Monday, May 17, 2010

Boris in Wonderland - New Routemaster

Boris was on telly this lunchtime gushing about the expensive 'New Routemaster'.
He was enthusastic about its green credentials, and the need to reduce emissions which, he claimed, come from older buses.
It's true that buses do contribute to London's pollution problem, but not as much as taxis, and if Boris hadn't messed around delaying the next phases of the Low Emission Zone and abolishing the 6-monthly taxi emissions check, we'd be further forward in reducing emissions. Furthermore, the 'New Routemaster' emissions-reducing technologies are already in existing bus designs. You don't need to design a new bus to get these benefits.
In terms of running costs, Boris says there will be a second member of staff (conductor/PCSO) on the bus when the platform is open. Don't foget that Boris lampooned the bendy bus by labelling it 'the free bus', because it was so easy for passengers to hop on and off it (without paying) through any of its three entrances. How many entrances does the New Routemaster have? That's right - three. So Boris does not seem to have fixed the 'free bus' problem, except by having an expensive second member of staff, which could have been done with the bendy bus.
Boris's original plan was to replace the bendy-buses with the new Routemaster. His beef about bendy buses was the cycle-safety issue. However, if he instead spent the 'New Routemaster' project money on cycle safety projects, he would probably save rather more lives than will be saved by getting rid of the bendy buses.
All this makes the New Routemaster look a bit of a vanity project. The original Routemaster is an iconic design that has great value in terms of the contribution it makes to making London a unique city. However, it seems rather backward-looking to try to reproduce the Routemaster. If we're going to make a unique (and expensive) artefact that makes a statement about London, we should be doing something truly innovative with artistic merit, rather than making a reproduction half-timbered thatched cottage on wheels. We need something that will solve the 21st century's problems. Any ideas?

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