Thoughts on The New Routemaster and Green Transport

The new Routemaster buses by Wrightbus have finally begun to appear in London. These buses have been championed by Boris Johnston to replace the bendy buses brought in by Ken Livingstone when he was mayor. The buses seem to have proved reasonably popular with the public though a protest bus followed the first new Routemaster to complain about the rise in fares.
Several London politicians also joined in the attacks (from the BBC):

In an open letter to the mayor, 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.
Riding this bus is surely the most expensive bus ticket in history,” he said.
“With 62 seats at a cost of £1.4m, the cost per seat is £22,580. At £22,695, you can buy a brand new 3 series BMW.”
The Green Party said its London mayoral candidate Jenny Jones had questioned “how the mayor will deal with the problem of fare evasion and also, whether expenditure on the new bus is the best environmental choice”.
“Jenny is concerned that London bus operators will refuse to buy these new buses for London, as their costs will be considerably higher if they are unable to re-sell them second hand to either UK operators or foreign operators,” a Green Party spokesman said.
Caroline Pidgeon, leader of the Lib Dems on the London Assembly, 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.”

Labour have previously called the new buses “A shiny Vanity Project” though the Guardian has been supportive.

Leaving aside the issues over Johnston’s record on public transport which are more relevant to a London audience, the issue of the costs of the buses raises one of the fundamental problems with green transport considerations. There is (somewhat surreally) a review of the bus from Autocar here which offers high praise. It seems from this article that the vehicle is a more sophisticated hybrid than that found in most cars (or current hybrid buses). In a normal hybrid most of the power is provided from the petrol or diesel engine and the battery powered electric motor is an additional source of power, reducing the need for the internal combustion engine and at times allowing it to be turned off. The Routemaster, appears to be a true diesel electric (more like a train) and uses the small (for a bus) diesel engine to power the electric motors and charge the battery rather than provide motive power directly. This probably also helps explain the bus running out of diesel on the M1: this system with a small diesel engine is probably not powerful enough to run the electric motors at motorway speeds for prolonged periods. The Routemaster does, however, offer greater economy and lower emissions than traditional diesel or even hybrid buses.

Clearly if the buses are brought in greater numbers the unit cost will fall and in actual fact an £11 million cost to develop a substantially new vehicle is trivial in motor industry terms. However, the simple fact remains that hybrid vehicles such as the new Routemaster are more expensive to make. This in turn makes them more expensive to buy and if a major shift to such systems was decided on for buses the fare cost to the public would be likely to increase. Therein lies a paradox for the Green movement: Increasing public transport use such as buses is environmentally friendly and reduces congestion. However, newer, greener public transport is more expensive than older technologies. This means that one has to increase the subsidies to transport and / or increase the ticket prices. The first tends to be politically unpopular and the latter may reduce public transport usage, drive people back to their cars and, hence, create more pollution and congestion.

The Green Party’s complaints about fare evasion also raise problems. Allowing a hop on hop off system makes public transport quicker and more popular yet will allow fare evasion. However, more popular public transport will reduce pollution and congestion.

Attempting to increase public transport usage is a perfectly sensible position especially from an environmental standpoint as is making public transport more environmentally friendly. However, as the Routemaster shows it is not always easy to achieve both these together in one bus. That is even before the assorted personalities and their pet topics and projects are taken into account.

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  • I think Labour is nearer the mark on this than any other Party but they have made it too political.
    I dont like the bendy bus (they were occasionally seen in Belfast but I have not seen one for a while). I dont know if a bendy bus is dangerous but it “looks” dangerous to me.

    As a traditionalist I favour the traditional London bus…….the older one with conductors for preference….but I like the Routemaster.
    Every souvenir stall in London has an over-priced bus for sale and I dont suppose there are many of us who have not visited London and brought back one for the children or grandchildren.

    I think cities should have an element of tradition….New York “needs” yellow cabs……London needs a traditional red bus. But faced with economics the balance is that Boris is pandering to a traditional and iconic symbol as a form of electioneering.

    Me……I still miss the trolly bus which I think last ran in Belfast around 1970/1971. Always great fun when it came off the line and the conductor had to use the big pole to get it back “online” (so to speak).
    And I miss traditional Belfast bus number routes. One of the joys of being a child in the 1950s was seeing the 11, 12,13, 14, 15 go up the Falls Road and change its number at the terminus to be 7,8,10 going down the falls Road.
    I dont get all this 8b, 8c business. I know its simplified but its just not right.

  • Drumlins Rock

    FJH, think you have just proven how nostalgia could be a vote winner for Boris, the new buses are close enough to the traditional ones for a posative comparison, if the fare is affordable then most people will like them. They actually won’t get caught up in the development costs, the press have been waiting to find fault as usual, and so far have come up with one running out of fuel, hopefully any teething problems can be sorted out sensibly and WrightBus & NI Plc. benefit form this all.

  • Dec

    It looks very nice but… £1.4m for a single bus that carries 62 people! Really?

  • Drumlins Rock

    Dec, the Labour press release is an outright LIE, the development costs for a radically new type of bus was 11 million, eight prototypes are now on the streets of London to iron out teething problems, not bad going in just over two years btw. Dividing 11 million by eight does not give you the cost of one bus in any normal rekoning and it just shows how cheap and pathetic the level of political debate has become.

  • Dec

    DR

    Have there been any further orders or any in the pipeline? (And I think it safe to say we would qubble over the definition of protype in this instance).

