Sorry about the Daily Mail-style headline, but this tale is a wonderful tribute to the power of digital photography.
First a quick recap of events since the original revelation of the New Bus for London’s substantial weight problem, TfL’s attempts to cover this up, the spying trip and the eventual grudging acceptance via FoI that it was overweight but that this would be sorted out. TfL said at that time:
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.
There we left it (apart from the correction down to a capacity of 78), while Wrights got on, apparently without a contract (because that’s how manufacturing industry works, apparently) with building enough buses (32) to convert the 24 route in late June.
Then on the 12th of April TfL announced with some smugness that the first production vehicles had left Northern Ireland:
The first two buses have left the Wrightbus factory in Northern Ireland, these will be followed by another four next week and a further 594 over the next three years.
When they arrive in London the buses will initially be used for driver training and familiarisation.
Some other guff in the PR which reveals that contrary to what they told me under FoI TfL have been measuring performance will form another post.
So, we left it with 8 over-heavy 12650kg kerb weight vehicles with a capacity of 77, a shortfall of 10 over the design load, and TfL having assured me via FoI that this would be remedied in the production vehicles. We worked out that this would require about 680kg removed from the kerb weight, allowing 68kg per passenger, so the target was about 11970kg, a 5.3% reduction and about the weight of current Enviro400H and B5LH competitors, neither of which suffer from capacity issues despite also being shorter. Back in February I took a walk round central London noting down bus weights and found the latest models of both major hybrids:
- E400H – 61 seats – 11900kg
- B5LH – 60 seats – 11901kg
The problem with announcing that the first two vehicles are on the road is that they get photographed, and the problem with buses on the road is that you have to write the weight on the side. Add in a powerful camera and you get this taken at the Wright’s factory in Ballymena. It’s LT14, so the fourth production bus - the two TfL were referring to on the 12th April were probably LT13 and LT16 which were papped at Heysham (ferry port for Wrightbus deliveries to mainland Britain) on the 13th.
Now, that Flickr image was uploaded at a whopping 6016×4000 resolution, and downloading that super-detailed image allows us to read the weight clearly. Here’s a section (fair use, I hope, I’ll remove it if asked) of the image to show what I’m getting at:
Compare LT6 which I found on Shaftesbury Avenue back in February:
So the weight loss programme appears to have stalled at 190kg, or 1.5%. That’s not remotely what was needed to put the capacity back up to what TfL originally specified, in fact at 68kg per person (which we’ve established is what’s being used) you get 2.8 more people on board, so assuming we have the same number of seats (40 upstairs/22 downstairs) we get a boost to standing capacity from 15 to 17 or 18 depending on how lenient you’re feeling. That’s a total of 79 or 80 passengers in a bus longer and heavier than existing off the shelf options. We’ll need a view of the placarded capacity to get the final picture, and if that’s still hidden in the cab we’ll all know they’re trying to cover it up again.
It’s not only longer and heavier, though, TfL have now announced the expected cost of the 600 unit fixed-price contract:
Transport for London is to spend £212m buying 600 of the Mayor’s New Bus for London vehicles.
The average cost of each bus over the life of the contract, which runs until 2016, is £354,500.
That’s not only far higher than any figure Boris has previously ‘fessed up to, but about 20% more than those lighter, shorter, higher capacity alternatives. We could get another 100 of those for the same money, or use a fraction of it to ensure every double decker entering London service this year was a hybrid, boosting both Wright’s and Alexander-Dennis’s new product lines and giving a significant shove in the back for the British bus industry in international markets. But no, London’s shrinking transport budget needs to be pissed up the wall so Boris can have his day with the press hanging off the back of it and rabbiting about ‘health and safety’, despite the bus having a) a door b) a person making sure you don’t fall out and c) two big yellow elfnsafety stickers warning you of traffic. Nanny state in full retreat there, Bozza.
Finally, is there any way this isn’t going to end up either in court or with an inquiry into the conduct of the project? It strikes me that in that eventuality a certain blond gentleman might regret having the nickname ‘Borismaster’ applied to the great fat wastes of money. We don’t want that kind of association tarnishing the old image, what? Cripes!
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