Friday, 8 August 2008

Bendy Buses Banned in London

Boris Johnson is now mayor of London, and one of his campaign promises was to get rid of the 'Bendy Buses' - some 400 Mercedes Benz Citaro articulated buses.

When he made the promise, Boris had little serious expectation of ever winning the election, and making stupid promises was no great challenge, even for him.

The campaign to get rid of the bendy bus was launched by London's Evening Standard, a gutter-press tabloid that had waged a campaign against Mayor Livingstone for the whole of his 8-year tenure; this wasn't just a Tory versus labour thing, though that was part of it. It was a deeply personal feud.

As well as being happy to join any Anti-Ken bandwagon, Boris is a cyclist, and so had an affinity with cycling organisations who were party to the campaign.

By now, you'll have gathered that I don't agree with Boris. Why not?

Doing the job

Bendies are large, roomy, well built, and have three doors. On/off at bus stops is easy and quick, with little risk of being too far from a door for easy egress, and no long waits for 50 people upstairs to squeeze down a narrow staircase.

They are designed for busy routes in busy streets, have worked successfully for 50 years in many countries, and beat the Routemaster in any comparsion you wish to make, except nostalgia.

All of London's articulated buses are German, which takes nothing away from their quality - but may encourage the hysterical right wing.


Bendy buses don't come cheap, and Boris has had the sense to say that existing contracts will be honoured, meaning that the last bendies (on Route 453) will retire in five to seven years time (contracts are flexible!).

So he doesn't have the cost of replacement - merely the higher cost of the next contract.

And it will be considerably higher. Not only has Boris promised double deckers, but he also plans on reintroducing conductors on those routes, with a cost he thought would be £2 million, but is actually nearer £110 million. Small discrepancy there, Boris!

Even straight replacement would have been expensive; you'd need about three double deckers to replace two bendies. Bendies don't come cheap - but then, neither do double deckers. Boris's bold plan to have a specially designed bus with an open back platform is anything but cheap, if indeed it happens at all.


Congestion in London's central area is a whole issue on its own, but two bendies occupy much the same space as three double deckers, and, with their three exits, spend less 'dwell time' at bus stops, arguably contributing less to the problem.

Free Buses

There's no doubt that TfL need to tighten up on fare control. If you have a season ticket, you are not obliged to 'touch in' as you board the bus, while pre-pay users should.

This means that if you see someone fail to touch in, you don't know if he's (a) a forgetful prepay user, (b) a cheat or (c) a season ticket holder.

This is stupid, as there is no 'pressure' on the cheat. If everyone had to touch in, then anyone who failed to do so would attract stares at best, violence at worst. While not a complete solution, this pressure would put off the lily-livered cheat, who currently prospers as much as the vicious-looking guy with the tattoes, who will never be challenged! (Even though he's probably the most gentle man on the bus!).

It is also worth bearing in mind that the routemaster, which had conductors and was the predecessor of the bendy, was just as much a 'free bus' - as conductors only rarely ventured onto the upper deck during the rush hour (and some conductors rarely ever).

Bendy Buses and Cyclists

Articulated buses run in most major cities in Europe and South America, and do not have a reputation as being the Cyclists' Nemesis. But then, cyclists in most countries do not own the road, as they seem to think they do in the UK. It seems quite reasonable to me that a cyclist who ignores traffic lights and road signs, then tries to overtake a bendy on the inside, is asking for trouble.

Bendies and Pedestrians

You can cut accident statistics in so many ways that it's hard to be 100% confident of anything. But there's little doubt that bendies are no more dangerous than double-deckers when the comparison is made between central area routes; a pan-London comparison, when bendies are rare in the leafy suburbs, is unfair.

Bendies and Passenger safety

Bendy buses are much, much safer than Routemasters, with their open platforms and high access.

So What's It All About?

The anti-bendy campaign was born as an Evening Standard weapon to taunt Ken; it was taken up by a weird alliance of Routemaster fanciers, Aspirant Tories and Environmentally-friendly cyclists.

Amd because 'New Labour' took a nasty turn at the election, Boris beat Ken - despite a lower than national swing, and now Londoners will foot the bill and be squashed into double deckers for the duration.