First look at the new London Routemaster bus

0

Comments

Add +

We board the new-look 'Boris bus' to find out if all the investment has paid off

Watch: Time Out's blog editor jumps on board


Review of the new London Routemaster bus

At Victoria bus station on February 27, a heaving mass of grey hair and boom poles spills on to the road as bus nerds and journalists fight to catch a glimpse of the New Bus for London as it completes its maiden voyage on the No 38 route. The bus may be 45 minutes late, having comically broken down while being chased by an original Routemaster filled with anti-Boris protestors at Angel, but it’s finally arrived: the crowd readies to board and ride it back to Hackney.

© Craig Eccleston

As the bus pulls into the garage to muted cheers, a woman in a wheelchair eases her way to the front. She hopes to be the first wheelchair user to try the new bus. The doors open, the passengers disembark, and the crowd at Victoria hums expectantly. This is the moment they have waited for since Boris Johnson caught the public mood by insisting he would return the Routemaster to London during his 2008 electoral campaign. Only one is currently in service (there will be eight by summer and a fleet within a year) and following delays, controversies and much sniping, it’s here.

Then the doors slam shut in our faces and the bus pulls off, empty, parking 100 metres round the corner for an hour while men with screwdrivers scratch their heads and try to fix a broken rear door. People queue up to take photographs of the static bus. While at the bus station, the transport nerds are reduced to discussing the new rail stock recently introduced on the Metropolitan Line. The wheelchair user heads home, disconsolate. The bus finally leaves Victoria two hours behind schedule. The nerds pile on board excitedly.

New Bus for London New Bus for London - © James O Jenkins

It is, in many ways, classic Boris. A bus has been delivered at great expense (£11.3 million), broken down twice, is two hours late, doesn’t do what it says it does, but people still love it. It’s almost impossible to find anybody – outside of those with vested political interests – with a bad word to say about the Boris Bus. Edward Hammond, 89, thinks it is ‘lovely’; Ian Smith, 71, admits, ‘It’s a lot of money, but that’s what things cost these days,’ while Mark Gale, 37, who won a competition with LBC to be the first person on the bus, reckons it’s ‘nice, a good use of money’. As we watch it being fixed, a man (they are all men, notes a bemused Dutch female journalist) joins the admiring throng. Is he impressed? ‘It’s great to have the Routemaster back,’ he says. ‘They’re much better for fare dodging.’

He’s kidding, I think, but has a point. The key element of the new bus – the one that has people calling it a Routemaster – is the rear platform, open for ease of access. This will close in the evening, but during the day is manned by a conductor, who cannot take fares or check Oyster cards and is basically there to enforce health and safety regulations – precisely the sort of non-job Boris groupies usually rage against but now find themselves awkwardly condoning. The new bus is supposed to replace the bendy bus, partly because Boris insisted the middle doors made fare evasion so easy: the new bus also has a set of inviting middle doors. Boris supporters have decided to blame these inconveniences on TfL rather than the Mayor’s office.

Rarely has a bus been so politically divisive. Left-wingers say that during a time of recession and rising fares it is sheer vanity to spend a fortune on a bus that has a lower capacity than the ones it is replacing, that it isn’t really a Routemaster and Routemasters were rubbish anyway. Right-wingers argue this is a terrific use of public money, defend the conductor (whose combined costs will total £500,000 a year) and insist good design trumps expense.

And it certainly looks good. As we roll through London, heads turn and people scamper into the road to snatch a photo of the passing bus. Its design – by Thomas Heatherwick – is an impressive blend of old and new, clearly inspired by the Routemaster but without looking dated. The bus, like many in London, has a hybrid diesel-electric engine, so the only noise is the aggressive hum of the aircon. On the downside, while it is one metre longer than most buses, it’s also a couple of feet shorter in height, meaning tall people are likely to bump their head on the top deck. But rightly or wrongly, these quibbles and the exorbitant cost can be easily dismissed given the overwhelmingly positive public reaction. As I jump from the rear platform between stops for the first time in years, a passer-by coos admiringly. ‘Isn’t it marvellous,’ he says. ‘It’s great to have them back.’ Strike one to Boris.

