Transport bosses are set to buy a further 200 of Mayor Boris Johnson’s New Routemaster buses which, following passenger complaints, are expected to have improved ventilation.
Bus route operators are normally required to supply their own vehicles but the mandated use of the vehicles means the cost of buying them would count against TfL’s borrowing ability and operators would face higher leasing costs.
Transport for London’s board previously authorised managers to buy 600 of the vehicles from Wright Bus at a cost of £212m and next week will be asked to sanction the purchase of an additional 200.
The firm is currently in negotiations with TfL over the cost of the extra vehicles.
Papers for next week’s meeting claim the buses “are popular with passengers, outperforming conventional designs in areas including comfort, vibration, smoothness of ride and engine noise.”
However there have been regular complaints from passengers about the lack of opening windows and temperatures within the vehicles.
Despite having downplayed the complaints since the buses entered service, the papers reveal “TfL is currently assessing the air cooling systems on double deck buses in the fleet with the aim of improving comfort, particularly in response to especially high temperatures experienced in summer 2014.”
Options to improve passenger comfort include “better insulation around areas such as the engine compartment, improved ventilation and remote monitoring of saloon temperatures.”
“More powerful air conditioning systems are not advocated as these would prevent the bus fleet achieving Mayoral air quality goals, including reducing nitrogen oxides by 20 per cent compared to 2012 levels by the end of 2015.”
Passengers have also complained about decision close the rear platform on some routes where the bus is single crewed and there’s no passenger assistant on board to supervise use of the platform.
This looks likely to become more common with the board papers revealing that while routes for the new buses have not yet been decided, they “will run entirely as One Person Operated (OPO).”
In addition to paying for the buses, TfL has been forced to reimburse operators for the cost of employing the second crew member.
The decision to run the addition buses in OPO mode will lower TfL’s costs but risks robbing the buses of their unique selling point.
The Mayor has been criticised for buying the custom designed buses instead of existing, off the shelf hybrid models.
TfL and City Hall have previously defended the decision, claiming they play an important part in improving London’s air quality.
However board members are advised that the additional buses, which will be fitted with engines compliant with Euro VI emission standards, will offer only marginally better performance than other models with the same engines.
The papers state: “given the advancement of Euro VI emission standards, which have ultra-low PM and NOx emissions across all vehicle types (80 per cent and 95 per cent reduction respectively), the PM and NOx benefits of NRM at Euro VI are marginal compared to standard Euro VI hybrids.”
Responding to news of the planned purchase, Green Party London Assembly member Darren Johnson said: “Boris buses are a wasteful vanity project which have diverted resources away from London purchasing a new generation of electric buses which don’t pollute our streets.
“Plans to purchase another 200 of these overweight, over heated buses, compounds the original mistake. The Board papers make clear that the initial six hundred buses where badly designed with ventilation problems which they are still trying to fix. Also, they won’t operate as hop on and hop off buses as the cost of the health and safety person is prohibitive.”
Commenting on the papers’ environmental claims, Mr Johnson added: “There are real concerns that because these Boris buses are so heavy, they are low on fuel consumption and high on emissions.
“Transport for London are now admitting that these buses are barely cleaner than all the other buses they are buying at the moment and because of this, they have had to reduce their calculation of value for money to the point where the investment isn’t worthwhile.
“The real truth is that TfL haven’t tested any of the new Euro 6 buses and the Boris Bus may be more polluting than other new buses. I hope that the next Mayor, whoever that is, will stop any further purchase.”
Liberal Democrat AM, Caroline Pidgeon, said: “No one disputes that the new routemaster buses are nice to look at, but the harsh reality is that they are incredibly expensive for what they actually deliver. It seems incredible that the rollout is going ahead at such a pace when critical design faults clearly exist especially relating to ventilation for passengers.
“Most importantly it seems their very raison d’être is open to question if the only way to control costs is to make them driver only.
“If you can’t hop on and off them they are ultimatey offering nothing more for passengers than far cheaper existing hybrid buses. It is a great shame that all the publlic money that has been thrown at the new routemaster bus was not instead spent on developing buses which run entirely on electricity.”