Is Boris Johnson’s Routemaster bus his biggest failure?

By Kitty Knowles 21 July 2015

Boris buses have now been branded dangerous and inefficient leaving his dreams of a new Routemaster Bus for the 21st century in tatters.

As even further controversy arises over so-called “Boris buses” one has to ask if the 21 Century Routemaster is the biggest blunder of the Mayor’s career.

“The Bus for London” was introduced in 2012 after Boris Johnson pledged to restore conductors and an open back door to London’s iconic double-deckers. After spending £11.37m getting the project off the ground there is no money left to pay for £62,000 a year “customer assistants”, who man the open back platforms, leaving many of them closed for good.

The bus, infamously designed by Thomas Heatherwick, has been exposed as a project which places design over function. (No one has failed to notice temperatures which creep up to 37 degrees, due to a lack of opening windows). The Memo can reveal the next generation of Routemasters will forgo the open back, leaving Boris’ expensive dreams of a hop-on hop-off Routemaster Bus for the 21st century in tatters.

Boris buses have now been branded dangerous and inefficient

The latest wave of criticism to hit the project focuses on flaws with the new Routemasters’ supposedly “green” batteries, which result in dangerous handling and poor fuel efficiency, say bus drivers.

Reportedly, the eco-friendly hybrid batteries (on which the buses are supposed to predominantly run) are not charging properly, leaving many vehicles to run solely on a supplementary diesel engine which cannot cope.

This results in slower and poor acceleration, say drivers. The buses have been known to dangerously roll backwards when accelerating up a hill.

Transport journalist and mayoral hopeful Christian Wolmar, ignited recent debate, siding with bus staff and collecting numerous statements: “It is the most unreliable and poorly engineered bus that has ever been made,” one driver said. “There is going to be an accident and someone will get seriously hurt,” said another.

According to the BBC, 80 of the new Routemasters are now running on diesel generators and in all 200 will have failing batteries replaced under warranty.

To add insult to injury, it was revealed earlier this month that Johnson will excuse his failing buses from the rule of law, exempting them from air pollution limits for 2020 (which, at this rate, they would fail to meet).

So much for TfL’s claims that Johnson’s vanity project is “the most environmentally friendly bus of its type”.

Shutting the door on his promises

Recently The Memo pressed TfL about their plans to remove the open backs from New Routemaster models and to cut back on staff.

“A modification is being made to the rear door of future deliveries of these buses, meaning it can open outwards and parallel to the side of the bus,” Mike Weston, TfL’s Director of Buses, told The Memo.

Confirming that decisions would be made on a “route by route” basis, Weston detailed seven routes which would be completely conductorless with closed backs, including the 8, 12, 15, 55, 137, 148, and 453.

Several other routes would “operate with conductors during the day but at weekends and evenings on these routes, the rear doors remain closed between bus stops.”

In a period where the TfL budget has suffered crippling cuts, it should come as no surprise that the removal of any additional staff would be imminent, and that hop-off buses would inevitably fail. For Johnson, this must be considered as a case of poorly woven policies.

Even TfL seems to lack faith

When everything has been taken into consideration, it appears that even TfL could lack faith in the longevity of Boris Johnson’s buses.

A great deal of fanfare was given to TfL’s new all-electric buses (which rolled out in 2014), and the institution has keenly experimented with other alternatives, like its fleet of hydrogen buses (which have been running since 2010).

To be looking into other methods so soon after the Boris bus roll-out can only indicate that the institution is not satisfied with the New Routemasters and is already looking towards new solutions.

Never one to know when to call quits on a bad idea (water cannons anyone?), Johnson continues to back the roll-out of defective “Boris buses”, with the number of new Routemasters on the road rising from 500 to 800 through 2016.

None of us here are looking forward to the next heatwave.