BUSRide Road Test: Early takers give high marks
DATTCO and Martz Group put the Setra S 407 into commuter service
By David Hubbard
Daimler Setra first introduced the Setra TopClass S 471 to U.S. coach companies in 2003. Now the all-new 45-foot Setra ComfortClass S 407 unveiled one year ago by Daimler Buses North America, Greensboro, SC, has joined its sibling to offer operators a competitive choice in the Setra line, and one that is more suitable for commuter and line-haul service.
DATTCO, New Britain, CT, and the Martz Group, Wilkes Barre, PA, are the first U.S. coach companies to put the new model it into service.
While the new coach differs only slightly from the S 417, the development process entailed intensive operator surveys, in which American operators expressed very specific preferences and requirements that ultimately influenced the styling that distinguishes the S 407 from its sibling.
Martz Group CEO Craig Smith worked with Daimler Setra during the development of the S 407, advising the engineers on the functions and features that his company felt would best suit a coach dedicated to scheduled service operations. First of all, he told Daimler, it would need to be less expensive than the luxury charter S 417 without compromising the overall quality of the Setra brand.
Martz test drove the S 407 prototype for a 10-day trial period in March, surveying drivers, technicians, cleaners and commuter passengers and recommended several significant changes, which Setra accommodated. They included larger baggage bays with easier access, the lower-mounted rearview mirror system and the American-made energy absorbing rubber safety bumpers (ESAB) front and rear.
The front bumper folds down to allow access to the stowage compartment for the spare wheel. Setra says this new EASB system can resist a 5-mph impact without any damage.
Originally available only in black, Setra is now working to color code the ESAB as an option to match the customer’s paint scheme.
Satisfied with the product, Martz took delivery of seven ComfortClass S 407s in November. The company opted for the 416 hp Mercedes-Benz OM 471 engine and automated 12-speed ZF-AS Tronic transmission in which the stick shift situated to the right of the driver. The company says some drivers prefer this configuration, as it does not interfere with the direct-connect cell phone apparatus.
“We assigned the new coaches to our senior drivers for the daily runs to New York City,” says Martz general manager, Bob Chepalonis. “They are proud to drive them and like the way they handle, particularly the tight turning radius.”
From northeast Pennsylvania, the Martz fleet turns 59 daily trips into New York City, two into Philadelphia and one into Atlantic City, NJ.
“We need a very dependable vehicle for this heavy-duty use of a coach,” says Martz director of maintenance, George Willis. “At the same time, it has to be as nice as we can make it for our customers.”
Chepalonis says the passengers on these runs are extreme commuters who ride the coaches on a daily basis and have a keen sense for what they like in their bus. For example, he says the upgraded wood grain flooring was not lost on this group who are on the coach for more than an hour each way throughout the week.
“Wi-Fi is a must on all our coaches, but the S 407s are the first with 110 power outlets at each seat,” he says. “Our commuter passengers have also commented on the additional legroom and the overhead parcel racks that lend a more spacious feeling in the cabin.”
DATTCO features Setra TopClass S 417s in its Experience Fleet for luxury charters. High-end features include leather seating for 40 passengers, glass roof and myriad top end amenities.
The company also operates and manages several routes for Megabus.com in the Northeast Corridor, running its own commuter coaches outfitted with the familiar blue graphics. Already familiar with the Setra brand, DATTCO was interested in the S 407 for its commuter capabilities and tested it on a dedicated route over the summer.
While not personally involved in the development phase of the S 407, DATTCO President Don DeVivo says he had read about the S 407 in BUSRide and saw the coach unveiled at UMA Expo in Tampa, FL, and then began talking to a Setra sales representative.
“For starters we put one S 407 directly into service for Megabus,” says DeVivo. “We wanted to see how it actually performed in our operation. There is nothing like a line run to give a new coach a thorough shakedown.”
The company took delivery of a second unit in September, becoming the first U.S. operator to purchase the new Setra model. The DATTCO coaches feature the Detroit Diesel and Allison WTB 500 automatic transmission.
“Setra has always been a nice ride, and our drivers enjoy the way they handle,” says DeVivo. “This new model has the same curb appeal and lends a definite buzz to the commuter experience. Now we’ll just have to see how it holds up in the daily grind running up to 500 miles a day.”
He says the coaches are meeting the test so far, but that he is reserving comment until they meet the test of 100,000 miles. BR