As opinion polls continue to show Labour challenger Ken Livingstone running neck and neck with London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, Bozza’s cheerleaders in the press are starting to get nervous, and the veracity of their copy is getting increasingly shaky, as shown by Maily Telegraph “London Editor” Andrew Gilligan’s latest effort to rubbish Ken’s legacy.
“Boris Johnson’s new bus: only another five days to go as another city dumps bendies” gurgles Gilligan enthusiastically today. So which “other city” is “dumping bendies”? Well, according to Gilligan, that city is York. And there we have a problem in standing up his story, as York is not actually “dumping bendies” at all, given it got some new ones around three years ago.
Bus services in York, run by First Group, include a number of Park and Ride routes – five in all – which are operated with support from the City Council. These use a mix of conventional single deckers and – wait for it – Mercedes Citaro bendy buses, the last of which were delivered in January 2009. The latter are particularly useful in mopping up crowds at peak time (bit like with the 507 at Victoria, then).
So, once again, Gilligan’s propaganda piece unravels in short order: he had homed in on a totally different issue, that of the First Group concept bus called the ftr (that’s “future” without the vowels), an articulated vehicle it developed in conjunction with Wright Bus – yes, the same folks who developed the BozzaMaster – and which has proved to be controversial in its operation.
The ftr was introduced around six years ago on one route in York – the 4 which runs from the city’s University across the centre to the suburb of Acomb – and its use was plagued by problems. The buses are designed as a kind of “tram substitute”, but in reality they have problems with raised kerbs where space is tight, and boarding proved so slow that a conductor was needed at most times.
The extra crew member (any alarm bells sounding in London yet?) made operation more expensive, meaning that the City Council had to bung First more in subsidy to maintain the service. Ordinary bendy buses, or conventional double deckers, could have run the route equally well, and the 4 will revert to the latter later this year when the contract to run the ftr expires.
So, rather than showing how rotten ordinary bendy buses are, Andrew Gilligan has exposed a parallel between the expensive and unwanted ftr in York and the BozzaMaster that he has been championing for so long. The ftr proved difficult to manoeuvre in city streets and its conductor meant it was far more expensive than an ordinary bus. It wasn’t worth the novelty of the concept.
Thus an unintentional word of warning from the great Gilligan.