By Peter Watts, who blogs on London at The Great Wen


Users say

10 comments
Canan O
Canan O

I absolutely hate them.....And they are the only buses that take me till work.....i could cry with frustration, everytime i get on one, i and so so many other passengers are practically baking....I nearly passed out last summer, God help me this summer. please please please.....this problem needs to be addressed....

Nadia H
Nadia H

Awful bus, waited ages to try and avoid a new 38 and discovered they've all been replaced by these wheezy, smelly, hot, noisy, dark buses. The Addidas vinyl branding which covers most of them adds to the claustrophobia and chemical smell. Very unpleaseant ride for me at 6 months pregnant. Must be bad for our health. Avoid, avoid!

Alvaro M
Alvaro M

Claustrophobic, hot, dark, small windows, no leg room, too narrow aisles, a rip off pleasant to look at from the Major's chauffeur driven car.

John
John

Top deck the ceiling is too low (mind your head), not enough leg room between seats so knees digging into seat in front, cannot see out of the back (no back window) which was useful on old buses if you are going to change routes and want to keep an eye out back to see if it is behind. Window too small upstairs, not so good for looking out. Not many seats downstairs. LED lighting too dim. Hot and stuffy. Noisy engine. Not a pleasant bus to ride in.

Nigel Sayers
Nigel Sayers

Rode on one of these for the first time today on the route 11, from Sloane Square to Liverpool Street, a good route for sight seeing by the way. So if you can get a front seat upstairs there's lots to appreciate through the beautifully curved, panoramic front window. My likes are (in no particular order): the smooth, quiet surge which pushes you away from rest; the unobtrusive LED interior lighting, thoughtfully positioned over each seat; the retro, maroon interior; the way the windows follow the staircases so you can still see where you are from the stairs; the rear stairs and platform to improve speed of exit and entry (helps if you suffer from claustrophobia on more conventional buses); the gentle breeze of refreshing air blowing from the air con outlet slot in the ceiling, so much better than the intermittent blasts of air you get from opening windows on other buses; and the curvaceous exterior styling, which seems to reflect back so many more highlights than normal bus styling does. My dislike: the engine, which is a bit thrummy when running, I'd have gone for a six cylinder engine rather than a four but I suppose that would have taken up more space/cost more/been less fuel efficient. Perhaps something clever can be done with the engine mounts sometime to bring this aspect up the perfection levels of the rest of this bus!

Zoe
Zoe

The 24 bus has now been changed into a routemaster and i thought it would be great... it is not :( it's hot as there are no windows that open on the top or bottom deck, its dark, the ceiling is low on top deck and it smells already (probably as it has no windows - i'm highly disappointed!

Paul Phillips
Paul Phillips

Looks great and I understand it's made mainly in the UK ? Lets see more of them instead of those hideous bendy buses.

Reg Coles-Watson
Reg Coles-Watson

The revenue problem of the Mercedes Benz/Citaro Bendy-bus, that these outrageously expensive Botis Routemaster's replaced, could easilly have been solved by employing one or two ticket inspectors/conductors on the vehicles, as they have done with latest TfL vehicle. This seems to me to have been an extravigant way for 'Boris' to get re-elected!!! And at what hige expense and hike in bus fares!

Patrick
Patrick

Do the new buses stop 'dinging' once the Stop button has been pressed by one person? So annoying when a muppet stands there pressing the 'Stop' button over and over and over and over again.....

Yvonne
Yvonne

Fell off the back of one of the old ones travelling along Chelsea of all places. Then remember trying to get on one when late for work and half asleep impossible in high heels. Great nostalgic mode of transport hope it will work well on the roads in London good luck route master.