For the ninth part of this series, the foibles of bus seats
In our previous part, we looked at how some bell pushes can be used as an extension of the big bus owning groups’ corporate identity. The same can be true with the look and feel of our bus seats.
Over the last two decades, a typical bus seat has evolved from bench style seating to individual seats. More like mini coach seats with plastic backing. In the UK, our bus seats have moquette, a hardwearing material which not only adds colour, but also covers the cushion.
The design of ‘traditional bus seats’ has its roots in the design of tram cars. Before the 20th century, wooden seats were the norm. In some vehicles, passengers were seated on longitudinal benches, which had the effect of maximising space for standees.
As passengers preferred to sit in the direction of travel, the start of the 20th century saw the alteration of seating layouts to reflect this. Being as the tram’s abilities in turning around is limited by its rails, seats were retractable. Using Mottram Road in Stalybridge for example, the Mottram Rise trams terminated outside the Dog and Partridge. Before its return journey, the pantograph was switched onto the opposite end of the car. Then the seats were moved to face forward, before the driver moved to the opposite cab.
As a consequence, every passenger was able to sit in the forward direction of their journey. Unless of course you wanted to sit backwards to talk to someone opposite yourself. The 2+2 layout became standard.
On low bridge double deckers, seats on the top deck were accessed by a corridor on the side. Usually seen on the right hand side (in line with the stairs), this meant four seats on each side. Woe betide anyone sat on the second and third seat!
Though seats facing the direction of travel became de rigueur, longitudinal seats continue to be seen, playing a bit part. In many cases, above the wheel arch, sometimes with a small luggage caddy in between single seats. In tip-up form, so the space could also be used by pushchairs, lightweight mobility scooters and wheelchairs, or as a standing area.
On the MCW Metrobus, Leyland Olympian and Bristol VRT buses for example, normally above the wheel arch with space for three on each side. The GMT standard Leyland Atlanteans and Daimler Fleetlines had backward and forward facing seats with space for four passengers on each side. This was perpetuated by the Alexander Dennis Enviro400 double deckers.
On double decker buses, the 2+2 upper deck reigns supreme. Assuaging vandalism issues (though not feet on seat issues), the next to the back bank of upper deck seats increasingly repeats the backward/forward layout seen downstairs. (Again as seen on the Enviro400s). Some exceptions to this rule include some of the early Leyland Atlanteans that had low bridge style seating at the back with the 2+2 layout for most of the deck. The ECW bodied Leyland Olympians opted for 1+3 at the front then two single seats opposite the staircase. Behind the last single seat and staircase, normal 2+2 layout seating.
In the world of bus and coach operation, there seems to be three types of seating. Standard bus seating (traditional bench style or individual seating), dual purpose seating (good for longer journeys and express routes), and coach seating (ideal for any trip from Southport to Stornaway).
The traditional bus seat is usually a double seat with a backrest at a 100º angle (as seen on the Leyland Lynx image). Sometimes, dual purpose seats would either be smaller versions of standard coach seats or a compromise between coach seats and bus seats. In the latter bracket, coach style seating would see a bit of a headrest and a change to the welding of the seat frame.
The norm for bus seats was a Formica® rear panel on the frame. Sometimes in bog standard single colours or – as seen on GMT standards – Mahogany wood veneers. Some would have a metal cigarette stubbing plate for the passenger sitting behind.
Today’s bus seats (with the exception of those seen on the Wright bodied NBfL – a.k.a the Borismaster) tend to be individual seats. FirstGroup for example, favour individual seats made by Esteban, in moquette or leather form. The Esteban Civic V3 is used on their newest buses with leather covers and headrests. Esteban Civic V series seats are also used on most of Stagecoach Manchester’s fleet.
Best suited for short distance journeys is Esteban’s Urban 90 seats. They are more rectangular and have thin cushions. Many of which are seen on minibuses and midibuses throughout the UK. For longer distance dual purpose use, the X43 Witch Way double deckers have Lazzerini GTS 3700 seating. Which from my experience is among the most comfortable seats on any 21st century bus.
Even so, they didn’t compare well with the dual purpose seats used on GMT’s/GM Buses’ unique Northern Counties bodied MCW Metrobuses. Their seats compared well with contemporary coaches. Not only were they suitable for the 400 Trans-Lancs Express route, they were a boon for private hire, short-distance National Express work, and rail replacement buses. With 68 seats in each vehicle, cushions were as plush as the original seats on BR’s Mark 3 carriages.
By the Edwardian times, wooden seats started to fall out of favour; in a bid to improve ambience and patronage, ornate moquette was added to seats. In most cases till the 1980s, moquette would be only be seen on the lower deck. As well as moquette, vinyl, leather or Rexine® was a popular covering.
With the first wave of trams replaced by trolleybuses and diesel buses, vinyl, leather or Rexine® bus seating was usually upstairs. The top deck was a popular spot for smokers and was, usually, frequented by men with dirty overalls, some of which partial to a Woodbine or two.
Moquette is a hardwearing wool based material. It adds to the identity of the bus operator, or the corporate livery of the bus builder. Its other – more mundane use – is the make the seats look less dirty, which is why elaborate patterns are seen on many a bus seat from Lerwick to Lands End. Its disadvantage is its ease of cleaning, which is why FirstGroup’s latest buses use leather seats (and also why Rexine was used on the top deck in buses of the past).
London Transport has used different moquette styles for different bus models and different tube trains. Douglas Scott designed the tartan style moquette for its AEC Routemasters, before being replaced by an awful poached egg style. Among its more famous moquettes, is Misha Black’s design for the District Line D78 trains (1978). They were also used on Leyland Titan buses.
Greater Manchester Transport’s moquette was originally leather trimmed with a yellow, orange and brown tartan style pattern. This was originally used on the lower deck with vinyl seating on the top deck of its GMT standards. Later models of Atlantean and Fleetline saw the moquette seen on upper deck seats. By 1984, the new standard moquette was black with orange spots “salt and pepper” style.
One of the world’s leading makers of moquette is Camira Fabrics. They have factories in Lithuania and the UK. Their British arm was formerly John Holdsworth and Company, situated in Halifax, West Riding of Yorkshire. Their moquette was made of 85% wool and 15% polyester.
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For the tenth part of this series, we shall be taking a closer look at Moquette design. Hold on tight for our next compelling instalment.
S.V., 10 January 2016.