Monday, 10 March 2008

A Routemaster response from Boris' campaign team

Further to my earlier blog post, I got in touch with Boris Johnson's campaign team about Boris' ill-thought out plans to replace London's Routemaster buses with a 21st century replacement. Here's my email, my reply and my response to Boris' policy team.

Dear Mr Swaden,

Thank you for your detailed reply, which I was pleased to receive. I was already aware that TfL do not own the bendy buses outright, this being a by-product of the London Buses privatisation in the 1990s. I think my issue is with the costs of designing and producing an entirely 'new' vehicle essentially based on what is essentially a 1900s design. Your projected £8 million cost of wholesale bendy bus replacement ignores the fact that the original Routemaster took some five years of development, some fifty years ago,and even then it wasn't perfect. Who would pay for the cost of a new bus? TfL? The private companies? I am also sceptical of a bus with an open rear entrance (leaving TfL and the bus companies open to expensive lawsuits from a higher accident rate) would be the safest and most appropriate solution for London in 2008. Personally, I love the Routemaster for its 1950s charm and classic design - I've worked on them as a conductor in a part-time job for a private hire company too, so I know how they operate down to the last detail! So, for Boris to envisage wholesale replacement of the bendy bus with a replacement vehicle within the four-year term of the Mayor's office is just impractical. A new double decker with ample Oyster readers, wide doors and disabled access is what is needed. London doesn't need special treatment as other European cities will testify.

With regards to consultants, it's easy for politicians to demonise the 'army of consultants' employed to suggest improvements to services. But, when you consider that London has a transport system which is the envy of the world, an extra £79 million a year, with the 2012 Olympics coming up is hardly a huge price to pay. Ken Livingtsone, to his credit has placed great faith in public transport and the slightly extended price of a professional, expert opinon is far lower than the potential cost overun which could be caused by a Mayor who has never run anything bigger than a political magazine. Mr Johnson would easily be out of his depth.

With kind regards, but a vote for Ken Livingstone,

Paul Prentice

Dear Mr Prentice,

Many thanks for your email, Boris has asked me to reply on his behalf. Boris feels that Londoners want an iconic bus that they can identify with. Pensioning off bendy buses will not cost anything, as when we renew the bus contracts we will specify to the bus companies that they must not use bendy buses. TfL doesn’t even own the bendy buses, so the removal of this unloved bus will not cost Londoners anymore than it has already. TfL claim getting rid of bendy buses and introducing a new Routemaster with conductors wouldcost £60 million. This is untrue. The current per annum cost of the 24 conductors on the remaining Routemaster routes is £590,000. That is £24,600 per conductor. If you replaced the 337 bendy buses with new Routemasters,with conductors, that would cost £8,290,200 per year, not £60 million.

To put that into context, TfL plan to spend an extra £79 million next year juston consultants, so even if it did cost £60 million, we could afford it by scrapping the extra consultants without having to increase fares. If there is anything else you would like to raise with us, please do nothesitate to do so, it is vital that we hear from Londoners on issues thatconcern them.

Yours Sincerely

David Swaden, Boris Johnson's Policy Team

I'd like to know how Boris' plans for a 21st century Routemaster would befunded. I agree that bendy buses are not the ideal solution, but reintroducing buses with conductors (which would double the cost of staffing each individual vehicle) would be unworkable.

I can't see how any Mayor could develop an entirely new vehicle whilst continue to improve bus services at the sametime. Most cities don't have their own specially produced buses and I wonder how it would be possible for London to afford it, especially as the Mayor's fare rises are always criticised (I think, unjustifiably, given the price of oil etc) every year.

I'd appreciate a response, thanks.

Paul Prentice

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