This is Reading Buses Optare Spectra, fleet number 701, registration number MRD 1. The registration number comes from the old Mayoral Limousine, which, was taken out of service in 1991. Originally the number plate was given to one of the company's most recent acquisitions, a bus from a fleet of 15 second hand ex-London Mk 2 MCW Metrobuses, fleet number 461. It wore the registration from 09-91 to 14-02-92 when it was transferred to the brand new 701.
701 was exhibited at Coach & Bus '91 at the NEC in Birmingham. Below we see 701 in September 1997, and again on 23rd October 2003 but with new advert frames (that were fitted during 2003), and a poppy ready for remembrance day.
The rest of the original Spectras, 702-7, 751-2, arrived in small numbers until June 1994 when 707 arrived. 704 was new in July 1992 as an Optare Demonstrator and appeared in some publicity with registration J382 BNW prior to being taxed. 707 was Reading's newest double decker for a number of years until the first low floor Spectras arrived in November 2001. It was due to become a demonstrator for Optare, but it was quickly diverted from these duties when Reading urgently needed another double decker. Initially it was fitted with motorised three track numeral and destination blinds on the front and dot matrix displays on the side and rear. The blinds on the front however proved unreliable and so were replaced by a dot matrix unit a little while later. 701-6/51-2 also had motorised blinds, but only with single track numerals that proved a bit more reliable. In November 2002 707 had its dot matrix displays replaced with new Bright-Tech "Light-Tech" high visibility LED displays, as are seen here on 17th December 2002:
707 had a lower deck refurbishment and half repaint during March 2003. 701 followed during May, appearing to receive a new engine compartment door amongst other things.
In November 2001 a deal was struck to exchange 10 Reading Optare Excels (951-60) for 6 Optare Spectras from Eastbourne Buses. Allocated fleet numbers 708-13 the Spectras arrived in reverse order. The first to arrive 713 arrived wearing only Reading base colours and had temporary DayTrack/NightTrack vinyls instead of Reading Buses ones until February 2002 when more of the new low floor Spectras dedicated to the service had been delivered. The second, 712 arrived in full DayTrack/NightTrack livery and is seen below at Great Knollys Street on 23rd November 2001 in this state, a few days before the launch of the NightTrack and DayTrack services. Then in February it was painted back into ordinary Reading livery. Thanks to Paul Hilton for this photo.
708 is seen below at the Addington Road terminus of former route 31 on 12th September 2002:
710 is seen below on service 36 on 9th April 2002:
In December 2002 708, 709, 711 and 712 received new Bright-Tech "Light-Tech" displays, and by February 2003 710 and 713 also had them.
During 2004 the early Spectras received Hanover LED displays:
- 701 - between 12th and 26th November
- 702 - by 12th November
- 703 - by 17th November
- 704 - June 2004
- 705 - between 13th and 17th November
- 706 - by 19th November
At the same time as the Eastbourne Spectras arrived 704-6 were temporarily repainted into DayTrack/NightTrack livery, ready to operate the new services from the 23rd November 2001 until March/April 2002 when all of the new Spectras that were ordered for the service had been delivered. Here we see 704 at Reading Station on 21st December 2001:
703 was withdrawn in July 2005 following a low bridge accident on Loddon Bridge Road on 19th July 2005. The bus was operating a school service scheduled to use The Bader Way, but for some reason the driver took the wrong turn. It was sold in damaged state to Ensign Bus at the end of September. There it was converted to open top for operation at Stratford, but just before entering service in spring 2007 Stagecoach took over Ensign's operations in Stratford and 703 was transferred to Purfleet for reallocation elsewhere. It made its first appearance back in service at the Epsom Derby on 2nd June 2007 and was then allocated to tours in Windsor the following week. Below is 703 on 2nd June 2007 still fully vinyled for Stratford, and then less than a week later on 8th June in Windsor with revised vinyls. Thanks to Bob Stanger and James Cusworth respectively for these photos:
703 left Windsor in early 2009 and was sold to DeKing Cars Ltd, Nicosia, Cyprus in June 2009 where it was registered TKWE 384. It is seen below in Larnaca, Cyprus on 6th October 2013. Thanks to David Smith for this photo:
705 was withdrawn in March 2007 pending the arrival of MAN / East Lancs Kinetec + 501 in July. It passed to Ensign (dealer) during May, and from there went to Alder Valley Travel, Alton in June. 705 is seen below fresh after being repainted into AVT livery in July 2007. Thanks to Ian Davey for sending this photo by Noel Clark:
AVT ceased trading on 22nd May 2009, 705 passing to Beardsall, Four Marks (dealer) in April 2009, and then to Dining Bus Services in December 2009 for conversion into a catering vehicle for the TV and Film industry.
