Not long after midnight tonight, London’s last bendy buses, from route 207, will crawl, unmourned, into a shed somewhere near Willesden, the historic end of an error. As Boris Johnson puts it, “We bid a final, but not fond, farewell to the bendy bus. These bulky and ungainly monstrosities were always more suitable for the wide open vistas of a Scandinavian airport than for London’s narrow streets and I am glad to see the back of them.
“While it is goodbye to the bendy, it is hello to the svelte and elegant new bus for London, which will grace the capital’s streets from early next year.”
In fact, I can reveal, you won’t have to wait that long: the first open-platform Borismaster will arrive at Trafalgar Square in exactly one week’s time, before beginning revenue service on route 38 in February.
There is to be a special, Dreyfus-style bendy repudiation ceremony at Willesden depot this afternoon, at which a bus will have its TfL markings and Oyster card readers ceremonially removed in front of media witnesses. I was looking forward to being present at the execution, but alas I have had to go to Brussels for the day job (the management of the Daily Telegraph for some reason seems to think that the fate of Europe is more important than the bendy bus).
The Ken Livingstone Left’s infallible homing instinct for the most unpopular causes in London (such as calling on people to “speak for” the rioters) has today once again been deployed in defence of the bendy bus. Val Shawcross, Ken’s running-mate, claims that the Borismasters will cost £1.6 million each, and will only operate on one route. The prototypes will indeed cost about £1.6 million – prototypes are always expensive – but hundreds of these buses will be brought into service, operating on far more than one route, and the average cost of each bus will be massively less.
Shawcross has form for this sort of nonsense – in 2008, she claimed that scrapping the bendies on just the first three routes would cost £12-13 million a year. In fact, according to TfL, the cost for all 12 routes will be £302,000 a year, a drop in real terms. (There is also a one-off cost of £2.2 million this year only.)
Even the BBC has fallen for some of the lies, claiming that the bendies’ scrapping “could mean fewer seats.” This is also untrue. There has in every route converted been more seats, usually far more, and higher frequencies as well, often dramatically higher, hence the fractionally higher annual operating cost. Isn’t it bizarre that the likes of Shawcross are actually campaigning against better bus services?
What there will be less of in some cases is that weasel word, “capacity,” in other words standing space. But who wants to stand? On the new double-deckers, far fewer people have to. The predicted capacity problems have in every case failed to materialise, probably because the thousands of fare-dodgers who used the bendies have vanished with them. Of course, the vagaries of traffic and bus operations mean that some journeys, on any kind of bus, will always be overcrowded. But overall, just as on every other bendy-converted route, passengers on the 207 from tomorrow will notice that what was an 18-hour-a-day sardine-tin becomes a less crowded and more pleasant experience.