Much thanks to Mark Lee in the comments earlier for drawing attention to this – I was going to reply there but it’s too big a story.

Basically the lovely Labour hit squad masquerading as London Travelwatch (you just *know* some Tory is going to accuse them of being political at some point in the next, ooh, week) have published some documentation [PDF] on their consultations on bendy buses.  It’s fascinating reading, since it puts meat on the skeleton we’ve divined from the various snippets at MQTs etc. including actual numbers around replacement bus fleets and costs.  It’s also pretty much the best refutation I’ve seen for all the bendy myths assiduously propagated by Gilligan, Boris, Hilton Holloway, Policy Exchange and the rest of the crew.

TfL’s proposals for the 38 are to increase its frequency *massively*, to 2-3 minute intervals, with 40% more buses on the streets – 66 instead of 47.  This means a 7-for-5 replacement ratio.  Putting this in terms of roadspace at peak times and assuming a 12m double decker we have 66*12 against 47*18, which is a reduction in the total *length* of vehicles on the road by only about 50m.  This will doubtless please someone, who will hopefully then get stuck behind a queue of double deckers trying to overtake each other at bus stops due to the extended boarding times.

For the single deck routes, the 507 would nearly have a 2 for 1 replacement ratio with 12m single deckers, going from 9 to 17 buses.  the 521 would go from 19 to 34 vehicles.  Adding up our roadspace usage gives us:

  • 507 – 42m more
  • 521 – 66m more

Oh dear.  More of London will be covered in more buses, I reckon, taken across the three routes.  That’s hardly going to help Kulveer Ranger rebalance things in favour of the motorist.

In total Boris is proposing replacing 75 bendy buses (21% of the peak requirement of 353) with 66 double deckers and 51 single deck buses.  The result is that London will have 54 metres more bus in peak times.  London’s bus operators will have to service 42 more buses (plus spares), employ 42 more drivers at peak times (and allowing for leave, shifts etc. this translates to rather more than 42 wage packets).  On the 521 in particular the intention is to run this vast fleet at 120 second intervals, which is a whole lotta bus, leading to questions of capacity at termini that TfL don’t yet have an answer for – remember that these three buses happen to share termini at Waterloo (507/521) and Victoria (38/507) so the effect is doubled.

One question we have the answer to is on capacity; they’re definitely trying to keep this up, as TfL’s table shows (which also gives us the official capacities for bendy/double-decker/single-decker as 120/85/70):

  • Route Current Future (capacity/hour)
  • 38 2400 2380
  • 507 1200 1260
  • 521 2040 2100

This is obviously now starting to reek of bad value for money, so is there any estimate of this?  Yes:

London Travelwatch: Will it increase the cost of operation and does it represent value for money?

TfL’s response :  We are seeking costs for operating the 507 and 521 with 12-metre single deck buses and the 38 with double deck buses.  We have also requested that operators provide costs for operating each route with articulated buses.  Once these costs are received we will make a decision on vehicle type, with due attention to what value for money each proposal represents.

Right, now we see TfL’s strategy and the explanation for Stephen Norris’s discomfiting question to Boris earlier.  TfL, I suspect, know it’s a bad idea and are priming Boris to try and change his mind by making him an offer he can’t accept.  Hence their keenness on being seen to give value for money, a line often found on the Mayor’s lips these days, so if you can persuade him that persisting with bendy replacement is a financial disaster you may get a reconsideration.  Fortunately LT have provided some cost estimates to help:

The principal costs arising from bus operation are staff, fuel, vehicle purchase and maintenance.  Increasing the requirement for all of these – particularly staff at peak times – must increase the cost of operating the services.  These additional costs (typically £300,000 per annum per vehicle – an estimate by London TravelWatch’s  officers, which TfL has not disputed) will have to be recouped either from increased revenue or increased subsidy.

That looks ominous for starters.

The costs of up to an additional 42 vehicles (an estimate by London TravelWatch officers based on published sources) added to the peak vehicle requirement is likely to be in the region of £12.6 million per annum for these services alone.

