VEGA News Item

Bussed or Bust? A Dilemma for Londoners - 06/05/2010

Single or Double Deckers in the Built Environment?

1.  After his election as Mayor of London, having ousted Ken Livingstone and his hopes for more tram routes in London (and congestion charges on some inner-city routes), Boris Johnson commissioned plans for the venerable but well-designed Routemaster, a hop-on-hop-off vehicle. Mr Johnson promised Londoners “a new icon” for the capital during his successful campaign to unseat Ken Livingstone 2 years ago. The former mayor was criticized by many people for his introduction of the bendy-bus, the 18-metre articulated “behemoth” that now runs on several of London’s most popular routes, some run alongside stretches of roads in the centre and suburbs of London, giving travellers the option of single – and double-decker services and choice of the first-come bus or a wait for one of choice for any number of reasons, among which convenience would be paramount. Other road users would have options too; traffic flow (which would include cyclists and pedestrians) also developed opinions, some strong.

2.  Boris Johnson commissioned the replacement Routemaster after promising Londoners “a new icon”, with the Olympic Games in 2012 in mind. The original competition to design the new Routemaster was won by Aston Martin and Lord Foster’s architectural practice, but its submission was shelved last year. Two days before last Christmas the Mayor awarded the contract to Wrightbus of Ballymena in Northern Ireland. His specifications demand 3 points of entry, including a hop-on-hop-off platform and 2 internal staircases. The bus must be capable of carrying 87 passengers, similar to the existing double deckers on London roads, but 40% fewer than the 149 a bendy bus can carry (A commentary in the Times 24/4/10) omits the facilities for wheel-chairs for various purposes.

3.  If the latest contract with Wrightbus is proceeded with, it will cover the design, construction of a prototype, test, and building of 5 vehicles for delivery before the 2012 Olympic Games. The contract could have covered the cost of more than 30 £250,000 bendy buses. The Labour group in the London Assembly speak of the “Mayor’s Vanity Project.” Travelwatch, the London Transport users’ group, says: “It’s the cost that concerns us.” London bus operators remain diplomatically silent at the moment, but the Times found one (unnamed) executive who said: It is, frankly, farcical. We did not ask for the new Routemaster and I am sure we would not want them.” A spokesman for the Mayor defended the project as “good value for money in terms of fuel economy and lower-emissions.” The cost per bus of any additional orders has been capped at £300,000; but no additional expenses have been decided on.

4.  The Times has established that the contract to build 5 new buses to replace the double-decker Routemaster will cost more than £7.8 million: each new Routemaster will cost nearly £1.6million, 8 times the cost of a conventional £190,000 double-decker.

5.  In VEGA’s view, sometimes on the upper deck and in seats usually favored by tourists, but avoided by heavily laden shoppers and parents or carers with children, space and seating downstairs is understandably preferred. London Transport must have accumulated a great catalog of data on usage, safety, and environmental aspects of the various designs, of which there must be many vehicles “off the shelf” available, as with airlines, with various seating (and standing) arrangements adjustable for specific purposes that can be afforded thriftily in the grip of Recession.


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