Routemaster to perdition?

Posted by admin | December 24, 2008 0

Foster / Aston Martin “Green” Routemaster

The competition launched in July to find a new Routemaster bus for London has found its winner. Well two of them. Warwickshire-based sports car maker Aston Martin, along with architects Foster and Partners, won the £25,000 prize jointly with Wiltshire bus maker Capoco Design. A Transport for London spokesman said the first of the greener and more accessible, hop-on hop-off, double-deckers could be in service by 2011.

If you believe the press releases from City Hall LONDON’S new Routemaster came a step closer as Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled the winning designs for the next generation of the bus. A streamlined space-capsule bus, designed by car-maker Aston Martin and architect Lord Foster, and a Fifties style vehicle by bus designer Capoco shared the top prize. They will each be awarded £25,000 although it was unclear whether their designs would have more than a glancing influence on the bus that ends up on London’s streets.

Mr Johnson will set out the next steps in delivering his new bus during an awards ceremony in central London. “When I launched the competition, I asked for stylish and imaginative designs which would resonate with Londoners,” he said. “We have had a phenomenal response, with ideas submitted from around the globe, and we now have, in our joint winners, two stunning designs that allow us to go forward and produce a truly iconic bus fit for 21st century London.

“I know that, like me, Londoners will be waiting eagerly to see how these ideas evolve into the final design that will appear on our roads.” The winning designs will be passed on to bus manufacturers to develop into a final design. Transport for London expects to award a contract to build the first new bus for London towards the end of next year, with the first of the vehicles on the streets by 2011. The Mayor initially said the new Routemasters would cost £8 million to run with conductors but was later forced to admit the figure would be nearer £100 million.

Boris the Busman

Routemasters were phased out by former Mayor Ken Livingstone amid concerns about accessibility as well as safety questions over the “hop-on, hop-off” platforms. Mr Johnson made bringing in a new generation of the popular bus a key pledge of his election campaign. The winning design had to include an open platform to let passengers board and alight “quickly and easily”, show “good use of interior space” and “accessibility”, as well as including green technology and having a conductor. The judges particularly liked the rounded rear of the Foster/Aston Martin bus, designed by Todd Hutton, and its nod to the heritage of the original Routemaster by including wooden floors.

Capoco Routemaster Design

More modern aspects included solar panels built into the glass roof -although there have been concerns this could steam up in winter and make the bus top-heavy. The Capoco submission was praised for its technical excellence, in particular its light-weight structure and hybrid propulsion. It also had a separate door for wheelchairs and pushchairs. The bus would seat 66 passengers with room for 14 standing, compared with 72 seats and five standing on the old Routemaster. More than 700 entries were received for the competition.

The judges were the Mayor, his transport adviser Kulveer Ranger, Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy, TfL’s head of surface transport David Brown, Clare Kavanagh and Mike Weston from London Buses and bus expert David Quainton.

Now the Celtic sage has previously cast a rather cold eye on the “New Routemaster” competition for it does rather beg the question if the “New Routemaster” is the answer what is the question?

Speaking as Boris Johnson announced the winners of his design-a-bus competition, Labour’s transport spokesperson Val Shawcross said the “Routemaster” competition was not a serious way to make transport policy.

The Real Deal

“The design competition may have been fun and the winning designs are extremely impressive, but this is not a serious way to make policy and not a worthwhile use of public money. If Boris actually used London’s buses or talked to those who do, he would see that London’s existing fleet is modern, accessible and well-designed. I have yet to hear one convincing argument for why London needs a new double-decker bus and until Boris comes up with some Londoners will see this as little more than a vanity project. There is understandably a lot of nostalgia for the old Routemaster but nostalgia doesn’t get people to work on time.”

So what happens now?

Well the Mayor has sort of fulfilled his Manifesto commitment.

• There may be a new bus once somebody redesigns one

• And then builds it

• At some point in the future when the Mayor is safely out of office!

But here is a not untypical comment from the Evening Standard;

“Bendy buses are atrocious. I don’t travel on them but they look so dangerous and it’s like cattle class with nowhere to stand.”

And that tells you great deal about the Bendy ‘debate’ – much of the debate has been informed by people who don’t use the buses but now believe they can’t sit down on them, can’t stand up on them and that they might veer off the road and murder their children at the drop of a hat. So we end up with a pointless, expensive and patronising solution to a problem we don’t have. As for the Routemaster debate let’s agree that the Routemaster (and the RT) were revolutionary 40 years ago with their narrow, compact design, light weight due to the use of aluminium (and a fibreglass bonnet) responsive engine and automatic gearbox. But they were a product of their time (and a massive centralised organisation which military style rebuilt them every 7 years) and the lack of access and running costs of having a conductor (who with Oyster would NOT take fares) cannot be justified today. More seriously what are the public safety implications of an open platform, who NOW designs a transport solution with a known fatal risk factor? It would be interesting to have a crystal ball and earwig how that one would play in a future court case?

And why do we believe that there is something so unique about the streets of London that it requires a special bus which by its very nature would fly in the face of procurement efficiency? Is this not a solution which would have obsolescence built in, another in a long line of British World Beaters which never beat anything?

The production model?

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