Stephen Rees's blog

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

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

Tagged with ,

11 Responses

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  1. Little relevance to Vancouver perhaps, but the phenomenon of far-right-wingers taking up the cause of reviving older forms of transit technology has an echo in North America, where Free Congress Foundation head Paul Weyrich has been a vocal advocate of bringing back streetcars. You could dismiss it as nostalgia, although Weyrich emphasizes the environmental arguments for doing so. Weyrich is strongly opposed to bus systems in general, including bus rapid transit.


    May 24, 2008 at 2:37 pm

  2. “Streetcars” may have been around for a while, but they are very definitely modern technology – as I think you probably know.

    What is nice is to see that someone on the right is able to see through the twaddle Randall O’Toole peddles.

    Stephen Rees

    May 24, 2008 at 5:44 pm

  3. A while back I saw an article by Paul Weyrich about trolleybuses embedded in an article about the electrification of transportation. I followed some links and found his article:

    There is also the potential of Leeds being the first British city to have the trolleybus reintroduced. Wasn’t Leeds was the second British city to see trolleybuses, after Bradford.


    May 25, 2008 at 7:34 pm

  4. This seems to be straying a bit. Trolleybuses in London were replaced by Routemasters, and never ran in the central area – though just one experiment was made with the old Kingsway Subway, to get through the old tram tunnel on battery power. It failed.

    One modern double decker trolleybus was built in UK, but the timing was awful. It was just before privatisation of municipal transport. I think it still exists in a museum somewhere. If you can find a link to that Leeds idea I would be interested.

    Stephen Rees

    May 25, 2008 at 8:53 pm

  5. Trolleybuses are having a hard time of it and their niche in the transport world is declining. Guided-bus (TransLohr, etc.) have eaten into the trolleybus market and for “just a little more”, one can build LRT. Vancouver doesn’t operate its trolley fleet economically, which in turn means the trolley’s are used to their best advantage.

    Example: The losing trolleybus company bidding on Vancouver’s trolley replacement program has since gone bankrupt.

    The fact that our region doesn’t have any knowledgeable transit reporters, resulting in very poor reporting on transit issues. In the end, it is the transit customer and the taxpayer that suffers from this lack of in-depth transportation reporting.

    Malcolm J.

    May 25, 2008 at 9:25 pm

  6. OOP’s

    I meant to say “in turn the trolley’s are NOT used to their best advantage.”

    Malcolm J.

    May 25, 2008 at 9:26 pm

  7. Stephen. Here is a link to the funding announcement:

    From Bus and Coach magazine:

    Trolleybus plans for Leeds move forward

    Leeds aims to emulate Lyons trolleybus as regional transport board approves plans.

    PLANS to introduce trolleybuses to Leeds have moved a step forward with a decision by the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly’s regional transport board to back the first phase of the £300million scheme.

    “Gaining the regional transport board’s financial backing is a huge step forward in our plans to develop what will be the UK’s first new trolleybus scheme in Leeds,” says Kieran Preston, director general of Metro, the West Yorkshire PTE. “It means we have an agreed funding source, which combined with the Department for Transport’s acceptance of our business case could mean that people will be riding on state-of-the-art trolleybuses by 2011.”

    The full business case will be submitted to the DfT later this year.

    The 20km trolleybus network, which is being dubbed New Generation Transport, is based on the routes planned for the Leeds Supertram, which was rejected by the DfT as being too costly. Three routes are planned, north through Headingley, south to Stourton and a third into east Leeds where regeneration is taking place. Articulated vehicles would be used, generally similar to those running in Lyon, which are Irisbus Cristalis models.

    Metro says that independent advisers have calculated the scheme would deliver a benefit/cost ratio which meets DfT requirements. Subject to DfT approval, a Transport and Works Act approval, and a successful inquiry, construction work on the scheme could start in 2010, with completion by 2012.

    Published Online: 20/06/07


    May 27, 2008 at 6:59 am

  8. >Trolleybuses in London were replaced by Routemasters

    On a trip to England in ’71, Dad was trying to find a relative’s house in London while Mum navigated, she was convinced we were on the wrong road because there weren’t any trolleybus wires… they of course had been removed in the 60s.


    May 27, 2008 at 1:51 pm

  9. Stephen,

    Bus and Coach newsarticle:

    or from the BBC:

    Leeds is said to be modeling its system on that of Lyon, France. The trolleybuses there are electronically guided similar to the Civis in Rouen.


    May 27, 2008 at 2:41 pm

  10. The new London Mayor has been very unwise to tie himself so firmly to a modern Routemaster. The number of firms who built a chassis suitable for double deck bodies is very limited. If London wants its own unique type of bus the development costs would be astromic and its doubtful if any chassis manufacturer would be interested unless they could be sure of sales to other places.

    As for trolleybuses they are doing very nicely thank you, though in the UK the current fashion for new tramways, at huge expense, has often meant they are overlooked. In Swiss cities such as Geneva and Zurich they have double articulated trolleybuses which can take around 200 passengers. Rome has recently re-introduced trolleybuses and the system is to be expanded. The Lyon system has over 120 modern vehicles and is being expanded. However the vehicles are not guided, electronically or otherwise, as claimed in a previous post.

    New systems are being introduced in many Italian towns, in cities in South America, and new systems are also planned in Spain, Sweden and elsewhere. There have been substantial fleet renewals in places such as San Francisco, Philadelphia, Athens, Wellington (New Zealand), Boston etc. etc.

    With the price of oil shooting up and increasing pollution in our cities, perhaps London’s Mayor should be considering trolleybuses rather than Routemasters. And modern trolleybuses have auxilliary power either batteries (eg Rome), or a diesel motor so if the power does go off they are not stranded, unlike trams.


    June 9, 2008 at 4:13 pm

  11. Looks like TransLink is checking out the Alexandre-Dennis Enviro 500 double-decker bus.


    June 13, 2008 at 5:38 pm

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