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Thursday 29 August 2013

Boris Bus Fan Talks More Rubbish

Sometimes, the press can be suckers for the witterings of those who pretend to know their subject, but turn out not to have a clue. Today, the Independent has indulged one such pundit, Autocar’s Hilton Holloway, whose enthusiasm for the New Bus For London (NB4L), aka Boris Bus or BozzaMaster, has led to some in the press concluding that he knows what he is talking about.
Poor economics: New Bus For London

On the buses: Public transport is undergoing a technological transformation” gushes Christopher Beanland, before getting the NB4L all wrong: “the Ulster-built buses have proved more of a hit with tourists, who like the ‘hop on, hop off’ platforms on the Routemaster replacements”. Where to start? They’re not a Routemaster replacement, tourists aren’t fussed, and you can’t just hop on or off.

With this level of hype, it is no surprise that Holloway has managed to get his foot in the door: “Personally I think that after the Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road is finished, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane could become a circular trolley- bus route – using converted Boris Buses” he announced, which will be a surprise to anyone at TfL, which has no such intention.
Sound economics: pair of Tatra T3s in Prague

And, as the man said, there’s more: “As urban populations swell, buses offer the best mix of affordability, flexibility, and low investment for mass transport. They're essential for budget travel because of the huge infrastructure costs – and, therefore, high fares – associated with new undergrounds or trams”. A word in your shell-like, Hilt: your grasp of transport economics ain’t making it.

The NB4L requires two crew members – as well as frequent visits from the fare dodger hit squad – and yet it carries a maximum of 80 passengers. Even cities like Prague, which runs many tram routes with the venerable Tatra T3, doubles them up into pairs with one driver. A T3 can carry more than an NB4L. So a pair of them, with one crew member, has less than a quarter of the staff costs.
Ultimate people mover: Siemens Combino Supra in Budapest

So much for “high fares” associated with trams. And it gets worse for the Holloway Weltanschauung: modern people movers, such as the Siemens Combino Supra built for Budapest’s lines 4 and 6, can comfortably hoover up 400 punters, which, given there is, once again, one crew member, makes their staff cost one-tenth that of the BozzaMaster. And Hilt’s trolleybus conversion isn’t going to happen.

The NB4L, in any case, is too heavy to carry its design load (it should be able to take 87 passengers, but can only take 80). A trolleybus conversion would make it yet heavier, and even more uneconomic. And the shaky grasp of economic reality demonstrated by its most enthusiastic fan shows that he doesn’t get why “everyone’s out of step bar our Boris”.

Leave public transport to the real experts, Hilton. You’re out of your depth.


Chris Neville-Smith said...

"... because of the huge infrastructure costs – and, therefore, high fares – associated with new undergrounds or trams”

I can pick out an obvious example to disprove that. The Edinburgh Tramway - which even the most enthusiastic rail support will accept was utterly buggered up - was hugely expensive to build. But the decision has been to keeps fares the same as the buses.

Ultimately, it's down to whether or not the funding body wants to recoup their costs through higher fares. And in the case of Edinburgh, they've decided that the benefits of allowing people to move about cheaply are more important than getting fare revenue in. There's no reason why the same can't apply anywhere else.

SteveB said...

The big difference between fiascos like Edinburgh and new projects in mainland Europe will be the involvement of consultants. Everything in Britain has to have an army of them which is bad enough when it's something we have relevant experience in - but new urban tramways? Where did that experience come from? The number of people worth listening to from Manchester and Sheffield would have been a very short list of people already known to the leaders in Edinburgh. Why bother with the likes of Halcrow?

Anyway back to Borisland. He did once run up some ideas on trolley buses and from a design point of view they were a damn sight better than the NB4L. But he identified a problem - legislation caused by earlier Tory bus deregulation. They would have been legally difficult in London and impossible elsewhere (London was of course protected from much of the deregulation law). And without elsewhere the new designs would have had no commercial market - just like the NB4L!