the way to the docks at Rownhams Services on the M27 on 16th March 2006. Thanks to Richard Bilbé for this photo:
911 was withdrawn during June 2007 for export to Ritchies. It was taken to Portsmouth Docks on 19th June to sail aboard mv Hansa Stockholm on 25th June. Also on board were L58/9 UNS (Volvo B10M/Alexander, ex Metrobus, Crawley, new to Whitelaw, Stonehouse) and M630/822/45 RCP (DAF SB220/Northern Counties, ex GM Buses, Manchester. M630 RCP was new to AA Motor Services/Dodds of Troon) which had been acquired by a company called Distributors New Zealand Ltd, and passed through Reading in preparation for shipping to New Zealand. L59 UNS & M822 RCP actually spent a few weeks stored at Reading pending transfer to the ship.
912-15 were withdrawn in July 2007 for export to Ritchies, and departed Reading for Portsmouth on 18th July for loading onto mv Hansa Bremen on 21st July. 913 is seen below on 20th September 2011 wearing an advert for Mitre 10 Mega which is a large hardware chain in NZ, and is used on the local urban service in a township called Blenheim on the South Island. Thanks to Garth Stewart for this photo:
On arrival in New Zealand the Excels were given New Zealand registrations, and most (apart form those marked with *) were converted to dual door 39 seaters before entering service. The table below lists their new details:
Reading Fleet Number
Ritchies Fleet Number
New Zealand Registration Number
901 607 DMJ918 902 609 ECD201 903 612 DMT182 904 613 DLQ465 905 620 DKE964 906 623 DKW680 907 624 DSA57 908 632 DKE970 909 634 DPP84 910 637 DNB224
Thanks to Peter Thompson for the information on 911-50 and Mike Butler/Iain MacKenzie for information on 901-10.
941 was withdrawn as returned to a leasing company in September 2005 following reductions to the Vodafone services at Newbury from 26th September 2005 with the merger of routes TH1 and TH2 which 941/2 operated. 941 eventually passed to Neaves, Catfield where it was reregistered V90 EEN and was withdrawn in August 2011 and left the fleet by December 2011, likely scrapped. 942 was withdrawn and returned to leasing company Key Leasing in October 2006 following replacement by Scania OmniCity single deckers 6-12. The leasing company sold the vehicle on to Southdown PSV (dealer), who sold it to OR Jones, Llanfaethlu on 13th June 2007. From there it passed to Dublin Port Company (Ireland) by November 2011 where was reregistered 99-D-87727 and is used to link passenger terminal 1 to ferries operating out of terminal 1 in the port. 942 is seen below on 27 November 2011. Thanks to Michael O'Connell for this photo:
931-36 were withdrawn in early July 2008 and 916, 925-30 in late July 2008 following the arrival of Scania OmniCity double deckers 1101-14. 932-6 passed to Blackpool Transport on 9th October 2008 becoming their 222-6, whilst 916 went to Scania (dealer) in part exchange for 1037 in November 2008 (but staying on site until February 2009 when it departed to a dealer for resale), and the rest offered for sale through Southdown PSV (dealer). 916 was eventually sold through Southdown PSV to South Wales Transport in March 2010, and was withdrawn sometime between December 2011 and April 2012. 932-6 entered service with Blackpool Transport on 26th January 2009 following refurbishment, 932-3 in their generic livery and 934-6 in their Line 7 livery. 926 and 930 were sold to Vale Travel, Aylesbury in April 2009. From there they were sold to Southdown PSV in October 2009 and South Wales Transport in March 2010. 926/30 were withdrawn at South Wales Transport by April 2012, with 930 passing to P&O Ferries, Dover. 916 and 926 passed from South Wales Transport to an operator in Ireland in October 2012.
