Think you’ve already seen this post? We apologise that we took this down after it’s very brief appearance on 29th December, owing to the potential sale of Ipswich Buses...
Optare celebrates 25 years this month. Optare owes much to the Optare Solo. Some dislike it. In spite of its “big bus” feel, it’s still a minibus and more than anything else, it’s perhaps this inherent mistrust of anything other than a conventional bus that counts against the humble Solo. Some feel it’s sluggish, others externally noisy. Yet others throw opprobrium in its direction for its bulbous looks.
From both a passengers’ and operators’ perspective, Solo actually performs its duties well and is England’s best selling minibus. Though it comes in many flavours (widths & lengths), its one draw back in the free travel era is now its size.
Its success is in no small part due to the role the bus industry—and especially Wilts & Dorset—played in Solo’s development.
W&D was announced as late arrivals at the Minibus Ball, forced into action by competitors, especially Badger Vectis. Sidelining the slightly flawed though nonetheless phenomenally successful Transit & its ilk, W&D chose the MCW Metrorider purpose built vehicle. This became an Optare product and is something only in 2009 has faded from W&D’s fleet.
In the mid-1990s, W&D looked for a replacement but found nothing it liked. It set about dialogue with a reluctant Optare. W&D had already bought a significant order for Spectra double decks and its relationship at that time with Optare might be described as “close”. W&D, then, wanted a minibus that offered:
- Low floor easy access, a concept by then taken seriously within the industry but only for single and (almost, by then) double deck conventionals.
- A wide passenger entrance not dissimilar to conventional buses.
- A clear wheelchair/buggy & passenger reservoir space at and around the entrance and no intruding wheel arches, to maximise the accessible seating capacity
- A wider than accepted body, especially when compared to Gen1 minis.
- A destination display that would look like a conventional bus.
It’s interesting that the W&D vision wasn’t initially matched by Optare. Although W&D bought significant numbers, it soon abandoned the Solo (aside from the occasional recent purchase for specific reasons). Optare couldn’t’ve predicted this and neither did it quite predict the sales the Solo might generate. For in the years since first delivery at W&D’s Salisbury garage, Solo has been the most consistent seller of the Optare order book. Forgetting the recent hiccup with Solo+, there’s still nothing to challenge Solo in terms of practicality and appeal.