Stephen Rees's blog

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

Aston Martin designs Routemaster

with 6 comments

BBC News

The Aston Martin-Foster design has solar panels

The Aston Martin-Foster design has solar panels

The Capoco Design retains the Routemaster-style front engine

The Capoco Design retains the Routemaster-style front engine

Sports car manufacturer Aston Martin is joint winner of a competition to design a new Routemaster bus for London.

The Warwickshire-based firm’s winning entry was a team effort with leading architects Foster and Partners.

They share the £25,000 first prize with bus, coach and truck design firm Capoco Design, based in Wiltshire.

This is really about the vanity of Mayors in general.

Labour’s transport spokesperson on the London Assembly, Val Shawcross, said: “The design competition may have been fun and the winning designs are extremely impressive, but this is not a serious way to make policy and not a worthwhile use of public money. I have yet to hear one convincing argument for why London needs a new double-decker bus and until Boris comes up with some, Londoners will see this as little more than a vanity project.”

But Boris Johnson is not alone in thinking that his ideas beat everyone else’s simply because he won an election. We see the same thing here – both Sam Sullivan and Gregor Robertson think that they know more about traffic than their traffic engineers. A quite reasonable idea – to try two bike lanes across the Burrard Bridge – was rejected by Sullivan based simply on his own prejudices. Robertson thinks he is even cleverer, now proposing a five lane bridge wth a single reversible lane.

The problem with both these ideas is they are based on a politician’s need to be popular. This is not a sensible way to plan anything, let alone a transport system. Londoners have always had a preference for nostalgia. These new Disney cartoon versions of what was once quite a good bus design – for the 1950s – actually doesn’t satisfy that very well. Since then there have been a whole bunch of changes in our understanding of how buses work – and also regulations governing how they should operate. The old Routemaster’s features , an open platform on the back and no accessibility except for the able bodied, no longer fit the requirements of a safe, accessible form of transport. Trying to retain the “design cues” of an old fashioned bus in a “modern” design is, frankly, pointless.

The Burrard Bridge decision – which the City of Vancouver makes soon – should equally reflect the new reality. There are a lot of cyclists now – and there has never been a real need for three lanes of car traffic in each direction. That is because the volume of traffic across the bridge is determined by two sets of traffic lights: the controlled  intersections at each end of the bridge do not release the sort of volume that need three lanes. That really should have been the only thing that counted. All the rest is sound and fury signifying nothing. Except the self importance of the Mayor.

In both cases there are simple, low cost, workable solutions. Having a few old buses refurbished for two “heritage” routes is quite enough to satisfy the need for nostalgia. Two lanes designated for bikes will work – all you have to do is try it and see. Both of you mayors – get on with some important work and stop messing about.

RM on Westminster Bridge with County Hall in the background

RM on Westminster Bridge with County Hall in the background

Written by Stephen Rees

December 19, 2008 at 9:58 am

6 Responses

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  1. There has been a lot of debate in the UK transit press about the need for open platforms at the rear of London buses. The hop on and hop aspect could be a useful tool in very slow moving traffic, but of course useless for the mobility impaired.

    The is a general dislike of the ‘bendy-buses’ that have replaced double-deck service and the need for double deck jobs is more than nostalgia.

    What is definitely in the realm of nostalgia is the notion of returning doable deck trams to the UK and indeed there is serious talk about this. The only city to use double deck trams is Hong Kong with the reason being maximizing capacity on the narrow gauge cars.

    Note: Hong Kong trams carry over 80 million passengers a year!

    Mayor Boris has killed off or is trying to kill off any tram planning in London, and low-floor trams are far more user friendly to the mobility impaired.

    The EEC frowns on double deck buses, but of course most cities in the EEC have trams for high ridership routes.

    Malcolm J.

