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Friday 14 September 2012

Cripes Chaps, My Bus Is In Trouble Again!

[Update at end of post]

The New Bus For London (NB4L), more often known as the BorisMaster, Boris Bus or BozzaMaster, is back in the news, and not for the first time for all the wrong reasons. Transport for London (TfL) is apparently set to commit to ordering 600 of the vehicles from Wrightbus of Ballymena. This has generated a hail of adverse publicity, and for a variety of reasons.

First, and most importantly, the buses will be ordered and therefore owned by TfL, not the operators. Why so? Well, the operators don’t want them: they would rather buy off-the-peg hybrids, because those vehicles can easily be moved to their operations outside London when contracts end, or when the buses reach the age that makes them too old for London but still useful elsewhere.

This is a key incentive for operators to be involved in London Buses, despite the lower margins on offer: cascading older vehicles to subsidiaries outside the capital enables them to save on buying more new buses and also helps to keep overall costs down – thereby meaning they can operate many marginal routes and still make that all-important margin. It’s part of the public transport food chain, if you will.

But this only works if the buses being moved on are going to be standard types known to maintainers, where spare parts are readily available and affordable. The NB4L is an oddball. It doesn’t fit in to this model. Arriva, who operate the prototypes on Route 38, didn’t want it – they were volunteered. This is why TfL is having to buy them. And a production run of 600 may not be enough for economies of scale.

Previous buses specified for use in London were produced in the thousands. The AEC RT, a variant on that manufacturer’s Regent III chassis, ran to well over 4,500. When the Leyland variants were added in, the total production run came to almost 7,000. The AEC Routemaster – which is nothing like the BozzaMaster – ran to almost 2,900, and there should have been more.

What stopped production of the RM, although it also had to do with AEC eventually ceasing production altogether, was the advent of Driver Only Operation (DOO), which came in during the 1960s. And much of the RM was made up of standard parts – the aluminium body construction was typical. The power units were the same ones offered in the Regent V and its derivatives.

Even the automatic gearbox was the same Wilson epicyclic box used in the RT, but set up differently. But the BozzaMaster is full of one-off stuff, from the bodywork to the power unit. And on top of all that, TfL will have to stump up for those “conductors who won’t check or issue tickets and passes. That means more overall cost, and more for tax and fare payers to stump up.

All of that makes the BozzaMaster deal a bad one for London. Yikes readers!

[UPDATE 1925 hours: the BBC's Tom Edwards has also blogged on the subject of the NB4L, confirming that the operators effectively don't want them as the vehicles have "no market" outside London. He has also noted an annual additional cost of £40 million for the "conductors" who will not check tickets or passes.

These additional costs should also be seen in the light of forthcoming reductions in Government grant to TfL (towards the foot of this post by BorisWatch), which will reduce by 28% by 2014-15, in other words, just before Bozza piles off for pastures new and leaves the people of London to realise just what a jolly good chap he has been to them. Crikey!]


Anonymous said...

sounds like a load of tosh --- Routemasters were designed by London Transport and were fit for purpose unlike the hybrids you seem to prefer which are hot, cumbersome and uncomfortable not dissimilar to wheeled greenhouses. There was a ready market for pensioned off Routemasters too as far as I can recall. An economy of scale applied. Conductors will presumably make bus use safer -- granted more expensive. An easy solution would be to end the involvement of the private sector in London buses and trains -- I seem to recall it worked well. I find the service offered by private operators haphazard at best.

Tim Fenton said...

I'm not indicating a preference for one kind of bus over another.

Anonymous said...

Surely public services should be run for the benefit of the public, not for private profit? Or is that heresy in these post-Thatcher times?

I prefer the name "RouteBastard".