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Orion is the star in council scheme

Day centres run by Nottinghamshire County Council have reported annual savings of £300,000 by operating a fleet of 20 Orion lowfloor minibuses in a dual role.

The innovative vehicles – the most recent being eight supplied by Mellor Coachcraft – are delivering day-care customers in the morning and afternoon but covering subsidised fare-stage bus routes so they do a full day of work.

NCC came up with a plan to use the DDA-compliant vehicles across a range of work in 2011 and, by January 2013, had begun operating the Fiat Ducato-based, coachbuilt vehicles to collect care centre customers from their homes and, during the daytime lull, use them to run socially-necessary bus routes which had been dropped by commercial bus operators.

Late afternoon, the fleet of Orions return to the 17 day care centres to take customers home but head back to bus routes in a working day which can start as early as 5am and finish at 7pm. Fitted with destination displays and a side-mounted wheelchair ramp, the Orion – now owned and built by Mellor – is perfect in this dual role, says NCC’s Transport & Travel Services Fleet Operations Manager, Andy Frogg. “The Orions have been really good. In the back, they have tip-and-fold seats to accommodate the wheelchairs, but a wheelchair can also come on at the front,” he said.“Working them like this means they do four times the mileage they were doing, but they are well up to the task and are turning in 22mpg to 23mpg.”

From a single fare-stage bus route operated in January 2013, NCC now has 14 routes being run with the Orions: “Mainly, they are services which are not commercially viable, especially with big buses. On one commercial rote which runs two-hourly, we run a service in between.”

Andy said all services are run with a Community Bus Permit (Section 22) but with paid drivers: “I won’t deny getting where we are now has been hard work,” said the former NCC driver. “We went through a restructuring and created jobs for additional drivers… we now have 70.

“All the bus routes we run have published timetables, and attract a variety of people including fare-paying passengers. We are now carrying 4,500 people a month.”

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