The Bendy Buses in London have sparked heated debates. These are the 18 meter (60 feet) long articulated buses which have replaced the older double deckers on many routes. There are two arguments in their favour; a greater passenger capacity as they can carry 149 as opposed to 79 on traditional double deck buses so they can offer greater capacity on routes in the central area, particularly at peak periods, and they are easier for access having level floors and low thresholds. I have an open mind on Bendy Buses in London as they answer the real problem of making buses available to people with mobility impairments. These are 10% of the general population but are probably a higher proportion of Central London bus users due to the implausibility of using and parking cars in Central London and the restricted access on the Underground. However there is a general consensus emerging that with three sets of doors and (like all London buses) no cash fares a lot of people ride for free.
Figures recently released under the Freedom of Information Act and reported in the media in mid-March 2008 show bus fare evasion costs London more than £50 million a year. The figures show a rise of more than £5 million from the previous year and have almost doubled since 2005/2006. The problem is worst on bendy buses, where an estimated one in 10 passengers do not pay, costing £6.4 million this financial year. On other buses, 3.4 per cent do not pay, costing Transport for London £45.9 million a year.
Imagine my surprise then today getting on the No. 18 bus at Euston towards Baker Street and Sudbury Town. Some suggest that there are a lot of empty bus seats going around London but this was one crowded bus with passengers standing and passengers with push chairs and luggage so not much room to move around. Both Oyster ticket readers on the rear section of the bus were out of order so cards could not be read which meant everybody on that section (even those who wanted to pay) was in fact travelling for free. Was there a stream of passengers going through the connecting turntable to the front two doors to use the ticket readers there? Well, on a crowded bus, surprisingly no! But even if they had done so they would have found that these two readers were also out of action. So on this crowded bus full to capacity the only fare income was the people who got on by the front door and used the ticket reader by the driver’s position, as 4 out of the 5 ticket readers on this bus were out of action meaning most people were enjoying this scenic tour of the beautiful Euston Road for free.
So on behalf of the “Free London Campaign” take a bow route No. 18, the operator FirstBus and the star of this piece; Bendy Bus EA11026. Tourists and Natives alike applaud your generosity!