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Friday 27 May 2011

Cripes Readers, Bit Pricey Taking This Bus!

Today has been a day out for regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph and occasional London Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Bozza, with the press corps in pursuit, has been to Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire to take the prototype of his “New Bus For London” for a spin.

So now that the BozzaMaster has been cast in the metal, and is no longer a concept or mock-up, it’s a good time to reflect on the project, its cost, and the benefits for Londoners. And the first thing that stands out about the cost is that it has been substantial: not far short of eight million notes for the first five buses, which is (per vehicle) more than six times the cost of one “bendy” bus.

That upfront cost would, of course, be defrayed by a large production run, as was the case with the original Routemaster, of which more than 2,800 examples were built. Problem is, the information I’m receiving is that operators currently running services for Transport for London (TfL) are not enthusiastic, although of course if directed to use the BozzaMaster they will have to comply.

One turn-off for operators is that “off the shelf” bus designs can easily be deployed elsewhere in the country after finishing service in London: this makes for better operating margins for the big combines, or even makes it possible to operate services that might be marginal or even unprofitable if new buses had to be purchased to run them.

The BozzaMaster, with its three entrances and two sets of stairs, would be hopelessly overspecified for operation outside the capital – it’s arguably so in all cases, given the low seating capacity. And it provides only 62 seats in an 11.8 tonne vehicle, compared with the original Routemaster’s 64 and 7.5 tonnes.

Moreover, many of the lower deck seats are difficult to get in and out of, a real minus point for all those older and less mobile passengers who choose the bus because of the less than totally accessible tube system. And if operators can’t cascade the vehicles to fleets outside London, it will mean the cost of operation for the BozzaMaster will be that much higher.

So that’s a high initial cost, a higher operating cost, a vehicle that weighs well over 50% per seat more than the Routemaster, low residual value, poor seating capacity, and little likelihood of significant economies of scale, given that operators elsewhere in the UK and mainland Europe won’t be interested.

The obvious question is simply this: why was Bozza’s vanity project allowed to get off the ground? And why is the exercise being allowed to continue?

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