I have with the lowest of expectations just penned a line to the London Mayor about the New Bus For London. As you will have seen from the previous post I quite liked the vehicle. My friends will rudely view approval by me of virtually anything as profoundly uncharacteristic, so liking a bus (apart from its back end, which is surely forgivable) is quite something to behold.
Such enthusiasm will be profoundly misplaced if London only gets to see nine of them, however. Yes that is right, there were going to be eight prototypes, at a cost of about £10.5 million, but recently this was uplifted to nine, for £11 million. I know not why.
It may be thought that £11 million is quite cheap; Boris believes it is a very modest cost equal in scale to the fare dodging on the bendy buses (he doesn’t mention the any-door boarding on the new bus, so I’m not quite sure how or why they should be better, except that with most seating upstairs it is harder for dodgers to decamp if a posse of inspectors gets on). Nevertheless, it may be a very modest cost indeed if spread across maybe 1000 vehicles but I haven’t yet found anything firm by way of a roll out plan. A cursory inspection of mayoral election material (the manifestos are not out yet) doesn’t mention them. I fear the worst.
Not entirely irrelevant in all this is a consultant’s report undertaken a while back (KPMG 2009) about the time the new buses were first conceived. This explains that the vehicles will be non standard and possibly more expensive than even the latest comparable hybrid vehicles. This will give bus operators a problem as the vehicles could only efficiently be used in London; if an operator lost London bus contracts it carries the risk of being saddled with expensive buses that are awkward to redeploy and which might not necessarily be saleable (at a reasonable price) to an incoming operator. This pushes up the price of the bus contracts, meaning that TfL and Londoners will effectively have to pay more, largely to cover risk, which is not a good use of money. It was felt that for financial reasons TfL would be unable to own the fleet on a ‘free issue’ basis to operators. Leasing was a possibility but also creates risk costs. I do not know whether there is an answer, but it seems to have gone quite quiet. There presumably is an answer? One thing is sure, it is not like introducing the Routemaster in 1956 when LT owned all the vehicles.
Finally, it is a pity that a bit more technical information is not yet available.The technology is clearly at or towards the cutting edge. One takes a mild interest in who owns the intellectual property rights for the system that has been developed and deployed. One might reasonably expect the authority commissioning the job to own them, ie TfL. If it is, will TfL be exploiting those rights (it doesn’t have a very good track record for managing engineering IPR). If not, then will TfL get a royalty for third party vehicles using the technology? One technical improvement that might be worth pursuing on production vehicles is to follow Volvo’s apparent lead in having a rapid charge facility at terminals to further reduce the engine operation time by refreshing the batteries (one might almost imagine trolley poles…).
I really do wish the new bus well, but a fear a torrid time ahead unless firm commitment is shown to using it on a large scale. I think that would be a pity. Is anyone pushing for it?