The ability of London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson to romanticise London’s Routemaster buses – that’s the real RMs, not the New Bus For London (NB4L) – always managed to miss one problem with the vehicles, and that is the safety drawback that is the open rear platform, responsible over the years for a number of accidents, some of them fatal.
The RM was good in many respects – innovative for its time, reliable, rugged and long-lasting – but without rebuilding the vehicles with enclosed platforms, and platform doors, the potential for mishap could not be eliminated. And that was one of the main reasons – apart from other minor problems, like not being able to get spares for the things – that led to their withdrawal.
But what led former RM enthusiast Ken Livingstone to change his mind when the facts changed, in true Keynesian tradition, was somehow missed by Bozza, who gives the appearance that falling off the open platform was all part of the jolly good fun part of travelling in London. So, against all sane advice, the NB4L was designed to have a potentially open rear platform.
And now, to add to an already significant catalogue of woe (too expensive, already old technology, too hot in Summer, too cold in Winter, unreliable, bad ride quality, too heavy for their design load, and prone to go onto autopilot and ram traffic queues) has come the inevitable first passenger to fall off the rear platform and sustain an injury – life-threatening in this case – in the process.
The Standard’s report tells you all you need to know: “A woman was fighting for her life today after falling off the back of a new Routemaster bus. The passenger, aged in her thirties, fell head first from the platform of the double decker in Kentish Town at 7.20am. Paramedics treated her for a head injury at the scene in Prince of Wales Road. She was then taken to St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington where she was in a potentially life-threatening condition”.
Whose brilliant idea was it to re-use the Routemaster name, again? That one incident has reminded Londoners why the RMs were taken out of service in the first place, and served as a warning: no matter how vigilant the second crew member, there are going to be more such mishaps as more NB4Ls enter service.
So, in addition to all the other less than totally favourable features of the Boris Bus, we can now add its ability to emulate the most deadly attribute of its predecessor. Just think, TfL could have ordered 600 ordinary buses, saved over half a billion quid, and Londoners would have been no less well served. But Boris and his pals wanted to leave their mark on the capital and do something stylish.
And, as Harry Callahan once said, that’s a hell of a price to pay for being stylish.