Thursday, 6 August 2009

London transport

When I moved into this area six years ago I was pleased to discover that my new home was on four bus routes, three of which are night buses. This super-provision is largely because Hackney is not on the Tube network. However, I recall my frustration in my early months here that during the morning rush many of the buses arriving at my stop were already full. There was a degree of pushing to get onto the bus, not always successful, and fairly unpleasant and sweaty journeys; the elderly and pregnant really got a poor deal.

Things improved in 2004 when the new ‘bendy buses’ were introduced to my route and never again were people unable to get onto the first one that came along. There are 393 of these Mercedes Benz ‘bendys’ across London and they do a great job of shifting very large numbers of people in a short space of time.

After some early and predictable bleating from cab drivers they quickly seemed to become an accepted part of the London transport system, particularly in those areas without Tubes. There were stories, largely in the Evening Standard, that they were responsible for the deaths of cyclists – they are 53m long – but TFL deny this, and I can find no evidence from cycling campaign websites that support this either. However, in 2008 when Boris Johnson was campaigning to be Mayor of London he made the abolition of the supposedly unpopular bendy buses one of his pledges.

Like many other people, I’d assumed that once ensconced in City Hall, Boris’s pledge would quietly disappear, and that he’d focus instead on his other promise, to restore the Routemaster bus, the 50 year old design icon of London, with the open platform at the back which have all been withdrawn apart from on two special tourist routes.

So, I’m surprised and disappointed to see that the removal of the bendy buses has now started, on route 507.

I’ve done my own mini-survey and three times this week have been on the 149 and seen a full bus (capacity 150 people) plus a further c30 standing. That’s 180 people being moved by one bus, with one driver. The official plan is that they will be replaced by double-deckers, which have a much smaller carrying capacity. To compensate, more buses will be provided although I read that on route 507 they have now been replaced by single deckers – it’s going to be scrum-time when Londoners return from their summer holidays and the rush hour starts in earnest.

So, in summary: We’ll get more buses, requiring additional drivers, greater capital expenditure, more traffic congestion, greater pollution, and increased running costs. TFL is predicting an increased expenditure of £12m a year.

Labour and the LibDems are campaigning for a return to bendys on route 507

I think this is absolute madness, but the earliest opportunity I’ll have to register my dissatisfaction is the next Mayoral campaign in 2012.......that's democracy.

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