701/2/4/6/7 were withdrawn in March 2008 upon the arrival of Scanias 841-61, and were sold to MASS BrightBus through Ensign (dealer). 701/2 had departed by 30th March, 704/6 departed on 31st March and 707 departed sometime between 9th and 16th April. 701 is seen below on 18th June 2010 and 702, 704, 706 and 707 on 16th June 2010, all at the MASS depot in South Anston:
At MASS Brightbus 701 fell out of use in around December 2010 and was repainted white during autumn 2011 before being advertised for sale on ebay in November 2011, passing into preservation on 8th May 2012 following some minor restoration work. 702 fell out of use by February 2009 and 707 by February 2012. 704 and 706 remained in use as of May 2012.
Scanias 841-61 also displaced 708/9 to Newbury to help replace Metrobuses 455-8. Following delays to the delivery schedule for 841-61, which were originally to enter service in November 2007, 708 went for repaint into Newbury livery during October 2007 and entered service there on 30th. 709 was repainted at North West Bus & Coach in early December 2007, returning on 7th December and entering service in Newbury on 11th. Whilst at Newbury 708/9 were named Thunderbird 2 and Thunderbird 3.
In July 2008 Newbury surrendered the contracts for the Trinity School services which led to a reduced requirement for double deckers. Therefore 709 transferred back from Newbury to Reading on 20th August 2008 and 708 on 21st. Both received red Reading Buses logos on the Newbury silver and British Racing Green livery, and were confined to school and football services along with 710-13. 709 is seen below running Reading Rock Festival service 98 on 27th August 2009:
712 was repainted into maroon/cream without the aquamarine stripe in September 2009 following the removal of a ColourBus advertising livery. It is seen below on 22nd February 2010:
From September 2010 school services to Theale Green and Little Heath Schools are to pass to The Green Bus, and operated by Reading Buses to their specification. To that extent 708 was repainted into The Green Bus livery in May 2010, returning on 22nd. After further work to re-trim the seats and fit the bus with GPS tracking and Wi-Fi it returned to service by 30th June. 712 was treated similarly in late July returning on 30th, with 711 departing in its place. 709/10/11/13 were all treated by 25th August ready for September (712 and two others saw use on football services on 24th August, and 708/12 on rock festival services on 25th August onwards, and 711 on 30th). The last of 710/13 to be treated was the last vehicle to wear Reading Buses cream and maroon livery with an aquamarine stripe. 708/9 lost their Thunderbird 2/3 names. 710 is seen below with 708 behind on route TG1 in Pangbourne on 11th November 2010:
711 is seen below on 30th August 2010:
708-13 were gradually sold to The Green Bus having been replaced by ex Lothian Dennis Tridents. 708-10 went directly to Abellio Surrey on 18th April 2013 for their The Green Bus operations where they wear temporary fleet numbers 4001-3. 711/12 went to Birmingham on 15th May 2013 and 713 to Abellio Surrey on 15th May 2013 as their 4004. 708-10/13 moved to Birmingham in July 2013, 708-13 being 201-6 in the Birmingham fleet.
- 708 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 11th until 22nd January 2010 in exchange for 711. It returned in exchange for Trident 473 going on long term loan.
- 709 went on loan to Newbury on 20/21st September 2008 for the Newbury Show.
- 710 went on loan to Newbury from 10th May 2008, entering service there on 13th May until returning to Reading in early June.
- 711 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 9th until 11th January 2010 returning with a faulty gearbox.
- 711 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from approx 27th November 2010 and returned on approx 18th December 2010.
- 711 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from approx 4th January 2011 and returned on 31st January 2011.
- 712 went on loan to Newbury from 27th July 2012 until approx 12th August 2012 to provide extra capacity on Vodafone services whilst low floor vehicles were in use on Olympic services.
Fourteen low floor Spectras were ordered in October 2001 for gradual delivery between November 2001 and March 2002. Nine were to operate the council tendered "DayTrack" and "NightTrack" services in a dedicated blue and white livery and the other five ordinary town services. These buses were Reading's first buses with the new style number plate system which does not allow fleet numbers to be included as part of the registration number. The buses are also in their own way revolutionary just like Reading's first Spectras were. Amongst the buses are the first Spectras to feature Euro 3 specifications (just 721-3 are thought to have had Euro 2 engines), and are the first buses in Reading to feature Bright-Tech "Light-Tech" high visibility LED displays all round. The rear display is capable of displaying exactly the same amount of information as on the front - not just the route number as had previously been standard, additionally the ultimate destination is also shown on the side. They have internal dot matrix displays on both decks for displaying promotional messages about the company, were the first vehicles fitted with cash vaults from new and the ones for the DayTrack/NightTrack services also had cab air conditioning.
