Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Labour & the Unions are bending the truth about London’s new buses

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I am well excited about the fact that some of the New Routemaster buses are now in service in London.

What is surprising, however, is the amount of negativity surrounding it.  Christian Wolmar, who styles himself as ‘Britain’s Leading Transport Correspondent’ tweeted yesterday asking if the new buses were anything other than a very expensive joke.

My response to Mr Wolmar is that they are anything but a joke.  Admittedly, I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing one but there are some good reasons to have replaced the bendy-buses with them.

As some of the passengers interviewed in this BBC Report noted, the bendy-buses were often known as “the free bus” because there were so many doors that it was easy to avoid paying and not get caught.  The cynic in me says that if Boris Johnson had made a thing about keeping these buses, Ken Livingstone would have run a campaign decrying the “Tory Free Bus Scandal.”  Prove me wrong, folks.

Secondly, the length of the bendy-buses meant that they were often unpopular with cyclists – as a cyclist, I can totally agree that it is not nice feeling hemmed in by such a long vehicle, and easy to get the feeling that perhaps the driver cannot see you properly.  Mr Wolmar is evidently quite in favour of cycling and I am amazed that he has not made more of this point.

Being more positive, there is a lot to be said for the new bus design.  I like the fact that they will have a conductor on-board and an open platform at the back.  I witnessed one of the major advantages of this when I was in London recently waiting for a Number 15 near Tower Hill.  One of the normal double-deckers turned up and the crowd waiting at the stop took an age to shrink as the driver processed everyone boarding.  After a while, an old Routemaster pulled up behind.  The conductor waved the remainder of the crowd, including me, aboard and in a moment we were speeding off, leaving the newer bus behind.  I also remember the days when the old Routemasters were commonplace and I could get off at a red traffic light by Paddington Station without having to wait for the lights to change and the bus to go along to the stop up the road.

Of course, it will cost a bit to employ the conductors – but if the new buses reduce fare evasion (and possibly increase patronage) some of this will be offset.  In such economic times it is also surely a good thing to see jobs being created and I cannot understand why the Unions are bleating about the new buses.  I’ve never known Bob Crow to say anything positive, but surely he was one of the most vocal people to complain when the last set of bus conductors were made redundant. 

Another advantage of the new buses is that they are built in Britain, which the Unions should be thankful for (after all, they went ape when the order for Thameslink trains went abroad).  Being cynical again, I’d say that the Union stance has more to do with being pro-Ken and anti-Boris than any sort of reasonable argument.

Finally, I am concerned that those opposed to the new bus (again, possibly motivated purely by political reasons) are deliberately scaremongering about the cost of the new buses.  In this BBC Article, Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy said “each new bus costs £1.4m compared with the conventional double-decker bus which costs about £190,000,”  but I would accuse Mr Lammy of not calling a spade a spade.

Dividing the development costs of a brand-new bus by the first run of eight units is ridiculous.  This is never done elsewhere in the industry, and I would be very interested to know how much the first eight “normal” double-deckers actually cost per unit on the same basis.

Maybe Mr Lammy, along with the other negative voices, assumes that we’re all fools.  Maybe most of you are, in which case I fear for the result of the mayoral election.

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