    December 19, 2008 at 10:22 am

  2. Sorry Malcolm but you are wrong on a couple of points. The EEC does not oppose double deckers – it opposes open platforms: and that is for safety reasons. Open platforms meant people could – and did – jump on and off moving buses and into traffic. A driver of a conventional bus can open the door closest to him when he is convinced it is safe to do so: they will often do this for their colleagues here, less often for passengers wanting to get off, never for those wanting to board.

    Blackpool has continued to operate double deck trams for over a century – and still does. They are some of the largest public service vehicles in Britain and at peak times require two conductors.

    The campaign against “bendy buses” has very little objective merit – and all door boarding proves its worth every day. Three doors work better than one or two for large passenger vehicles.

    Stephen Rees

    December 19, 2008 at 11:05 am

  3. Forgot about Blackpool, but their newer trams except for the 2 Jubilee cars built in 1979 and 1982 (major rebuilds of Balloon cars) are single floor. The bulk of their double-deck cars were built in the mid 30’s. Well there is always Crich or even Seaton for the double-deck crowd.

    Could be useful from the tram crowd.

    The comments are based on the LRTA blog chatter and of course is probably very biased.


    December 19, 2008 at 1:17 pm

  4. The problem with many Euro regulations is that there is an appalling lack of common sense. Correction: substitute many regulations in Western countries lack commonsense. I used to get on and off buses in London and Paris (the Paris buses had a platform across the whole back) while they were running–even women in high heels were doing it–and I don’t remember terrible accidents! obviously we were only doing it when the bus was close to the sidewalk and crawling at slow speed. In my younger years, right after WWII, motorized vehicles, bikes and even horse drawn carriages (in our town a 90 year old midwife went everywhere in a light carriage with a fast horse) weaved in and out traffic without the benefit of painted lines to mark lanes and, again, there was no terrible accidents. In my early teens I went to my downtown high school (built in the 17th century..)from the suburbs by bike, crossing the bridge–then the only bridge in town–safely thanks to bike lanes on each side of the bridge separated from cars by a kerb. Gordon Price has a great post about bikes in Paris at my only objection about bendy buses is that when they are partly full the ride in the back can be pretty rough. In many European towns from the sixties on even regular buses buses had 3 doors though it is only from the 80s, I think, that loading by all doors was allowed. Bordeaux’ bendy buses had 2 trailers and a big button by all the doors (outside). One could run along a bus that was pulling away from the stop, hit that button and the bus would stop, the doors open. lots of fun.. I find the newer buses in Vancouver more impractical dangerous any bus I have ever seen. The space by the front door and right behind is too marrow, then there is a wide space but not enough posts to hang and the steps at the back are dangerous. There got to be a better design! One regulation–here in B.C—that is appalling in its stupidity is that buses with wheelchair ramps only stop at properly designed stops. Fair enough.. but many stops in the boondocks don’t have a proper sidewalk and I have heard –and read–that wheelchair users and mother with big prams are expected to use a proper stop that can be a 30 minutes walk from their home.

    Red frog

    December 19, 2008 at 1:29 pm

  5. Now I have to say you are wrong here Stephen… the Translink drivers in my neighbourhood are very accomodating to me when I request to both board and alight in areas not designated as stops.

    But then I do have a purty face. 😉


    December 19, 2008 at 2:48 pm

  6. ymmv – I have lost count of the times I have been trapped inside a bus at a traffic light and seen my connection sail past.

    I also recall as a very young lad running after a bus that had left its stop with the conductor watching out of the back window. I did manage to jump on – but he obviously never thought of ringing the bell to tell the driver he had left someone behind. “I didn’t think you were going to make that!” he commented while waiting for me to pay my fare. It would have been an hour to wait for the next one.

    And as a conductor myself I had more than one narrow escape as a bus rounding a right hand turn nearly threw me off the open platform. I perfected a technique of catching the stanchion in the crook of my arm and swinging around it, cash bag and ticket machine swinging out wide.

    Stephen Rees

    December 19, 2008 at 3:09 pm

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