Cost of new bus threatens London services

The huge extra cost to Londoners of the ‘new bus for London’ is posing a threat to bus services. The WolmarforLondon campaign has discovered that the cost has reached nearly £7m annually and is set to rise as more buses come on stream. These extra operating costs do not take account of the higher capital cost of the buses, reckoned to be around £50,000 for each bus, compared with ‘off the peg’ models already available.
The Wolmarforlondon campaign has been informed that so far there are 115 of these new buses which were supposed to be London’s new Routemaster’ being used with conductors across the capital. However, in a tacit admission that the ‘customer assistants’ are an unnecessary expense, the most recent route to have these buses, the 148 which is served by 25 buses, is operating without conductors. This negates the purpose of the design of the bus which was to create a back platform that would allow passengers to ‘hop on, hop off’ between stops.
Christian Wolmar, who is seeking the Labour nomination for the London mayoral election in 2016 said: ‘This is a scandal that has largely been ignored because the focus has been on the design of the bus. But it was a misconceived plan from the beginning and Londoners are paying the price. Most London buses have long operated without a conductor, so what is the point of introducing one now on some routes?.’
A total of 600 of these buses are on order. If all these were allocated conductors, the extra annual cost would be £36m. This clearly has worried TfL managers and hence the introduction of the 148 buses without conductors. London bus services are subsidised to the tune of around £380m and with this spending under pressure, wasting money on conductors means there could be cuts to bus services.
Moreover, the buses take fewer passengers than the ones they replaced as they are designed with two staircases. In fact, the whole misconceived idea is demonstrated by the fact that passengers are discouraged from entering or leaving the bus between stops.
TfL accepts that the extra cost per bus of having a conductor during the normal hours which are 6 am to 7pm, during the week is £60,000 per year. This is to pay the wages and associated costs. Outside these hours, the buses are operated by one person, negating the point of having a back platform.
While in the past conductors performed a number of useful functions, principally collecting fares, in this digital age with almost universal use of Oyster, having an extra person makes no sense. Wolmar adds: ‘It is all the more galling since TfL is doing away with ticket offices which do perform a useful function at the busiest stations.’

  • DC

    Surely the answer is to get rid of the conductor and just have an exit only door/barrier as they do on Amsterdam trams.

  • Derekl

    I am glad somebody has noticed the appallingly poor design of these buses. It is patently obvious that 2 staircases will seriously reduce the seating capacity and cannot have much effect on stop dwell times. . The fact that they are expensive does not exactly help.

    I also fail to see what purpose is served by conductors. Although fare collection on opo buses was a cause of delay, the use of prepayment and Oysters has largely resolved that problem.

    The open rear entrance of the Routemaster certainly assisted loading and unloading (by both being achieved away from stops) modern safety issues make this less desirable. When these buses are running with rear doors open, I imagine the conductor’s primary job is to discourage boarding or alighting away from stops.

    Totally stupid waste of money!

  • RapidAssistant

    I was in London a few weeks ago, and it never ceases to amaze me just how big and needlessly cumbersome these buses are. The whole concept seems to have revolved around pure nostalgia for the rear staircase and platform – yet as others have said before the fact that the platform has to be enclosed now for health and safety reasons totally negates the whole point of having it in the first place! Why does a bus need three doors and two staircases?? it really is the classic example of “design by committee” – they set out to design a horse and they ended up with an elephant.

    The irony was that Ken’s bendy buses took so much stick a few years ago – the Boris Bus has just taken one flawed concept off London’s streets and replaced it with an even bigger one.

  • ricp

    This is Boris’ legacy to London; the pointless ‘Dangleway’ which no one uses, and this wretched bus. It is ungainly, its length is necessary to get close to the seating level of a normal bus.

    Some of the criticisms must go back to Pete Hendy and Red Ken for getting rid of the old ones. A fleet of 120 refurbished RMLs could have oerated on the central sections of 5 or 6 routes to provide the tourist secyions for Oxford Street, Piccadilly and so on.

    it is a bad design, and the irrelevant conductors, many have poor english just get in the way as they have nothing to do. Give them an oyster reader!

  • Fred Rodgers

    Enjoyed your post but not sure where the £7 million cost comes from. Also the £50,000 extra per bus is a misnomer as this doesn’t account for discount a 600 normal hybrid bus order would attract. TfL boast about the NBfL cost being discounted in the bulk order but wont say what would be expected for normal hybrids.

    TfL has bought the NBfLs as they can’t be leased by the operators and hasn’t had to acquire other buses since Thatcher’s destruction of bus services but the question is surely not difficult to answer. Also don’t forget cost of early termination of bendy bus leases and £11 million NBfL development costs in your calculations. 60 bendy buses are currently available at £7,500 each with discounts for a bulk orders!

    As far as the third door is concerned, it seems that TfL is already reconsidering the value of the wasted space and additional weight of the NBfL – don’t forget it is still limited to 80 passengers. Mike Weston of TfL told Coach & Bus Week that “we could make two-door version for example” he also indicated 150 NBfLs have been delivered, by the way

  • Calum

    Given that buses operated for years with a platform from which you could hurl yourself without reservation at any time, I really struggle to see the point of keeping it shut now. Have London streets really become so much more dangerous?

  • RapidAssistant

    The people who make these rules would be horrified if they worked in Mumbai!! It’s an extension of the “nanny state” I’m afraid. I was reading somewhere the other day that some workplaces don’t allow you to wear wellies any more because of the risk of spraining your ankle. Where does it stop?

  • Dan

    It’s not the nanny state – it’s the no win no fee legal merchants who will ‘find a claim where there is a blame’

  • Dan

    If these buses last a long time (like the orig RMs did) does that not make the cost issues better value over the longer term?

    Personally I think some effort put into the design of buses is a good thing (most current models are poorly designed in my view)

    Whether the NbfL has achieved that is, I suppose, another matter.

  • GaryCharles

    Why did they not understand that the best part of the old RM was the monocoque construction with no chassis. RM weighed in at around 7.5 tonnes. Even taking into account modern needs and a bigger overall size I am sure it would only weigh under 10 tonnes, compared to the fatty 12.5 tonnes of the NBfL. I know that the old RM is still running on heritage routes with fuel figures of around 9mpg compared to a hybrid bus at around 7-8 mpg. Progress…..