While I’ve been away I’ve been researching bus weights. Well, someone has to.  As part of this I put in a Freedom of Information request to TfL asking:

1) The delivery and first service date for each of the nine New Bus for London prototypes and pre-production vehicles ordered for London (LT1-LT9)

2) The official kerb weight for each of the nine New Bus for London prototypes and pre-production vehicles ordered for London

3) The placarded capacity (upstairs seating/downstairs seating/downstairs standing) for each of the nine New Bus for London prototypes and pre-production vehicles ordered for London

They came back, for TfL, commendably fast but there’s still an open question as I shall now explain.

The basic rules of bus weights are that, for a two axle vehicle like the NB4L, the maximum weight, fully loaded with passengers, crew, fuel etc. cannot exceed 18000kg.  That’s the ‘gross weight’ and is set in the 1986 Regulations as:

The weight specified in column (5) of Part I of Schedule 11 in the item which is appropriate having regard to columns (2), (3) and (4) in that Part, the laden weight of the bus being calculated in the manner described in regulation 78(3) to (5)

Which is as clear as mud, but it turns out everyone builds double deckers to a maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 18000kg.  Bear that in mind.  Now, in order to work out our capacity, we need to know the bus weight empty, which is written on the side, but to be sure I asked TfL this and they replied that it is 12650kg, which matches my own observations of two of them.

Now, that’s quite a heavy bus, my observations of other vehicles came up with a normal range for a modern London hybrid double decker of between 11900kg for the ADL Enviro400H and 12300kg for the longer, heavier Wright-bodied Volvo B5LH.  Individual fleets vary a bit, but that’s the range, so Boris’s ‘sleeker’ bus is about 350kg heavier than the heaviest regular hybrid and a whole three quarters of a tonne more than the commonest current hybrid, which is also considerably shorter.  It turns out that building a long bus with two staircases has a weight penalty. Who knew?

The crunch is that every kg you put on the empty bus is a kg off the payload, given our maximum 18000kg limit.  The current regulations known as Regulation 107, adopted in 2009 and in force for new vehicles since October 2010 stipulate 68kg allowed per passenger.  The older regulations specified 65kg.  For those two weights our 12650kg bus allows us:

  •  78 passengers at 68kg
  • 82 passengers at 65kg

Given that the bus was clearly specified to carry 87 passengers we’re in trouble here and TfL’s response admits there’s a problem:

It should be noted that the current vehicles on route 38 are prototypes, subject to modification, following a period of evaluation. They currently have a slightly lower capacity of around 83 passengers but once design refinements are made to the first generation of production vehicles, this will rise to the anticipated number of 87.

‘around 83′ seems to mean ’82, if we use a standard passenger weight that was superseded two years ago’.  TfL appear to be stretching things by using 65kg, as manufacturers are already working on 68kg elsewhere, such as the new  (and rather hefty, if truth be told) Volvo B9TL/MCV launched this year, which weighs 12375kg and has a capacity of 63 seated/19 standing, which at 68kg brings it in just under spec at 17951kg.

The question has to be asked, therefore, why Boris’s pet bus gets away with using an outdated passenger weight under which, at design capacity, it would have a GVW of 12650+65*87=18305kg.  If we go with the current standard, and they’re going to have to argue quite carefully that the production vehicle is not subject to this, it’s even worse at 12650+68*87=18566kg.  That’s more than half a tonne to lose, which is a fair bit of ‘refinement’ on a bus which TfL are expecting to buy 600 of almost immediately.

Actually it might be even worse than that – the pointless standing-around-person, who won’t check or sell tickets but will cost us £40m a year in subsidy presumably counts as another 68kg, which you have to save from somewhere otherwise you can’t have the open platform.  Call it a round 650kg then, or about 5% of the original pre-production bus that needs to be trimmed off.  It’ll be interesting to see how they manage that given that Heatherwick Studios were already aware of the need to lighten it to meet the fuel economy target:

Having set the environmental target of using 40% less fossil fuel than existing buses, the team developed a hybrid vehicle, powered by both electricity and diesel, seeking to make it as lightweight as possible.

Could the fuel economy also be taking a hit from the weight, given that it’s supposed to be 15% more efficient than the Enviro400H, which weighs 6% less?  A comment thread on Omnibuses suggests it might be, plus revealing that Leon Daniels, the bus nut Peter Hendy brought in to bugger up the bus network for ordinary people, has essentially admitted online that the buses are overweight due to using heavier materials than planned. Presumably that’s due to the election-based timetable.

P.S. I went on an original RML Routemaster the other day.  That has an empty weight of 7874kg and a capacity of 72 seated/5 standing or, in other words, weighs about the same when full as Boris’s lardbus does empty.  Any examples of anyone pretending the Lardbus for London is ‘light’ will be gratefully received.

P.P.S. TfL’s Mike Weston’s updated his hybrid bus PDF, now up to May 2012.  Includes fuel economy statistics (claiming 11.6 for the NB4L) and also a diagram of the NB4L from 2010 which indicates that both decks were designed to EC Regulation 107, which presumably implies it should have used 68kg and therefore have a legal capacity of less than TfL told me in the FoI.  Hmph.


