Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Boris's 'New Bus 4 London' Splits Opinion

The 'New Bus 4 London' – or the Borismaster as everyone seems intent on calling it - assumed centre stage in the media this week following its long-awaited introduction to London's streets.

So far, the jury seems split, and largely along political lines.

There was cautious praise for the new vehicle in Dave Hill's London blog in The Guardian on Monday, who mentioned its stylish though slightly cramped interior and its smooth ride. He also mentioned its struggling air conditioning, though this might have been less to do with the press of reporters and film crews thronging the huge double decker than the hordes of breathless bus enthusiasts mingling with them.

A piece on local BBC News carefully represented the views of both Transport for London, who as you would imagine are strongly pro, and everyone else, who it appear to be strongly against. The lines of argument are clear.

One is the sheer cost of the New Bus 4 London programme. One protester reckoned that 96 new low-carbon hybrid buses could have been acquired for the cost of just these eight new buses. And presumably they would not have been halted in Islington by a 'software hitch' as the bus the BBC was travelling on was. They had to lock down the open platform of the vehicle to get the thing running again.

By this time, of course, the new bus had been dogged every step of the way by an old-fashioned 1960's Routemaster hired by the protest group Sack Boris. They commanded a fair degree of media attention, too, especially as their bus seemed to be filled with people who were only too keen to let the media know just what a waste of money the whole New Bus 4 London was.

However, most had already been beaten to the punch. Labour MP for Tottenham David Lammy had already written an open letter to the Mayor of London to complain that each new bus costs £1.4m compared to the roughly £190,000 cost of a conventional double-decker, leading him to an entertaining conclusion.

"With 62 seats at a cost of £1.4m, the cost per seat is £22,580, “ he said. “At £22,695, you can buy a brand new 3 series BMW!"

“Riding this bus is surely the most expensive bus ticket in history," he concluded.

Green Party mayoral candidate Jenny Jones raised the issue of vehicle cost in a different way, though, questioning whether London bus operators would refuse to buy such an expensive vehicle especially as there was serious doubt whether there was an after-market for second hand Borismasters either here or abroad.

Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Lib Dems on the London Assembly, put it all into perspective when she said: "What Boris Johnson has managed to achieve is to hike up the cost of a single bus fare by 50% and ensure that buses on routes across London are far more crowded.

"A single new bus which has cost Londoners' a fortune will not cover up Boris Johnson's real record on bus services."

TfL admitted that the new bus cost a lot to develop but that subsequent vehicles would be much cheaper particularly if they were ordered in any quantity - which is probably true. However, that assumes there will be a great many of them ordered by bus operators, and so far that is uncertain.

Whatever you think of the new bus – and there's no denying its glamourous good looks and, if it works and continues to work, its practicality for London – there's every chance that it won't be Boris Johnson's delivering on a promise to rid the city of bendy-buses and resurrect the Routemaster that will determine whether Boris - or his 'Borismaster' - survives beyond this May's Mayoral elections.

It will be his record on public transport generally.

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