Beginning today, 26 September 2022, three fully-electric Zhongtong N12 citybuses were deployed to NUS ISB routes. This marks the next step of electrified operations in the ISB network, involving low-floor wheelchair-accessible buses, after electrification began in August with two electric coaches.

While these three buses are specced in a typical two-door low-floor citybus configuration, news articles have previously highlighted that the electric ISBs coming at year-end will have three doors. A previous Campus Services newsletter and a contest launched to design a bus wrap also featured artist’s impressions of a 3-door bus with a different appearance from the Zhongtong N12, instead resembling a BYD B12. This strongly suggests that more 3-door electric ISBs will come after these three Zhongtongs.

The Zhongtong N12 is made in Liaocheng, Shandong and is also known (and registered) as the LCK6126EVG. Online photos reveal that ComfortDelGro Bus bought five 2-door buses, with three coming here and the other two headed for NTU.

The three NUS units made their debut on Services D1 and BTC. They are registered as PD496S, PD622U and PD728Z, being the first three ISBs with PD prefixes. The three-digit registration numbers and Chinese branding bring back memories of the old and short-lived Sunlong SLK6902s, which were registered at the beginning of the PC series with similar three-digit numbers.

This new batch of electric ISBs is visually striking, not least because of the colour EDS panel which features the service number on a red background and scrolling text. The exterior features Zhongtong’s N-series styling, with a large black portion that resembles the Volvo 7900 but is actually an evolution of the successful Zhongtong Fashion series. There is also a tweak to the livery compared to past ISBs: instead of a blue top over an orange body, there is an orange dip over the blue top. Both the Zhongtong front fascia and orange dip on the livery were teased in cartoon form, in Campus Services promotional materials as early as 5 September.

This 2-door batch of Zhongtong N12 buses features 29 seats, up from 23 in the Volvo B9L, but with better legroom. Standing capacity is at 60, for a total of 89 – one more than the B9L’s 88. This is partly because the exit door is positioned further forward (yielding a new row of four seats in the rear section), and partly because the area over the front right wheelarch behind the driver is also used for seating (giving four more seats with no loss of standing space). The seats are of the Ster 8MI type, upholstered in blue non-slip leather. In a first for ISB, each pair of seats has a pair of USB charging ports both with 2.1A output.

Aside from wired USB charging ports, the bus is also equipped with four pairs of wireless chargers embedded into a black panel that is placed between pairs of back-to-back seats. The chargers are supplied by Aircharge and are compatible with the Qi standard, being able to charge most modern smartphones.

The interior of the Zhongtong N12 is reminiscent of new Chinese citybuses from some other manufacturers – the combination of the textured flooring and blue Ster 8MI seats resembles the Yutong E12 bought by LTA and the Yutong ZK6126HGA operated by Tong Tar and Woodlands Transport. (Apologies for the hasty cropping, there hasn’t been much time to write this!)

As the electric ISB does not feature an engine block, the last row of seats is five seats wide and the aisle is spacious. A simple Passenger Information System (PIS) features at both the very front and very rear of the bus, facing the middle, like new LTA-spec single-deckers. However, from the middle of the bus onwards, passengers’ view of the front PIS will be obstructed by something better: a Passenger Information Display System (PIDS) consisting of an LCD screen.

The PIDS in the bus is another first for ISB, showing the route (according to its prescribed service colour) and the next stop at the top over a blue background (this changes to a red “Bus Stopping” when the bell is pushed). On the left, there is a view of the remaining bus stops along the route. The stops are listed in top-to-bottom order, unlike current LTA buses which have them going from bottom to top.

The right side is free space for media and currently plays a loop of the ISB Customer Service Framework promotional clip, which is actually pretty audible thanks to the silence of the bus.

When the bells are pressed, in addition to the “Bus Stopping” indicator that appears on the PIS and PIDS, the bell itself lights up in red until the doors open.

In keeping with the times, this batch of Zhongtong N12s, and likely other new electric ISBs, is equipped with latest-gen safety features comparable to those on public buses. An ADAS (Advanced Driver’s Assistance System) is installed in the bus, including a 360-degree camera and anti-fatigue system mounted on the dashboard.

These are helping to change driver behaviour – when I rode the bus, I did hear a few warnings voiced out by the system when the driver looked away from the road, suggesting that it will be helpful to build good habits among the BCs.

The colour EDS is in fact controlled by the same KABYM touchscreen AL-K80 controller found in the Volvo B9Ls, but this colour panel seems more responsive as it changes instantly (how an EDS should be) unlike the B9Ls’ orange EDS which takes ages to change. The AL-K80 is also mounted in a more useful position for the Zhongtong N12s, on the dashboard to the left of the ADAS; drivers do not need to take their attention off the road to do a quick adjustment (the controller for the B9Ls is located by the driver’s left knee).

On the first week of service, PD496S and PD622U were running on BTC while PD728Z was on D1. The ride was comfortable, especially at the rear, with the absence of a diesel engine to make noise and emit heat. While the exit door is located further towards the middle, it appears dwell time was not compromised thanks to the wider aisle. Passengers moved in to the rear to a greater degree than with the Volvo B9Ls.

A check on the dashboard revealed that GreenRoad telematics sensors similar to those installed in the Volvo B9L were also installed in the Zhongtong, likely contributing to the smooth ride as the drivers’ safety performance was measured. Notably, the driver of PD728Z is a veteran who previously drove PC3983M and before that PA3187E; he expertly manoeuvred the bus gently over the slopes and around tight spots (the Zhongtong N12 has a longer wheelbase than the Volvo B9L).

Passengers’ reactions were overwhelmingly positive as well, with students immediately noticing the new buses. Some students spotted their friends featured in the Customer Service video (which incidentally was produced by yours truly), while others snapped photos to send to friends. The most-praised features of the bus were the silent motor and the legible PIDS, with some remarking about how the bus feels like a public bus. Indeed, the specifications of this bus adhere more closely with current-gen LTA buses, unlike the Scania K230UB and Volvo B9L which were bodied by SC Auto, better known as a coach builder.

The addition of these three electric ISBs comes at a time of unprecedented stress for the ISB network, however, as it has been swarmed with crowds even when running at frequency better than pre-pandemic. This net fleet add has facilitated some measures to improve the crowding situation, as buses have been spotted performing “downroutes” (trips that begin at a halfway stop to inject capacity into the route) at stops like Ventus and Opp KR MRT. Hopefully, the situation gets better as more buses come and trips are optimised.

All the best to NUS and ComfortDelGro Bus in their electrification journey for ISB!

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