Twenty new Linkker LM312 public buses have been launched on the roads recently. They are 3-door electric buses with a fully low floor. Unlike the other electric public bus models on the roads in Singapore, these are capable of opportunity charging. This is a process in which the bus gets charged at the terminus of the route via a fast charger, meaning that it can get multiple quick bursts of charge during the day. Conventionally depot-charged buses, like the BYD C9 on trial in NUS, are plugged into the charger at their depot overnight.
While the buses were ordered in 2018 and completed in 2019 with the intent to launch in 2020, internal delays resulted in them only going for road tests in early 2020 and entering service in August 2021. 25 August 2021 saw the debut of these buses on services 38 and 40 (charging at Bedok Interchange), and 176 and 976 (charging at Bukit Panjang Interchange).
Of these four services, 38 luckily happens to pass by where I live, and as such I was able to go for some rides on the buses to observe the operations, and get some photos of the buses.
First, my thoughts on the appearance. It would appear that while the sides and roof panels are supplied by Linkker together with the chassis, the front and rear ends with their unique asymmetrical appearance are designed in-house by Gemilang Coachwork (who basically got designing credits for the bodywork).
I have to say I’m not a fan of the asymmetric design; more than half the time I spent on editing the interior photos for this article was spent figuring out if I had rotated the image wrongly. But I think the biggest problem with the asymmetry is not its existence, but the direction. Simply put, I think the bus has its face on backwards.
Typically, I expect the frontal design of a bus to line up with the windowline on either side. So I found it unusual that the LM312’s design does quite the opposite. The black area lines up with the windows on the nearside, while it slopes downward and ends at the bottom on the offside.
Except the nearside is where the doors are, and the offside where the driver sits features the windowline all the way to the front right corner of the bus. So I think it would make a lot more sense if the black area sloped exactly the other way. It’s almost as if the designers forgot Singapore was right-hand drive.
I did a quick mockup of what the Linkker LM312 would look like if the black area were reversed, and I think it looks better – let me know what you think in the comments!
Another feedback I have is that the positioning of the nearside wing mirror tends to obstruct the service number in the EDS.
The rear design is also rather unusual – it resembles a mouth opening towards the right side of the vehicle. I thought opening towards the left might have been more appropriate since the doors are on the left. It does make an attempt to line up with the windows, but not quite smoothly either.
The futuristic-looking taillights (which I found out are a modular product called the HELLA Shapeline) end up being bisected by the green and black, and the thin strip of green that contains the third brake light is at a really awkward angle. I think a symmetrical rear would have been nicer.
Then again, knowing what the original front design would have looked like if Linkker had their way, I’m not sure it’s any better.
Moving on to the interior – it’s pretty standard Gemilang fare. The general design theme is the same as the Euro 6 MAN buses, with dark pillars, pale green walls, matte-finished grabpoles, adjustable air-con ducts, and red or blue Vogelsitze seats. However, the differences are visible: instead of a simple divider separating the seats from the doors, there is a large thick plastic border, and there is also no last row of seats as that is where the batteries and third door are.
There is one new feature that has been carried over from other ecobuses in the LTA fleet, while not being present on other Gemilang buses of this aesthetic. The section of the grabpole around the bus stopping bell has been coated in yellow to make the bell more visible.
It struck me that there’s an abundance of rear facing seats in the bus. Given how small the wheels are, I thought this wasn’t quite necessary, since rear-facing seats are usually placed over the wheels to avoid legroom issues. Perhaps Linkker’s thought process when converting their design from their native left-hand drive to right-hand drive involved… relocating the driver to the back instead of the other side of the bus?
The front half of the bus has 6 rear-facing seats, with the 4 on the nearside shown below. The other 2 are right across from the foremost pair.
The rear half has another 6. Similarly, 4 on the offside are shown, with the other 2 being across from the foremost pair (where I was sitting). These seats are near the rear door. I didn’t think it was all that necessary to make the pair of seats with the pole connected to it face backwards, especially with that little legroom left.
