London return for Routemaster by 2012 as Johnson declares demise of bendy bus
By Dan Milmo
July 5, 2008
Mayor invites bids for new version of legendary bus
The much-derided bendy bus will disappear from London’s streets by 2015, the mayor, Boris Johnson, declared yesterday as he unveiled plans to reintroduce that bus-spotter’s favourite – the Routemaster. The first of London’s 393 bendy buses will be retired next year and operators will be told to replace the 18-metre vehicles with conventional double-deckers. Passengers will have to wait until 2012 before the new version of the distinctive Routemaster hits bus lanes.
Johnson yesterday invited bids from amateur bus enthusiasts and design firms to draft a 21st century take on the legendary vehicle, whose open platform at the back has invited many precarious boardings and exits over the decades. A leading investment bank, Deutsche Bank, warned that the Routemaster revival would come at a price. Passengers would have to stomach an 11% increase in fares because the estimated annual cost of running the network, already subsidised at £500m a year by the taxpayer, would rise by £117.8m, mainly due to the hiring of around 3,000 extra staff to man the Routemasters.
The mayor said the Routemaster had been “fabulous” and remained a well-known emblem of the capital around the world, having found a second home in places as diverse as Baghdad and California. Its successor should seat at least 72 people and be green in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and red in colour, said Johnson. He added: “This was a bus that was loved by Londoners and now is the time for us to produce a worthy successor. There is already huge and growing interest in this idea.”
Bendy buses have not inspired the same affection and have been criticised for their traffic-snarling length and alleged encouragement of fare dodgers – accusations that were denied by the former mayor, Ken Livingstone. Nonetheless, Johnson is claiming anecdotal support for a policy that became an unlikely battleground in this year’s mayoral election. Critics of Johnson’s policy have claimed that manufacturers will refuse to build the vehicles due to safety fears over passengers tumbling out of the open entrance, and have warned of a £100m funding gap in his plans to replace the fleet. The former head of Volvo’s UK bus operation has dismissed the plans as a “non-starter”, while transport experts have warned that the buses will cost more than £250,000 each, higher than the cost of a bendy bus.
Livingstone has claimed that Routemasters could kill 10 people a year if they returned to the roads. Johnson dismissed those concerns yesterday, saying his transport executives were “more than confident” that a safe and wheelchair-friendly Routemaster could be introduced. The London transport commissioner, Peter Hendy, who commissioned bendy buses and is one of their staunchest defenders, said the competition could produce a ground-breaking successor. “This is a fantastic opportunity for people in the motor vehicle industry to give us buses that are light, durable 21st century vehicles.” He said the last bendy bus would be taken off London’s roads in 2015, when the contract for the 435 from Marylebone to Lewisham expired.
Concerns over accessibility to Routemasters, which still operate two heritage routes in London, resurfaced yesterday. “I remain concerned for the future of bus passengers with disabilities, elderly passengers and parents with children if the mayor insists on an open platform design,” said Valerie Shawcross, chair of the London Assembly transport committee. “I urge the mayor to open and maintain dialogue about any new bus with London’s disabled population since so far it has not been clear how they are expected to use a Routemaster style bus.”
Johnson confirmed that the new Routemasters will have space for two crew members including a driver, although bus conductors are now obsolete due to the near-elimination of cash fares with the Oyster card system. Stephen Glaister, the executive director of the RAC Foundation and a former board member at Transport for London, questioned whether bringing back London’s signature double-decker represented good value for money given the pressures on the capital’s budget- including the £16bn Crossrail scheme and repairing a funding hole of at least £2bn in the public private partnership programme to upgrade the underground network. “There are lots of other demands on the budget. The question is – where is the cash going to come from and is it better spent on something else?” he said.
What should Boris Johnson be looking out for with a new London bus? A Routemaster mark 2 shouldn’t be a retro version of the bus we loved that was in service in London for half a century. It needs to be thought out from first principles, and be the most environmentally-friendly bus possible.
How to design the perfect bus
[…] It is not a question of a mere styling exercise. What mayor Johnson should be looking for is a truly radical bus, just as the Routemaster was the most advanced city bus of its generation in the world. So a Routemaster mark 2 might not look like anything else on the road, and it would be best if it was a bus that could be designed so that it could take on many configurations. Some new Routemasters might have a conductor and an open platform, others might not, and of course it would be a bus that would have to cope with every level of physical disability. Unlike the latest wave of double deckers and bendy buses, it also needs to adorn the streets of the city it serves: it should be regarded as a work of mobile architecture, as much as a work of engineering and public service.
See also: Transport for London