Boris’s latest attempt not to answer the Shawcross Question is too funny:

Do you regret falsely claiming that bendy buses “wipe out cyclists, there are many cyclists killed every year by them”? – Valerie Shawcross

I think it is odd that there are still defenders of a bus that is more polluting, more dangerous to cyclists and lost £12m in fare evasion last year.

Boriswatchers should note the following:

  • No attempt is made to treat a perfectly reasonable question in a reasonable manner.  I’ve seen him give better answers to Barnbrook.
  • The natural assumption in the answer is that there are some mysterious ‘defenders’ of a bus rather than this being an attempt to discover why Boris has such a personal aversion to a particular shape of vehicle that he’s willing to lie about it and childishly refuse to admit it when challenged.

Three direct bits of dishonesty:

  • First off, the bus is only more polluting if you compare it against vehicles available now.  Therefore replacing them with more modern bendies would be the least polluting alternative of the three on offer, as well as the second cheapest.  There are other routes with more polluting buses that could usefully use an injection of cash, say to buy hybrids.  Instead, of course, Boris is effectively spending £70m to allow more cars into central London.  So he can’t pose as Mr. Green, can he?  In any case, he’s making a virtue out of European emissions standards legislation here, which is not something we usually expect from him.  Hey, why not put the money the money into trialling that new hybrid bendy Mercedes were pushing?
  • Secondly, the danger to cyclists from bendy buses is, as we’ve seen, negligible compared to HGVs.  Boris, of course, is quite happy to let 30,000 vehicles into London’s WEZ and has cut back on the London Cycle Network, scrapped the Parliament Square scheme (which is described by TfL as dangerous to cyclists), allowed motorbikes into bus lanes and has shown so little interest in the views of the cycle groups that they’re getting increasingly concerned with his attitude.  Off the back of that, it takes real rhino hide to pose as the cyclist’s safety champion.  Get real, chummy.
  • Lastly, I can’t believe they’re still using the fare evasion one.  Listen up – there’s fare evasion on conventional buses, too, so you don’t magically get £12m back in your pocket annually by scrapping bendies, even if the scrapping wasn’t drawn out over six years.  If reducing fare evasion was really behind the policy, you’d prioritise the routes with the *most* fare evasion, not the *least*.  Since Boris is indeed debendifying the routes with the least fare evasion first (507 and 521), his reasoning does not include reducing fare evasion, but is just about meeting a manifesto commitment in the least expensive way.  The only route of the first three that might see an appreciable reduction in fare evasion, the 38, is actually being delayed, presumably because there’s a lot of work involved in debendifying a route which involves moving to the highest PVR in London and someone funding 70+ new vehicles during a credit crunch.  If Boris wants to reduce fare evasion*, I suggest he looks at extending London Overground, where, although fare evasion is still higher than the buses, it’s reduced massively since they were brought under TfL control.  In any case, fare evasion on bendies was reducing, and its contribution to overall fare evasion is small.

Against this backdrop, our story that bendy buses are actually rather better value for money than the alternative has finally made the mainstream.  What’s amazing is that it’s in the Evening Standard, it’s using original journalistic research and it isn’t done by leading bendy jihadist Andrew Gilligan.  They even published my comment, complete with none-too-subtle dig at the previous fact-free orthodoxy.  Wonders never cease.

The story comes from perusing Arriva’s annual report, which contains this nugget:

In 2008, year-on-year mileage growth of five per cent was achieved. An excellent level of contract retention was maintained for all work retendered in 2008. In particular, we were pleased to retain the high profile route 38, on which the substitution of double deckers for articulated buses has added 24 per cent to the contracted mileage.

In other words, this particular bus company is doing nicely out of debendification, and Boris is now officially implementing a policy that takes money out of public transport and boosts the profits of private bus companies.  The Standard goes so far as to translate the 24% rise in mileage to a 24% rise in fees, which is stretching it a little – our figures put the 38 bendy premium at 21% – but obviously there’s a reduction in off-peak capacity to be taken into account.  There’s evidence to suggest that the retender price for bendies was based on a higher mileage than the current contract, and thus a higher cost (and a higher capacity), which may be where the difference comes in.

All in all, this suggests a Mayor so desperate to avoid having to defend his policy on the merits that he’s resorting to the old campaign slogans and hoping no one picks him on up them.  Fat chance.  The rules of the game have changed, Mr. Mayor.

* Fare evasion by mode is suggested at here and here.  Summary: bus fare evasion rates reduced from 3.9% in 2007 to 3.19% and then 2.8% in the most recent statistics.  A lot of that reduction seems to have come from reducing evasion rates on bendy buses (9.4% to 8.6%), although it’s still higher than OPO buses.  This probably needs its own post (not least because Richard Tracey’s got interested in it), although it’s been obvious for a while that debendification doesn’t remotely pay for itself from reducing fare evasion.

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