This means out of the 28 total seats, 12 in total are rear-facing, almost half of them.
In addition, out of 28, the 16 seats in front are upholstered in red seat covers demarcating them as priority seats (12 in the front half of the bus, and another 4 right behind the middle door).
The bus features a third door at the rear. I quite like this third door, because it’s accessible without needing to climb up a few steps and then down a few more (staring at you, 3-door MAN A95s). For now, most passengers still preferred to exit from the centre door due to familiarity. But I think it’s realistic that in future, passengers between the 1st and 2nd doors will exit from the 2nd, while all the passengers between the 2nd and 3rd doors (ie. in the picture below) will exit out of the 3rd. This will greatly improve passenger flow in the bus by ensuring there is no clash of passengers, as currently happens at the 2nd door of 2-door buses.
The third door itself is in fact a proper, full-size door with 2 leaves like the middle door, and can handle a good stream of exiting passengers. It is not equipped with a wheelchair ramp. As the batteries are placed at the rear of the bus (they protrude slightly into the rear passenger area), there is no back row of seats.
From the outside, the slight protrusion caused by the battery area is visible.
Even though, as I said earlier, there are no steps involved in using the rear door, there is a “Watch Your Step” sticker.
I gave the Linkker LM312s a few rides to check out the ride experience. I noticed that the suspension was somewhat unforgiving, which could be because the wheels are smaller than usual. Also, when the bus accelerated, I detected a strange pulsating feeling in the acceleration instead of the typical smooth glide of electric vehicles I’ve been on – it almost felt like an NSEWL MRT train.
The dashboard of the LM312 is somewhat reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz Citaro, with the steering wheel having a very similar design.
The Linkker LM312 has a stated range of about 130 km; a trip on Service 38 is around 10-12 km. Linkker claims that the bus can fully recharge within one layover, but I doubt so; on one trip to Bedok, the bus did emerge after a layover of about 15 minutes but its remaining range was only about 70 km when it began the trip. Other times, the bus went into Bedok and parked in layover for an inordinate amount of time, frustrating spotters waiting for it to reemerge. As such, I suspect that the typical 10-15 minute layover in Singapore might not be enough for a full charge, despite the advanced opportunity charging technology.
Another point I noted was the drivers’ familiarity with regen braking in electric buses – this is not an observation that applies strictly to the Linkkers, but I suspect any introduction of electric buses in place of diesel buses. Electric vehicles are capable of regenerative (regen) braking by reversing the polarity of their motors to become generators when the throttle is released. This causes the bus to slow down, while the kinetic energy is used to charge the battery. In the Linkker LM312’s digital dashboard, the left hand side of the “tachometer” represents the energy used, while the right hand side will display energy regenerated from braking.
Depending on the settings, the degree of regen can be tweaked until it is powerful enough to bring the vehicle to a stop without the brake pads, all while charging the battery. Many manufacturers thus offer a “one-pedal” mode with the regen tuned to the max. It can be disabled so the vehicle drives like a petrol or diesel one, but I suspect a fleet operator would insist on its use to save on charging costs and brake pad maintenance. Our BYD C9 is indeed equipped with this feature, which is well-used by the driver to charge the battery on our slopes.
On some of my LM312 rides, the driver seemed like he was still getting used to the one-pedal mode. The driving was relatively smooth (and torquey due to the electric drivetrain), but a few times when the driver meant to stop accelerating (e.g. when a passenger pressed the bell) the bus came to a near halt way earlier than intended.
I suspect muscle memory was at play, with the driver lifting completely off the throttle as he would in a diesel bus. He was quite apologetic when it happened, and the passengers were unexpectedly quite understanding (they probably knew it was a new bus). Nevertheless, I think this is a good point to note for bus operators when there is a switchover to e-buses.
Electric buses will be the future of our bus rides – let’s see how these opportunity-charging buses do.