The first three, 721-3 entered service on 25th November 2001 in NightTrack livery, then 731-9 gradually followed and 724-5 last. As 731-9 started to arrive they allowed 721-3 to be sent back to Optare for repaint into LowRider livery (and 704-6/12 to Renault Trucks for repaint into standard livery). 721 was sent back at the end of February or beginning of March and was returned to Reading in mid March, but was in standard Reading base colours rather than the modified low floor version. This meant that it had to be sent to Renault Trucks for rectification.
Below is a photo of the back of 721 on 13th December 2001 in NightTrack Livery and another taken on 11th April 2002 of it in LowRider livery:
722 arrived back from repaint at the beginning of April, and was the first Spectra in LowRider livery to be noted in service. 724-5 arrived in LowRider livery during mid-April, and then 723 arrived back at the very end of April in a special JubileeRider livery to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Below is a picture of 722 on 3rd April 2002, taken by James Cusworth at the Three Tuns.
725 is seen below in Friar Street on 3rd July 2002:
Here is 723 on 27th May 2002. The rear shot was taken a few weeks earlier on the 1st by James Cusworth.
723 remained in this livery for over four years before being repainted into Reading Buses generic livery in November 2006. It departed on 6th November and returned to service by 21st, with final vinyls being applied in the evening of 14th December. It is seen below on 25th November 2006 before application of the final vinyls, and then on 23rd December 2006 in a photo by Mark Lyons:
731 arrived soon after 721-3 but had only entered service by mid December. 732 arrived and entered service a week before Christmas, and 733 during the week after Christmas. 734-8 slowly arrived during the first three months of 2002, all in DayTrack/NightTrack livery, and the last 739 arrived at the beginning of April. This slow delivery meant that the step entrance Spectras could also be repainted (back) into town livery at an equally slow rate, and 721-3 into LowRider livery. 712 was treated 'in house' at the beginning or March and 706 was sent to Renault trucks at about the same time. 705 appeared back in town livery at the end of March, and both 705 and 706 received tree deflectors identical to those fitted to the new Spectras whilst they were being done. Eventually 701-4/7 also gained these.
Here is 731 at Reading Station on 21st December 2001:
At the end of July 2002, 738 received special NightTrack adverts featuring a cartoon of a couple on a night out in the town. It is seen here on 6th August 2002:
Four more low floor Spectras arrived for the town fleet during February and March 2003, numbered 726-9. They feature restyled rear lights, but are likely to be the last of the type bought new by Reading. 728's first duty was as a National Federation of Bus Users surgery on Broad Street over the lunch-time of 14th March, with various members of Reading Buses management in attendance. 726 is seen below at Reading Station on 20th March 2003:
Following service changes from 21st February 2005 the number of vehicles required for the NightTrack services was reduced to seven, matching the DayTrack requirement. As a result 738 and 739 were transferred to the normal town fleet, neatly being able to help out whilst delivery of the second batch of Wright Solars was being awaited following the sale of twenty Optare Excels. To mark the transition their DayTrack/NightTrack lettering was removed and Reading Buses logos put in their place. 739 is seen below on route 31 on 7th March 2005 (left), and 738 on 21st March 2005 (right) - note that the window displays have the new Reading Buses logo, but the old logo has been applied to the sides of the bus:
739 went into reserve in October 2005 following a low bridge accident on 16th October 2005. The bus was operating rail replacement services between Windsor and Stains for South West Trains when it became wedged under a bridge over Laleham Road in Staines following some kind of misunderstanding over the route. It returned to service on 20th February 2006 in Reading Buses 'quality travel' generic grey livery, and in the process became the first existing double decker to be repainted into the livery. 738 was the third repaint into generic livery in December 2006.
Repaints into Quality Travel Generic livery can be summarised as follows:
- 721 - January 2007 (silver)
- 722 - January 2007 (silver)
- 723 - November 2006 (silver)
- 724 - March 2007 (silver)
- 725 - January 2007 (silver)
- 726 - February 2007 (silver)
- 727 - March 2007 (silver)
- 728 - January 2007 (silver)
- 729 - February 2007 (silver)
- 738 - December 2006 (silver)
- 739 - February 2006 (grey)
Following the renewal of the DayTrack contract in summer 2007, 731-7 were replaced by Solars 1031-6 from 28th November 2007. As a result 731-7 were sold to Ensignbus on 3rd December, but a few days later 721 was substituted for 737 so that only vehicles with 51-registrations were sold. 738/9 were then renumbered 730/1, and 737 was renumbered 721. 730, formerly 738 is seen below on 15th December 2007:
Whilst with Ensignbus in August 2008 former 733 (Ensign 104) was badly damaged by fire whilst on rail replacement duties at London Victoria. It passed from Ensignbus to MASS Brightbus in March 2009.
