Sometimes a bus is just a bus

When Boris Johnson promised that if elected Mayor of London he would introduce a new Routemaster bus, I don’t think many expected him to interpret that quite as literally as he has.

For by the end of his term in office, there won’t be hoardes of new Routemaster buses on London’s roads. Not even scores or dozens. But there will be a new Routemaster bus. One bus. Just the single bus.

As London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon puts it:

We were promised that the new Routemaster bus would be up and running in 2011, but the harsh reality is that just one of these incredibly expensive buses will be on our roads before this Summer.

This latest admission exposes once and for all Boris Johnson’s real record on bus services. He promised to deliver a new bus for London within his four year term. In reality his record has been to hike up bus fares by 50 per cent and to allow buses to become more crowded.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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25 Comments

  • Richard Dean 25th Feb '12 - 12:17pm

    Ha ha! No one can say that Mister Fine Print doesn’t do what he promised! You just have to be very careful not to read your own meanings into what he so carefully says.

  • *hordes

  • There sfr still a few original routemasters plying their trade.

  • I suppose “new Routemaster” is appropriate in one way – in that it will be completely unwanted outside a single city which takes being proscriptive in its vehicle supply into the realms of a competitive sport.

  • Except of course, two more prototypes are already on their way, and the costs have been for design and development of a bus that’s at the cutting edge both environmentally and functionally. It’s up to private companies whether they order them or not, but the public seem to like the prototype. I can see why the Lib Dems are desperately trying to make out that this is a failure.

  • Charles: Hardly “desperately” trying to describe it as a failure. Johnson is delivering less that he said he would, later than he said he would and at a higher cost than he said he would. That’s pretty easy material to make into “failure” :)

  • Simon Shaw

    Perhaps because TfL is public sector and Arriva is private.

    The rise of 50% is important in London for those who use public transport and for those of us outside then we can thank the Tories for the great success that was bus service deregulation – of course you will not be prepared to criticize the Tories though will you?

  • Simon Titley 25th Feb '12 - 7:04pm

    The so-called ‘new Routemaster’ presents a serious problem for bus operators: what do they do with the vehicles when they want to ‘cascade’ them down to their provincial fleets?

    The original Routemaster bus was a bespoke design for London Transport, developed and introduced in the 1950s at a time when most bus fleets were state-owned or municipally-owned. These operators would typically buy new buses and retain them in their fleets until they were life-expired, about twenty years old. The Routemasters kept running for much longer than 20 years because they were thoroughly overhauled and re-engined on a regular basis, but this was not typical.

    Today, bus services outside Greater London are completely de-regulated and operators can do pretty much whatever they like. Within Greater London, however, bus services are regulated by TfL (Transport for London). TfL puts routes out to tender and, amongst other things, can stipulate that the operator uses new buses, vehicles with low floors, clean fuel, low emissions, etc.

    The result is that the large nationwide bus operators, such as Arriva and First, buy new buses for their London services, then cascade these vehicles down to their provincial fleets after four or five years. If you use bus services outside London operated by one of the big groups (except Stagecoach, which has withdrawn from London), there’s a good chance that you’re riding on buses that started their life in London.

    Since the end of Routemaster production in 1968, new buses that were bought for London were similar to buses used in the provinces, so they could easily be transferred to provincial operations. Maybe a dual-door bus needed converting to single door, but that was about it.

    But what use will the ‘new Routemaster’ be when it has completed a few years’ service in London and is ready to be cascaded to the provinces? There is little or no demand outside London for a bus with two staircases and a rear entrance (even if it can be closed off in off-peak periods). Certainly no provincial operator will want a return to two-person bus crews. But TfL is in a position to specify that operators use this design of bus when they tender to operate a bus route in London (even though this may entail higher purchase costs and running costs).

    So either TfL will have to relax its rules and allow operators to use the ‘new Routemaster’ on London bus routes until it is 15 or 20 years old (rather than insist on new buses), or there will soon be a glut of secondhand not-so-new Routemasters that nobody wants.

  • Simon Shaw

    Which is precisely why they lost loads of votes in the period from 97 and were voted out in 2010. I have no truck with Labour or their policies since 1997

    What also I can also see is that the Tories set the seeds for bus deregulation which is one of the reasons for the shambles we have outside London – reduced services with higher cost. Bus use and services in London are superior to those outside the capital (from my admittedly limited experience) but this does not change the fact that the current mayor has to take some responsibility for the large hikes in fares and explain that to the voters.

    I find it difficult that you say that the Labour Party are the only ones to blame – the Tories were instrumental in introducing the philosophy that Labour followed in their time in power much to their shame.

