Despite what certain overpaid cycling commissioners asserted back in 2011, there’s no evidence TfL actually want to maintain the fiction that Boris Johnson has brought back open platform buses a moment longer than necessary to save his face – the ‘conductors’ (actually moonlighting drivers) were removed from the 38 last June, then we had the 24 with no nonductors in operation after 9pm.   The 390 (according to a cached page, TfL having not yet fixed their corporate archive on their new website) went one stage further:

Buses on route 390 will operate with the rear door open and a conductor on the rear platform for the majority of the day on weekdays (6am-6pm)

That’s 60 hours a week with the door open.  The 9 is the same.  Then the 148 conversion surprised more than a few people by having, er, no hop on hop off capability at all:

“Passengers rate the new vehicle very highly and relish the return of hop-on hop-off travel,” Boris Johnson said last year.

Now Transport for London has confirmed that there will be no conductor on board when the buses are brought into service on route 148 this Saturday

There’s not really been a convincing explanation of why Boris now can’t legitimately blather on about saving Londoners from the EU elfnsafety Taliban (which is a Great Boris Lie, of course).  TfL are merely saying they look at provision of open boarding on a route by route basis with nonductors on the ‘busier’ routes:

On the busier Central London routes, the bus will run with a conductor for most of the day. Conductors will not collect fares but will supervise the rear platform when they are on board, ensuring passenger safety when hopping on or off and providing travel advice.

Quite why having someone standing around taking up space helps on busier routes or why the 148 differs so much from any of the other routes starting in Hammersmith and Fulham (four out of the first five, one notes).  The 148 actually shares buses with route 9 (and eventually route 10) all out of Stamford Brook bus depot, so there are nonductors employed at the same garage by the same company (RATP) to operate the same buses on other routes.  Is it really less busy?  Is the 24 really that busy?

The only explanation I can think of is the obsession with nonductors providing tourist guide services – it may go down Hyde Park and Park Lane but as far as tourist sights are concerned the 148 only really goes through Parliament Square, while the other routes go past much more of ‘tourist’ London – Whitehall, Trafalgar Square and so on.  It’s not really a convincing explanation, though, and it’s perfectly possible it’s because the finances are beginning to get embarrassing.

Also, ‘most of the day’ is a bit of a canard, given that many of the routes are 24 hours.  The full list as we know it currently with an estimate of the percentage of the time open boarding applies:

  • 8 (5:30am – midnight) – TBD (converts 28/6/2014)
  • 9 (6am-11pm) – 60 hours a week, 50% of the time
  • 10 (24 hours) – TBD (converts 26/4/2014)
  • 11 – (5am-midnight) – rumoured to be 60 hours a week
  • 24 – (24 hours) – supposedly 6am-9pm (rumoured to stop earlier than that) 62.5% of the time
  • 38 – (5am-11:30pm) – TBD (converts 10/5/2014) – due to the excessive number of debendification buses currently employed there’s likely to be some major changes on this route which are worth keeping an eye on
  • 148 – no open platform operation, so 0% of the time
  • 390 – (24 hours) – 60 hours a week, 39% of the time

All of this is suggesting that TfL are having great difficulty reconciling the open platform hype with the savage cuts to bus subsidy Boris has agreed with George Osborne.  Is it yet another example of Boris’s refusal to look facts in the face until it’s too late?

Or is it?  There’s evidence this week that Boris may not actually be aware of what TfL are actually doing on the ground.  During a recent #askBoris Twitter Q&A, with questions as ever carefully picked to given him an easy hit, Boris’s minders slipped up and let this one through:

This is a classic bit of trolling, and evidently Boris and his web minders didn’t pick up that the recent publicity about the lack of open boarding on the 148 makes this an obvious elephant trap.  Dear oh dear.  When at first we set out to deceive, and all that.

We have three forthcoming conversions to hazard a guess at here.   The 8 I suspect is being converted for air quality reasons and will not have open boarding, the 10 is another Hammersmith and Fulham route through central London and will probably be 6pm on weekdays again.  The 38, as mentioned above, is an interesting case as the current frequency is insane and would cost a fortune while any cuts in frequency would risk bad press at peak periods and overcrowding – the 148s weigh in at 12230kg so still a lower capacity than the current buses.  The route also has a PVR of 54 or so, far higher than any existing lardbus route.

No matter how that’s sorted out there’s one glaring problem here, as I noticed on a recent stroll along Victoria St.  This has four bus routes, three of which are lardbuses (11/24/148), the other is the 211 operated by conventional E400s as well as hybrid E400Hs.  The lardbus fleet occasionally operates as entirely closed (after 9pm) or two routes open (24 and 11 before 6pm), or one route open (24 after 6pm or at weekends).  Now supposedly the open platform is to speed up boarding, but this can only be true if passengers have a clue as to which bus operates open boarding at which times, which I’m not even sure I’ve got a handle on.  Add in that not all buses that should run open do and it’s clear that most passengers won’t bother playing open platform bingo and simply treat the things as normal buses and wait by the front door.  This completely negates the ‘faster boarding’ argument that Leon Daniels is still trying to persuade us of.

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