Hot air on the 24

I haven’t said a word about the new bus for London (which I shall abbreviate to NBL) since early last year. A huge amount has been said elsewhere and there was nothing I could usefully add. Having used the production buses of late I do feel compelled just to update previous thoughts, a matter given further encouragement by some of the twaddle that has been written.

I shall start off merely by saying that my earliest impressions have not changed. The vehicles seem to be well finished, look as though they are built to last, and I think will probably move the drive technology forward in a useful direction with useful savings in fuel and emissions. The performance also seems quite good and they look as though they can cope with London traffic conditions OK, though I sense that most modern buses probably would as well (unlike some of the earlier disasters).

Do I like all the features? Of course not, though many of them don’t bother me all that much. I am a great deal more interested in the inside, for example, than the outside. People spend time inside. People pay to travel inside. That is what buses are for. That doesn’t mean the outside is unimportant, for every bus is a moving advertisement for the public transport business and the competence of its managers, it is just not (surely) as important as getting the inside right. I do not, therefore intend to mention the outside again (though I’m still not convinced the back is as good as we deserve).

The inside, to me, suffers from not enough forward-facing seats on the lower deck and too many obstructions on the upper deck, spoiling the open view we have come to expect on modern buses, and loss of rear windows seems an error waiting to be corrected. Most other detail is truly detail and I am less bothered about; indeed some are so subjective that complete agreement is unlikely anyway. Ray Stenning and Roger French are critical of some of it too, and I would not dismiss lightly a few of the points they make.

Following an enquiry I made in March 2012 about how customer feedback would be incorporated into production buses I was told that research would be done in May. I don’t think I recall any of this (I believe the new buses were ordered so quickly after the election that perhaps events overtook the feedback). Others may have seen something but I am about to ask TfL what happened about it. If proper research was done, I’m not sure I saw evidence of it in the buses on the 24. I have therefore asked if that research was done and, if so, what were the results and what demands were incorporated into the production vehicles. I shall let you know the response.

The curiously hot temperatures were evident inside the vehicles I have used. On one trip several people from the top deck moved downstairs and mentioned it was because of the stifling heat. I was already downstairs and felt that downstairs was also far too hot, but isn’t even equipped with air conditioning. The aircon plant, in addition to not working (though I understand it is now supposed to be fixed) is extraordinarily and intrusively noisy. It sounds like it has its own diesel engine on the top deck and to me spoils the journey on an otherwise quiet vehicle. Can it really not be electric? Coupled with the fact it clutters up the back so we cannot see out, it seems to me a prime candidate for some more imaginative engineering thinking (and maybe some cooling downstairs too).

That leave me to dwell on the rear platform. I have to say that whilst not myself thinking that provision of an open rear platform is the most important thing to worrying about, whilst stuck in the endless traffic in Tottenham Court Road it was a delight to be able to get up and get off the thing at the moment I’d had enough, rather than endure another five minutes to move the hundred yards or so to the stop. I hate being imprisoned on buses. The issue for me is the terror of providing such platforms without supervising staff, a risk nobody wants to to take. Providing staff is expensive and in my 27 March 2012 item I suggested that on economic grounds the platforms would be manned for just two shifts and maybe not seven days a week. I don’t have the detail, but it looks as though that is what will be happening. I guess this is inevitable, but public communication about use of the rear platform (and even use of centre door) does seem to be very weak. I’m not at all sure the tourists understand how, and when, they are to be used, nor, necessarily, Londoners either. Could do better, methinks.

Finally, I did suggest already that these platform minders (to call them conductors is not helpful) should be doing more. I reckon they are something akin to tour guides or London ambassadors but a few just stand there, presumably just thinking what easy money standing still can generate. When there are ructions about getting rid of Underground staff (and even drivers), it does seem odd to provide seemingly unnecessary staff on buses, as I suggested last time likely to rack up a wagebill of £25m or so a year.

I suppose I am forming a view that these new buses may have been introduced just a little bit too quickly. Realistically, I assume Boris is probably a man in a hurry and wants the whole fleet in place before the next job on his political ladder. As TfL owns the new vehicles it will be interesting to see what his successor wants to do with them – a tougher job getting rid of these than the bendy buses. I hope we won’t be getting rid of them for we have many more important things to be worrying about, but I do hope the later batches incorporate some design improvements. In we had an alternate version without rear platform but with all the good things it might be a winner and open up possibilities for wider introduction at lower cost.

In the meantime I’ll be trying out the top deck a bit more, and that’s a cool thing to do.

[This has been added to in a later blog]

About machorne

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is
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