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The Most Important Coach Innovations In History

Matt Crisp November 4, 2021

There is a lot of technological and design innovation that goes into a luxurious, comfortable coach hire, and much of it can be traced back throughout the history of transportation.

Since the first steam-powered bus carriages emerged in 1833, there have been nearly two centuries of innovations, developments and technological advances that have made buses faster, safer and more comfortable, as well as provide a possible glimpse into how the future of coaches looks.

Here are some of the most important coach and bus innovations in history, and what they can tell us about how coach transportation will look in 2022.


The Trolleybus

The entire transport industry is taking major steps to eliminate fossil fuels, with many modern coaches featuring diesel-hybrid engines which combine the range of a modern advanced diesel engine with the low emissions and comfortable power delivery of an electric engine.

As well as looking to the future of advanced long-range electric batteries, some designers and infrastructure engineers are looking to one of the earliest and most fascinating innovations in electric motoring.

The trolleybus is an electric vehicle in the most literal sense; it used electric poles to hook up to overhead wires and used that to power the electric motor, working in many respects like a bumper car.

Whilst there hasn’t been a trolleybus service in the UK since Bradford closed theirs in 1972, the system is still used in several major cities, particularly in Eastern Europe, and has gained recent attention as a potential way to power not only long distances coaches but heavy goods vehicles.


The Routemaster

A bus so successful and ubiquitous that it is often the first model that comes to mind when people think of the double-decker bus, the AEC Routemaster was exceptionally innovative for its time.

It was designed to be lightweight and was primarily built out of aluminium using design principles developed during the Second World War.

Whilst it retained the conventional front-engine and front-wheel-drive system that was standard for the time, it was the first bus to have independent front suspension, an automatic gearbox, hydraulically assisted braking and power steering, which made it very agile and light for a bus.

The bus was actively used from 1956 for almost 50 years until being withdrawn from regular service at the end of 2005, although a heritage route continued until 2021, outlasting several replacement models, an overhaul of transportation in London and several cultural revolutions.


The Mercedes-Benz Future Bus

Rather than tell people what their vision for the future of buses and coaches will be, Mercedes-Benz instead showed people when it unveiled its Future Bus concept.

The centrepiece technology is a self-driving technological solution it calls CityPilot. Whilst autonomous and semi-autonomous cars are not a new concept, CityPilot claims to be able to recognise traffic lights, obstacles and bus stops, and react appropriately to each.

Whilst the system needs thousands of miles of testing before it is ready for the road, it has already navigated an exacting 20km route along Europe’s longest rapid transit bus route in the Netherlands.

The advantage of a semi-autonomous bus for passengers is sheer comfort, as it is designed to have a smooth, predictable driving style and a comfortable, open-plan with stylish designer seats.

Whilst this is simply a concept vehicle, it does emphasise just how far buses and coaches can go in terms of style, luxury and technological advancement, and it may not be surprising if several design nods to the Future Bus appear in coach models going forward.