The original 721 (Ensign 101) and the original 731 (Ensign 102) passed from Ensignbus to Geldard's Coaches, Leeds on 11th October 2008. 732 (Ensign 103) and 735 (Ensign 105) passed from Ensignbus to Renown Coaches, Bexhill during November 2008. 734 (Ensign 106) passed from Ensignbus to MASS BrightBus in December 2008 and 736 (Ensign 107) followed in January 2009. 721 is seen below with Geldard's on 1st December 2009. Thanks to Andrew Cameron for this photo:
731 is seen below with Geldards in Bradford on 15th October 2010. Thanks to David Ballantyne for this photo:
732 is seen below with Renown Coaches in Tunbridge Wells on 12th September 2014. Thanks to David Smith for this photo:
734 and 736 are seen below with MASS BrightBus on 16th June 2010:
Following the replacement of the last Optare Deltas with Alexander Dennis Dart SLFs at Newbury during 2007, a requirement for higher capacity low floor vehicles arose on certain increasingly busy journeys. It was originally intended that Newbury's four MCW Metrobus Mk2s would to be replaced by step entrance 708-11 following the arrival of new buses in Reading in November 2007/February 2008, however the requirement for larger low floor vehicles in Newbury led to alterations to their double deck workings so that two low floor deckers could be transferred in place of 710/11 to cover the busy journeys. Having just finished its duties on the DayTrack service, 737 (renumbered 721) was selected as the first low floor decker to be repainted into Newbury livery. The vehicle spent a few weeks out of service in Reading, and following repaint arrived in Newbury on 21st January 2008 where it was named Thunderbird 1. It is seen below on 19th September 2009:
737 (now numbered 721) returned from Newbury to Reading on 26th September 2009 following the transfer of Newbury - Reading route 1 from Newbury depot to Reading depot from 7th. It gained red Reading Buses logos sometime after 26th September and before 4th October 2009. It is seen below on 10th October 2009:
It then transferred back to Newbury on 5th February 2010, regaining Newbury Buses logos.
Following service reductions in January 2010, 708-13 were advertised for sale. However, they failed to attract much attention due to their step entrance configuration at a time when a number of low floor vehicles were becoming available from London, so 721-31 were advertised instead (708-13 were dedicated to schools services so it did not matter if they remained). 726 was sold to Norfolk Green on 1st April 2010 and 727 around 6th April, with the pair to initially be used on route 505 and March/Wisbech School services. 721 (originally 737) and 731 (originally 739) were also withdrawn pending sale by 7th April 2010, and then sold to Abus, Bristol on 21st May 2010. 721 (737) is seen below with Abus operating a shuttle service for the Glastonbury Festival on 28th June 2010. Thanks to David Smith for this photo:
737 was eventually repainted into Abus livery on 11th August 2011, and is seen below at the Bristol rally on 14th August 2011. Thanks to David Smith for this photo:
731 (739) is seen below with Abus operating a shuttle service for the Glastonbury Festival on 23rd June 2010. Thanks to John Hammond for this photo:
725 followed to Norfolk Green in July 2010.
The remaining six low floor Spectras 722-4 and 728-30 were advertised for sale in August 2010 pending the arrival of Alexander Dennis Enviro 400Hs 201-6 in December 2010. 730 (originally 738) was sold to Norfolk Green in September 2010, followed by 728 on 6th January 2011 and 729 on 11th January 2011. 722-4 followed in April 2011 - 724 departing first, followed by 723 arriving there on 21st following repaint, and 722 departing for Norfolk Green's painters on either 20th or 21st. 722 was therefore both the first low floor Spectra to join the town fleet and the last one to leave.
724 is seen below with Norfolk Green on 18th September 2011. Thanks to John Wheeler for this photo:
From time to time vehicles were loaned to other places as follows:
- 721 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 20th February 2010 until 19th March 2010.
- 722 went on loan from Reading to Newbury on 19th and 20th September 2009 for the Newbury Show.
- 722 went on loan from Reading to Newbury from approx 18th March 2010 until 3rd April 2010 at the latest.