11 Responses to Q: What’s Big, Fat And Eats Money? A: The New Bus For London

  1. Greg Tingey says:

    See also, for comments within this thread:

    Note that a late model RM uses LESS fuel than an NBfL.

    A good modle for a really useful new London Bus is to be found in …. Berlin
    Where they have double-deck-double staircase jobs that WORK …
    Like this:


  2. Mark Johnson says:

    I did read somewhere back a few months ago that Wrightbus had two versions of the NBFL on the table, one with AirCon (very heavy bus) and one without AirCon (not quite as heavy), but which also has good old fashioned windows which slide open!

    Wonder what the difference in weight is between the two versions? Might it be a tonne or two?


  3. Paul B says:

    The underlying fact is that the new bus has been enormously popular with the bus traveling public. I’ve seen it myself when a new bus would approach a bus stop literally everyone would hang back, 12 -15 people in this instance, and wait for it even though a regular double decker would be at the stop ready to go. Incredible. And these are regular folks young and old, black and white, not your typical bus fancier oddballs you sometimes see on the 38 route. I use the route from time to time and have caught the new bus. I’ve overheard overwhelmingly positive comments from users so if that’s anything to go by silly criticisms about it being slightly heavier than other buses are irrelevant. People clearly prefer then new bus.

  4. Mike Hartley says:

    Thanks Paul B for that political party broadcast on behalf of Boris Johnson.

    As a regular bus user myself I can testify that the new bus can’t possibly be that popular as THE WHOLE FLIPPING THING HAS BEEN SO EXPENSIVE AND HANDLED SO BADLY that there are barely any people to notice.

    Secondly – why to Boris-fans always use anecdotes instead of evidence… have YouGov polled about the new bus? ICM? Nope.

  5. Joginder Singh says:

    You pay the penalty for wrecking the world’s finest public transport operator that knew how to design its own rolling stock come back Chiswick works RML 7.7 tons 72 seated passengers FRM routemaster 8.5 tons 72 seats London has not had a better bus since the routemaster and never will

  6. Guano says:

    And the price of each of the 600 NBfL in the production run? That’s still secret, isn’t it?

  7. Mark Johnson says:

    By all accounts they will be about £315.000 each. This is the average price for a typical London hybrid Double decker bus.

    Was on one again over the weekend, and I must say they really are very addictive to ride on, and the attention they attract is off the scale.

    People just love them :-)

  8. Doreen Wyatt says:

    Can anyone tell me please if the Boris bus is running regularly now? I came up from Kent some months ago with my bus mad grandson, we had checked the timetabled buses on the 38 route, there were three possible that day; we waited at Victoria all day, one of them broke down on the way to us, one was over in Ireland and couldn’t be delivered to London in time because there was a bank holiday which held things up, and the other one just didn’t appear but nobody seemed to know why. So over £20 in train fares and a wasted day. He is keen to try again this week but I’d like to know the odds on actually catching one before committing more time and money!

  9. Considerator says:

    Paul B
    Simple people are always impressed by ‘shiny new things’ – these will be the same people who will later moan about their increased council tax – and will not make the connection between ‘new bus’ and ‘no money’

    I also think you miss the point – it’s not about the weight – it’s about the fact that Boris decieved the public about the weight.

    Do you really want a liar for mayor?

  10. nick warner says:

    The problem with the glorious old routemaster was it needed two people to operate apart from the fact it was seriously inaccessible for wheelchair / pushchair users but wonderful for the young and athletic. No question tho that they lasted because they had been paid for several times over. New bus investment at the time required losing staff. Since privatisation we have seen massive expansion of One person operation which was a massive failure due to the complexity of fares and only since the introduction of the Oyster has things like loading times improve. Massive public investment improved London’s Buses considerably and a brave decision was made by Ken Livingston to bring in the wonderful Mercedes Arctic. Now all the critics laughed but they actually solve several problems at once. They are more economical to operate, requiring only one albeit highly trained staff to operate, carry 155 people in very open, accessible surroundings. The driver is not delayed/stressed by fare collection. Compare this to the much les accessible new routemaster which really is going to break the bank at tfl .

  11. Stephen Aitken says:

    Vehicle weights are controlled because the damage done to roads is proportional to the weight to the 4th power. So if a family car weighs 1.5 tonnes and a bus weighs 18 tonnes it is 11 times heavier. 11 to 4th power is 14,641 so a fully laden bus does over 14,000 times more damage to the roads than a family car. The Boris bus is slightly heavier so does over 16,000 times more damage. Evidence for this can be found on every bus route, especially where double deckers are used: the bus stops get dented and then break up and the roads on the route become rutted. Deterioration is worst on residential streets which have not been constructed with the same foundations as trunk roads and where roads have been dug up by the utilities. As the road surface deteriorates and is not repaired, the residents experience disturbing vibrations in the upper floors of their houses as the heavy buses and other vehicles pass. Vibrations are also caused when heavy vehicles cross speed tables and humps designed to calm the traffic – they crudely solve one problem but create another. We can expect Boris Buses to shake most of us living on bus routes – out of our beds!

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