    What I find saddening is that the LD are following the same path and it seems to be heartily endorsed by yourself in most of your posts which is why I see your attempts at attacking Labour from the ‘left’ a little difficult to take seriously. You shouldn’t let your hatred of all things Labour blind you to the true nature of your Coalition partners

  • Simon Shaw

    I agree with you they should have changed the act but they didn’t , just like they should have rolled back/changed rail privatization. Not surprising really seeing they were so keen on privatization themselves. I, however, find it a little unbelievable to be honest, based on your previous posts, that you would have welcomed rolling back bus deregulation, if in fact it would have been practical to do so.

    This is beside the point though – you need to get over your Labour fixation. This article is about Boris Johnson and the ‘reality distortion zone’ he has created around what he says and what he does.

    Do you support the comments of the LD assembly representative or do you side with Boris? To be, honest, I can’t tell which party you really support!

  • David Pollard 25th Feb '12 - 10:16pm

    To Simon Titley – the rest of the contributors to this discussion are not going to let the facts get in the way of a good argument. Thanks for taking the trouble to put things so clearly. Now if you could do the same for the NHS bill!!!

  • SimonShaw

    The points I have raised – which you still fail to address are:

    i. BoJo has increased fares 50% which has been criticized by the LD leader in London. Part of this criticism is due to the expensive route master he has commissioned and not used. This has been a common occurrence in relation to Boris ’250K is chickenfeed’ Johnson. Do you agree with her or not. I do? The price of fares outside London is a disgrace but not particularly relevant (bus fare are a very much regional issue)

    ii. I, and others, have pointed out that the bus services are still under public authority control in London – may this have a lot to do with the disparities in cost? You have completely failed to react to this point.

    iii. You solely blame Labour for this and I just pointed out that is was the Tories, despite being told that i would happen, who went down the path of bus deregulation

    I do not drive so take the bus and so am aware that outside London it is a shambles (as well as being seen to be considered only for the poor). It saddens me that this is the case and the two main parties are both responsible for this. I had hoped the LD would have a different approach but seem to be backing continued support for ‘private sector efficiency’ during this Parliament.

    I referred to you personally as you seem to blame Labour for everything and the Tories for nothing – they are both equally culpable. Unfortunately for the LD you are seen by your ex-voters from the left as being ‘Tory Lite’ and you do not help matters. If your party is going to be a centre-right alternative to the Tories then please deliver a constant message in all regions of the country

  • SimonShaw

    In no way have I defended Labour and nor would I want to. I am centre-left so to you this may equate with Labour – it is strange then in 5 out of 6 elections I have voted LD. I have never seen any divergence in my views and those expressed in the manifestoes until the current love-in with the Tories. Perhaps I did not look too closely at the potential mendacity of your leadership – Orange Book and all that….

    The public transport system in London is still regulated and this should be considered when comparing prices with areas that are not regulated. The whole focus of this argument is London and I do not think it is relevant to compare prices with those in the regions where the situation is completely different and where there has also been (in general) a decrease in bus traffic.

    As you said Labour did nothing to deal with this issue when in Government – but then again neither have the Coalition and to be honest regional deregulation had been in place for 11 years before Labour took power so the Tories take their share of the blame (you never seem to criticize them though for some reason).

    I seem to remember that the LD were seen to be left of Labour in polling before the election and are now significantly further to the right. I do not think the LD will have much success with left-leaning voters at the next election with this leadership in place.

  • SimonShaw

    You were right that Labour were seem more to the left than the LD but not by much (and I do not accept the Tories were to the left of Labour on civil liberties – they were when it was politically expedient to be so)

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/blog/archives/3065

    What you can see from the analysis though is that the LD are now seen as centre-right rather than centre-left and a large amount of support has drifted away from that centre-left constituency.

  • Surely the main reason for lower fares in London is a massively higher level of public funding?

  • @Mark Pack

    He’s pretty much delivered on his election pledge to introduce a new routemaster style bus. It’s not as if he could have gone out and bought a fleet of the four years ago, they didn’t exist. It’ll be up to whoever wins the 2012 election to decide how many of them there should be, which brings us to the question: will Brian Paddock scrap the new Routemaster or will he see it through?

    @Simon Titley

    Considering these buses were essentially designed by TFL and to a very high specification it’s unlikely they’re going to find themselves falling foul of TFL’s specifications any times soon and so they won’t need to be cascaded into provincial fleets.

    While they continue to meet TFL’s specifications the buses will simply be refitted as and when they begin wearing out, and with a little co-operation between TFL and the operators the buses will be upgraded during the refit in order to continue meeting specifications. There’s no real reason London can’t have a bus that’s older than four years, its simply that until now it’s been the most convenient option for operators under the regime that TFL has run.

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