  • Drumlins Rock,
    Thats my point.
    Effectively there are two “Londons”……the one for Londoners and the one for “incomers (not necessarily migrants).
    If you like an establishment London of “The Red Lion” and “chip shop” and Westminster Abbey………and the London of kebab shop, bucket travel agents and Finsbury Mosque.
    Of Harrods and East Street Market.
    Of appartment overlooking the Thames and Tower Hamlets.

    The people who staff the Underground and the people who use the Underground to bedsits in Kilburn, housing estates in Edmonton and to the leafier suburbs in Richmond.

    Two Londons and two (and possibly more) types of Londoner. Boris is making a straight play for a demographic……and not necessarily a racial one……just that Boris is the Establishment Londoner and Ken is “new” Establishment.
    Boris is going after the Lyons Tea House and Knees Up Mother Brown, Maybe its becorse Im A Londoner……up the apples and pears me old cock sparrer innit vote.

    Whatever the merits or cost of the new Routemaster, or green economy, the red bus is a totemic sign.

  • cynic2

    Thats £1.4 million in Labour terms when there is an election coming up. In time they should be little more expensive than a normal bus if they are ordered in bulk

    You might better ask why are Labour lying about the cost

  • cynic2

    Have there been any further orders or any in the pipeline?

    My understanding is that they are sensibly doing a trail on this fleet before fixing any faults and ordering in bulk.

  • It’s not just the buses. All “green” energy, such as wind or solar power, comes with a high price tag.

  • I’ll break my vow here (to have nothing further to do with Sluggerdom), but this is a Turgon-the-Wise thread, so that’s allowed.

    As understand it, contrary to Drumlin’s Rock‘s account, there are just two of these vehicles arrived in London (registrations LT61AHT and LT61BHT). We London taxpayers were promised all eight by 20th February, a week past, but c’est la vie du Boris. We only pay for them, of course.

    Moreover, not all of us are so up-beat about those claims for efficiency: allow me to assure y’all that 14 mpg isn’t easily achieved in London traffic at rush hour, even in your family hatchback. Meanwhile the other Wright hybrid (on a conventional Volvo chassis) is being advertised as making near-60% fuel savings in actual service (but in Edinburgh, so that can’t count).

    So, why now?

    Ahem! the deadline for being non-partisan is 20th March, after which we’re into the pre-mayoral election purdah. As they say, you wait nearly four years, and two buses come along at once.

    Now those of you with good recollections may recall that Boris promised there would be no cost for introducing these monsters: the developers would absorb the development costs. Ummm …

    And after these eight, there have been no further orders, “pending evaluation”.

    But, of course, the “development costs” will be returned, with interest, after exports et al.

    Huh? An explicit RHD double-decker will sell worldwide? Err … no. Even Hong Kong (one of the few obvious RHD export markets) seems to prefer buy Wrightbus’s Enviro500 — which also doesn’t need massive re-engineering to sell into LHD markets. Full credit to Wrightbus: this amounts to selling a pass the way the French XV could do around 1991-2.

    For those who scorn the Redfellow intellect, you’ll find all of this, and more elsewhere.

  • Turgon

    Malcolm,
    You may well be correct. The reengineering costs to LHD may not be that vast and there are a number of RHD markets: more than people think.

    The real problem is that the powerplant the Routemaster uses is much superior to a standard hybrid, much more fuel efficient and lower emissions. However, the whole thing (powerplant included) is expensive.

    The problem is that the environmentally vastly superior bus (the Routemaster) is significantly more expensive and as such would need either larger subsidies or else higher fares: yet higher fares are very likely to reduce bus use and, hence, increase car use and be more polluting and congesting.

    Whether it can be made to make commercial sense seems difficult / unlikely and from this remove it looks like a bit of a Boris vanity project: though it is also a brilliant piece of technology. Boris in not the only one with issues here, however. There is also the danger of the Green movement looking hypocritical. They promote vastly more expensive wind energy yet seem less interested in the green but expensive Boris bus.

    The reality is that this bus crystallises many of the problems of promoting sustainability and the like as it is an environmentally superior bus yet no matter how many are sold its greater expense may perversely result in less bus use and more pollution / congestion. The jump on jump off system is also a great way to increase the practically of bus use and therefore bus usage but is also a great way to help fare dodgers.

    How one squares these circles is insufficiently debated in many circles especially Green ones where people presume that owning the likes of a Toyota Prius makes them enviromentally superior (and vastly more self righteous) than other folk.

    Hopefully the bus will work though because despite Boris the concept is truly excellent from an environmental point of view and if it works out will help NI industry.

  • The yokel

    Joe, Canada is earning a few dollars with “cheap energy” in Asia
    http://www.prophecycoal.com/index.php
    But we all end up picking up the tab for the increased greenhouse gas emissions

  • Drumlins Rock

    There is certainly a risk in the whole venture, but dare I say occasionally “only the best will do” can pay off for the ordinary guy on the Clapham omnibus as well ass the toffs. The truth is it will take a decade to find out if the gamble has truely paid off, Boris will have his feet up in No. 10 by then probably 🙂

  • Intelligence Insider

    The Autocar review Turgon linked to states the price of the bus is £330k.

  • I applaud Boris. The naysayers would prefer the Citaros (made by Mercedes I believe) but the reality is that like the Borismasters they need conductors too to make the all door loading facility worthwhile because of the fare evasion. Of course a new bus will have sunk costs in the first few models.

    Having seen the review pictures I wish Cork was getting those rather than the more conventional Wright deckers they just recently received. Bendys can work well in bus-rapid-transit situations where they can pull into stations with pre-payment of fare rather than stops in shared traffic.