One amusing by-product of the first debendifications is that they’re going to prove that Andrew Gilligan is a seriously bad journalist. Take the now notorious attack on Boris Watch and myself in which he inadvertently revealed the kennite connection:
Each bendy route was competitively tendered; each operator was also asked to tender for operating it with double-deckers; and the tender results, published on the TfL website, show that the bids to run the routes with bendies were in every single case higher, sometimes by seven figures.
One bendy route alone, the 29, is costing us £1.6 million a year more than it would have done to keep double-deckers. Collectively, the double-deck routes converted to bendies are costing about five per cent more in their new guise.
So, if Gilligan is to be believed, look for the non-bendy option to come in around five percent below keeping bendies. Also, according to the Great Journalist, the only thing that matters is the tender price bid. Keep that in mind.
The problem with Gilligan’s argument is that he is only looking at one aspect of the problem (a common failing). When this originally came out I researched (but didn’t blog it, since the kennite thing took off at that point) other bus route tenders, partly to establish some proper baseline figures to compare the initial debendification plans against. What I came up with was quite interesting, so I’ll bore you now if I may.
The tender documents contain the following information, in this case for the most recent major route to be retendered, the 35 (hi-frequency, 24 hour, double deck route which will be using Enviro400 bog standard double deckers, to be operated by Travel London):
- Tenderers – four
- Successful tenderer – Travel London
- Accepted Bid – £3,902,983
- Lowest Compliant Bid – £3,902,983
- Highest Compliant Bid – £4,913,525
- Cost per mile of awarded contract – £5.50
Note that the cost per mile figure. We can use it to get the expected annual mileage in the contract:
3902983/5.50 = 710,000 miles, to three significant figures.
This puts it mid-range. Actually, my database concentrates on the high mileage contracts, since I don’t have endless time, and the highest annual mileage I have is 1.71m, on the bendy 25. In fact, the top runners are:
- 25 (bendy) – 1.71m
- 73 (bendy) – 1.56m
- 53 (DD) – 1.48m
- 29 (bendy) – 1.41m
- 140 (DD) – 1.30m
- 8 (DD) – 1.29m
- 159 (DD) – 1.29m
- 36 (DD) – 1.24m
- 12 (bendy) – 1.21m
- 102 (DD) – 1.20m
In total there are 27 routes over a million miles a year, which makes a good set for comparisons for bus types. Additionally I’ve added the 453, which is a bendy route just under a million. There’s one other figure we need, cost per capacity-mile, which is just the cost per mile divided by the capacity of the vehicles on the route (120 for bendies, 85 for double deckers – TfL’s figures from the debendification proposals).
Note that not all routes are in the tender lists (a third of the bendy routes – 18, 38, 507, 521 – are missing, of which I’d expect the 18 and 38 to make the top ten).
Out of those 28 routes, then, the 20 double deck routes average 5.42p per capacity mile, the 8 bendy routes average 5.24p per capacity mile. Not a lot of difference, really, but the bendies certainly aren’t a costly extravagance. Of course, on pure cost per mile the bendies are more expensive at £6.29 against £4.61, but that ignores the capacity issue entirely – you don’t, unless you’re mad, expect the operating costs of a 747 to compare with a 737.
More pertinently, within each group there’s actually a wide spread of values for what are at first glance a similar group of routes. The bendy routes all come out between 4.9 and 5.7 per capacity mile, while the double decks are much wider, 3.6pcm to 6.7pcm.
In other words, there’s something else going on apart from merely operating cost, and this is obviously true with a moment’s reflection. Tenders are subject to all sorts of other things; number of bidders, multiple routes on single contracts, inflation, operator efficiency, cost of leasing buses, fuel costs, staff costs and the nature of the route. It’s not, when you come down to it, purely a matter of bus type = operating cost. As an example, the cheapest big double decker route is the 140, which is a high frequency orbital bus route serving Heathrow airport. The most expensive bendy route is the 73, which goes down Oxford Street. They’re rather different routes – the 140 is well out of town, orbital instead of radial, attracted two bids and was tendered as part of a package of four routes, which brings the price down. The 73 is bang in the middle, radial, attracted one bidder and was tendered as a single route. The conclusion from this is that you can’t look at bus tender figures on the TfL website and ignore the nature of the routes involved. In this case, the bendy routes are all fairly similar while double deck routes vary widely in nature, and this is reflected in the costs. Ignoring this is bad maths.
Gilligan Bashing Postscript. Having proved that taking the raw bus tender figures out of context isn’t great journalism, let’s show what happens if you take Gilligan’s techniques and apply them a bit more widely. Now, the tender figures not only go back to include the last Routemaster bids, but also the two heritage routes 9H and 15H, which are operated by RMs with a capacity of 69. Let’s have a good old cherry pick:
- 9H – £834,151 – £12.57 per mile – 18.22pcm
- 15H – £823,756 – £10.69 per mile – 15.49pcm
Oh dear. Those heritage routes look like the worst value in London. Ban the Routemaster now to stop TfL wasting our money!
There are two routes which had an RM and non-RM option priced up:
- 6 – RM £7,641,082, DD £6,144,218 – final contract £6,212,157
- 98 – RM £7,423,485, DD £5,952,599 – final contract £5,597,831
The final insult is the 94, which had DD, RM *and* bendy prices:
- 94 – RM £6,675,000, DD £5,682,000, Bendy £6,334,000 – final contract £5,645,000
No point asking for two-crew tenders, is there? Ban the New Routemaster now to stop TfL wasting our money!
So, not only is Gilligan’s methodology flawed and simplistic, it doesn’t even support his argument. One possible thing to keep an eye on is that TfL may be picking the lowest cost tender regardless of quality now. Quite a lot of existing tenders didn’t go to the lowest bidder on quality grounds. This doesn’t seem to apply to the bendy routes, however.
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