- 723 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham on 23rd June 2009 until the end of the academic year in July.
- 723 went on loan from Reading to Newbury around 9th August 2010 for approximately one week to cover for 501.
- 724 went on loan from Reading to Newbury on 19th April 2009 until approx 6th July 2009 to help cover enhanced frequencies on the Reading - Newbury service following the renumbering from 102 to 1.
- 724 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 6th-13th February 2010.
- 724 went on loan to Southern Vectis, Isle of Wight from 9th-14th June 2010.
- 725 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 6th-13th February 2010, going straight back into service on football specials on 13th.
- 725 went on loan to Southern Vectis, Isle of Wight from 9th-14th June 2010.
- 726 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 6th-20th February 2010.
- 728 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham on 22nd June 2009 until the end of the academic year in July.
- 728 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 20th February 2010 until 6th March 2010.
- 728 went on loan to Southern Vectis, Isle of Wight from 9th-14th June 2010.
- 729 went on loan to Southern Vectis, Isle of Wight from 9th-14th June 2010.
- 730 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 20th February 2010 until 6th March 2010.
- 730 went on loan to Southern Vectis, Isle of Wight from 9th-14th June 2010.
- 731 went on loan to The Green Bus, Birmingham from 20th February 2010 until 19th March 2010.
Norfolk Green was acquired by Stagecoach on 18 December 2013, with 725, 726, 727, 728, 729, 738 passing into their ownership. All were gradually withdrawn and advertised for sale by Southdown PSV. 726 passed to Bus of Hope, Newbury in March 2016, and was in use as a mobile resource centre by August 2016. 725/7 passed to Brecks Coaches in June 2016. 728 passed to Sargents in December 2016, entering service there on 26th.
Along with the seven original step entrance buses, Reading bought two Spectra coaches (751-2), which were used on London Line services until Reading withdrew them in May 2000. For a few months before the London services were withdrawn the coaches wore the Goldline livery below but with special London Branding in place of the private hire bits. They were then transferred to the Goldline private hire fleet with corrected branding until November 2002 when they were withdrawn. The two pictures below show 751, in the first it is at the Station preparing to leave for London on the L5 route to London Victoria in it's original London Livery, and at the Great Knollys Street depot in it's final Goldline private hire livery.
The duo passed to Holmeswood Coaches where they were reregistered MUI 4841/2, and then to Shamrock Buses, Poole by May 2005. 751 is seen below with Shamrock on 14th August 2005.
Thanks to David Oborn for this photo.
From Shamrock the pair were sold during August 2006, with 751 being acquired by Westbus at Hounslow who are managed as part of Armchair, the coaching side of Metroline. 752 went to Bedfordshire County Council. By July 2007 751 had been reregistered D5 KKA.
751 had been sold by Westbus to Talisman Coaches and reregistered L959 WGK by September 2009. 751 is seen below at the North Weald Bus Rally on 5th July 2010 still wearing Westbus livery. Thanks to David Smith for this photo:
In September 2010 it passed to Courtesy, Chadderton where it was reregistered to YCZ 101, and then by August 2011 it had passed to Cockney Coaches, Romford.
Three exLondon Sovereign Spectras were hired from Dawson Rentals in March 2006 to assist the fleet pending the late delivery of Scania OmniDekkas 819-26. The vehicles, hired by Scania and paid for by East Lancs were used solely on routes 31 and 33 whilst the rest of the Reading fleet covered for Excels 901-10 which had just been sold. Temporary fleet numbers 2000-2 were allocated, with 2001 arriving in the workshops on 22nd and 2000/2 on 23rd. 2001 was originally numbered 2000 until the delivery of the second two the day after. 2001/2 were used in service from 27th March 2006 and 2000 from 29th. The last sighting of one in service was 2002 on 4th April, and then the next day 819-26 started to enter service.
2001 at Reading Station on 27th March 2006. Thanks to James Cusworth for this photo.
The temporary measures inside these vehicles included an old Reading Buses logo along with the company's legal details on a sticker in the nearside window, and papers with the route number and destination in the front window. 2001 also had an old Reading Spectra destination blind fitted, but it was only ever set to the Reading Buses logo. The centre doors were kept shut out of use.
2002 at Reading Station at lunchtime on 27th March 2006. Thanks to James Cusworth for this photo.
The buses have had a patchy history, leased by London Buses they were loaned to Capital logistics, Arriva and London Sovereign before finally being sold to a dealer. They appeared on the notorious South London Route 60 (the route no-one wanted), and were then despatched to the 114 at London Sovereign.
Last updated: 18-08-17
Bus Builder Optare