But, ullulate the faithful, they’re full of fare evaders!  Alas:

The use of double deck and 12 metre single deck vehicles could potentially reduce the evasion rate.  But routes 507 and 521 routes carry large numbers of Travelcard holders, and it is probable that the public perception of greater fare evasion is due in part to the fact that Travelcard holders are not required to ‘touch in’ on these services.  Even with reduced levels of fare evasion, it is unlikely that the additional revenue captured would cover the costs of increasing the frequency of the service on the scale proposed.

Therefore, the burden of any increased costs is likely to be borne by extra public subsidy

The sound you hear is Hilton Holloway and the rest suffering a terminal brain meltdown – ‘BORIS IS A LEGERND – he’ll scrap bendies! – oh no, increased subsidy! – must keep bendies! – what no Routemaster! – aargh! – does not compute! – IT’S OBVIOUSLY LIVINGSTONE’S FAULT!!!1!11!’ (repeat ad nauseam).

All this is summed up in a fine set of Recommendations:

9 Recommendations

9.1      (a)   That whilst supporting increased service frequencies, London TravelWatch is concerned that the costs incurred by using non-articulated buses on services 38, 507 and 521 may be significantly higher.  This would deplete the funds available to TfL for other purposes, and would not represent good value for money.

(b)      That London TravelWatch believes that, when considering tenders for routes currently operated by articulated vehicles, TfL should choose the option offering best value for money that is consistent with providing full accessibility and fitness for purpose.

(c)  That London TravelWatch would welcome the introduction of weekend journeys on route 507 as this serves residential areas of Westminster otherwise not served by bus on these days.

(d)  That TfL should undertake (and publish) attitudinal research into the preferences of users of routes 38, 507 and 521 regarding vehicle type and design before committing itself to any change in the type of vehicles used.

Point (d) is extremely interesting – because the bendy myths are really the spoutings of right wing propagandists there isn’t actually any evidence that bendies squish cyclists or catch fire all the time or get stuck on corners or cause congestion or must suffer from outrageous fare evasion because you never see anyone touching in.

London Travelwatch is actually calling Boris out on this – now TfL is Boris’s baby they either have to do the public, accountable thing and get us the true figures (which, given that London Travelwatch say they have no caseload from people complaining about bendy buses are not likely to back the jihadists) or not give any figures at all to save Boris from embarrassment.  If they do fail to tell us, there’s always the Freedom of Information Act.

There’s Catch 22, as well.  If, of course, TfL say they’ve done no research into bendy safety and perception, we can ask Boris why he hasn’t ordered this, since his manifesto was based on them being dangerous and unpopular.  Surely he’s not willing to take Ken Livingstone’s TfL at their word without at least *checking*?  Minefield, minefield.

Oh, and Stephen Norris apparently thinks we can replace them all in one go:

“I can’t see how it is going to take until 2015 to phase out all of the artics,” put in Steve Norris. Boris looked on dumbfounded.

“That seems like an extraordinary length of time to me. I understand, in fact I know, that they could do it from tomorrow.”

OK, Steve, we can do the sums for this (very roughly, but its indicative, OK?)

  • £12.6m replaces 75 buses PVR
  • That’s 21% of the bendy fleet PVR
  • Pro-rata and ignoring the extra costs of such a massive reorganisation, replacing all 353 would cost about £60m per annum.
  • Boris therefore needs to find £60m in savings or subsidy or fare rises to fund his bendy replacement scheme.  That’s *before* the Routemaster procurement and manning costs, since bendy replacement is officially now separate.
  • That’s a nice round number.  Rather a big one, isn’t it?

Seriously, this is now a test for Boris, who has to decide between his manifesto, London bus users and value for money.  I want him to listen to the professionals and do the sensible thing.  That this involves pissing off the Bendy Jihadists just reinforces the fact that this is good policy – as Alex Harrowell says, the overlap between supporting neo-conservatism and the bendy jihad is interestingly close.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.