Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for May 24th, 2008

The Routemaster

with 11 comments

The Guardian has another opinion piece about this bus and the new Mayor of London. I did a short bit on this a while ago but I thought since the Routemaster is now a “design icon” I might have another go.

I took this picture in July of 2002 when they were still running in service. This bus was crossing Westminster Bridge in front of the former County Hall, where I used to work and where I will be staying in July. The building is now a posh hotel and also home to the London Eye.

These buses have been exported widely and there is probably at least one in most countries of the world. A fleet of them works the tourist trade for Niagara Falls, there a few in Victoria and I have seen one in Halifax NS. They also get converted into fast food restaurants and a mobile playground in Sri Lanka.

The politics of the debate in London is interesting too. They were one of the most significant achievements of a public enterprise (London Transport) but the cause now seems to have been taken up by the far right. The sort of people who talk about the “nanny state” and the “disability lobby” but for whom public sector owned and operated organisation is normally thought incapable of doing any good.

Is a new “Routemaster Mk 2” going to be a real icon itself or merely a shadow? A number of US cities have brought back reproduction streetcars with disabled access but very close to the original designs. I am not referring to those horrible bogus trolleys on rubber tires that are mass produced with a few examples here. A new bus with a few “design cues” will clearly not do. On the other hand, this is more than just tourist service we are talking about, so a simple rebuild to the same drawings won’t work either. But also London’s buses are now run by contractors who have to make competitive bids to run the service. So does that mean that Boris and his Conservatives are going to pay a premium price for bus services run by a specially constructed, low production run, only in London, bus? Because what has happened in London in recent years is that bus operating costs have been dramatically reduced by tendering. Not only are buses bought “off the shelf” – and shown that the sort of buses that work in Barnsley or Glasgow can also work in London (something that London Transport never conceded) but also they have only a driver – no conductor.

I will be following this story but I do concede that it is of little relevance to this region.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 24, 2008 at 9:16 am

Posted in transit

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