930 is seen below in Neath on 21 October 2011. Thanks to Andrew McKinnon for this photo:
933 is seen below at Blackpool Tower on 21st August 2009. Thanks to Richard Woodhead for this photo:
934 is seen below on 4th March 2011. This was the first Blackpool Excel to be repainted into the black/yellow generic livery introduced in 2010, and the first of this batch to have been sent away to be fitted with a Cummins ISBe engine rather than the original Cummins 6BT. Thanks to Shaun Courtnage for this photo:
935 is seen below on 18th September 2009. Thanks to Ben Morroll for this photo:
925/27/28/29/31 were sold to New Adventure Travel, Cardiff in September 2009, departing on 25th. At least 927/8 appear to have operated in Reading livery during their time there. From there 927 was sold via Ebay to JPT, Middleton on 23rd February 2010, and 928 via Ebay to JPT, Middleton on 19th March 2010. Both were in store there by May 2012. Meanwhile 929 had been reregistered H2 KFJ by March 2011 before returning to it's original mark in October 2011 having been withdrawn in June 2011. 931 was last known in service at the end of 2010 and was scrapped by November 2011, whilst 925 was thought to still be in service as at December 2011 before passing to another company as a mobile exhibition unit.
927 is photographed below in Market Street, Manchester on 23rd July 2010. Thanks to Russell Young for this photo:
928 is photographed below in Middleton, Manchester on 15th April 2010. Thanks to Shaun Courtnage for this photo:
929 is photographed below in Newport on 8th March 2011. Thanks to Shaun Courtnage for this photo:
From time to time vehicles were loaned from Reading to Newbury to help out when other vehicles were off the road. From the Excel fleet:
- 911 went from 9th to 24th December 2004 to cover for 942 on Vodafone work.
- 911 went from 6th April 2006 to 25th April to cover for 942 on Vodafone work.
- 912 went from 22nd April 2006 to 12th May to cover for 942 on Vodafone work.
- 916 went on 31st October 2007 until 7th November 2007 to cover for accident damaged 606 (and mechanical problems with 602, and the pending acquisition of a vehicle to become 610).
- 919 went from 3rd to 15th October 2003 to cover for a vehicle shortage.
- 931 went for a few days in November or December 2004.
- 964 went from sometime between 6th and 11th April 2009 until 19th April 2009.
Optare Excel 2
Reading has four Excel 2s, 961-4. They arrived in September 2000 to start service on 2nd October 2000 on the Thames Valley Park shuttle contract. They wore a special light cream livery for the service, and had different wording to the original Excels to describe their easy-access nature. They also had logos, rather than Reading Buses ones. Below is a picture of 962 at the Reading Station drop-off point on 25th January 2006.
Below is 963 at the Reading Buses Great Knollys Street depot a few days before entering service at the end of September 2000.
The Excels received Hanover LED displays during 2006 as follows:
- 961 - by 8th June 2006
- 962 - by 26th June 2006
- 963 - by 14th June 2006
- 964 - by 15th August 2006
961-4 were displaced from the Thames Valley Park service from 2nd October by Scania OmniCitys 1-5. 961-4 were then debranded, and spent a short amount of time on loan to Newbury for Vodafone services, covering for Enviros 970-3 which had been returned to their leasing company pending the late delivery of Scania OmniCitys 6-12. 964 was the first to go on loan from 5th October, and then 961-3 on 14th. 961/2/4 were withdrawn from Newbury on 20th and returned to Reading on 22nd. 963 remained at Newbury until 23rd November to cover for a delay to the delivery of Scania OmniCity 12. 964 is seen below on 9th October 2006 at Newbury Rail Station:
Thanks to Brian Coney for this photo.
Once returned to Reading the Excels immediately transferred to the main Reading fleet and entered service alongside the original Excels. Repaints into generic Reading Buses livery commenced in November 2006, with 962 first noted completed on 16th November. 962 is seen below on 23rd December 2006:
Thanks to Mark Lyons for this photo.
Service changes in September 2009 saw these four vehicles become redundant, and 962 was sold to Whites Coaches, Culham in October 2009 entering service there on 2nd November following repaint into their yellow livery. Following that it had passed to Ashalls of Gorton, Manchester by November 2012.
964 was sold to Three Star, Luton in November 2009 where it was reregistered JEZ 9739 in January 2010. It is seen below in Luton on 26th November 2011. Thanks to Andrew McKinnon for this photo:
From there 964 was sold to Express Motors in February 2012 where it was reregistered EXI 790 in April 2012.
961/3 were sold to North West Bus Sales on about 3rd April 2010, and went from there to Ogden, St Helens, Merseyside in May 2010.
Last updated: 28-07-14
RTL Optare Solos