Monday 21 November 2011

The Iconic British Bus?

We all have a favourite.

The ubiquitous front engined Leyland PD series, AEC Regents and delicious daimlers with their distinctive fluted radiators all illustrate the traditional British bus. Then comes the front entrance rear-engine revolution with the Atlantean, the Fleetline and the Bristol VR.
Roughly 7,000 Leyland Nationals were built, although sales success may have been skewed because the National Bus Companies were obliged to buy the vehicle developed for them. Its replacement, the Lynx ...
... was much less successful. Concerns about the complex technology of the rear engined brigade let to the Volvo Ailsa (reasonably popular, especially "north of the border") ...
... and the Guy Wulfrunian, less so.

But, in the minds of our overseas chums, it is in London that icons have been born, sustained and universally recognised. Approx 7,000 of the RT family were built (RT, RTL, RTW) ...
... and RT1, the very first, has been restored at vast expense.

Likewise the routemaster (RM, RML, RMC) was deemed to be "iconic" although barely 3,000 were put in service.
Two of today's London routes (more correctly, part routes) see RMs performing daily service, aimed mainly at tourists, on services 9 and 15 in the capital.
Unusually for London, you can actually have a timetable for service 9 [the "H", for "heritage" is not shown on the bus blinds.]. First, incidentally, is one of the few London bus companies that breaks the TfL timetable secrecy code and actually allows you to see when their buses run.
But in his original campaign for election to London Mayor, Boris the Blue promised to get rid of the "despised" bendybuses, by far the most efficient method of transporting large numbers of people in central London! But politics was ever thus, all too often divorced from common sense and reality.

So Londoners have footed a reputed £11 million bill to develop the new bus for London, the so-called Borismaster. For those unfamiliar with the project, the official Transport for London video an be viewed (here).
Eight of these beasts are being produced at Wright's Factory in Northern Ireland for use on service 38, recently run by hated bendies.
So here is happy hirsute hero Boris hailing the highlights of the first pre-production vehicle.
So, several questions remain.

Will Boris' beautiful bus ever go into mass production?

Will Boris' beautiful bus achieve the iconic status of the RT or the RM?

Will any other transport operators buy Boris' beautiful bus?

Will Boris win next year's mayoral election; and, if he doesn't, what will happen to his beautiful bus?
Technical point to ponder:-

Dear Boris,
You object to bendies because they "might" wipe cyclists off their steeds on tight corners. They don't and they haven't. But your new monster has the longest wheelbase of ANY service bus in the city. IF any bus is going to remove riders from their velocipedes on corners, the Borismaster is the MOST likely. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Next blog : due Tuesday November 22nd

P.S. fbb thinks the bus is ugly!

P.P.S. Tomorrow we look at another ground-breaking iconic development in bus design (?); "The Bus that Thinks it's a Tram"!


  1. To be strictly accurate, the Leyland National wasn't developed 'for the National Bus Company'. It was developed in the mid-1960s, when the weaknesses of the initial rear-engined single deck designs were already becoming apparent, but that was before the NBC even existed (NBC came into existence in 1969). Leyland persuaded NBC to become shareholders in Leyland National Ltd, when the factory was already under construction, and the project already well under way. The cynic in me would add that it was also after Leyland had realised that most of their intended market for the LN had fizzled away because the government had allowed one-person-operation of double deckers, and the major urban operators were turning back to DDs after a brief interest in single deckers.

    As for the Borismaster, if it can really achieve 11.6 mpg then it will be a considerable improvement on current designs, and if that part of the technology is also reliable, and can be retained, then the development work and cost will not have been in vain. I agree about the length of the wheelbase, and the unsatisfactory nature of open rear platforms in today's conditions, and the ugliness of the general styling - but those are features that could in reality be amended to suit a wider market, while retaining the more beneficial aspects of the design. You should try to look for a positive slant on it!

  2. RC169 "positive slant".

    One of the consequences of being ancient is that I have seen so many "ground breaking" schemes in public transport. We already have hybrid and hydrogen buses a-plenty but costs are currently a problem. Adding a conductor, extra doors, extra length and an extra staircase doesn't seem to be particularly positive. And an artic carries more people.

    A camel, an animal designed by committee?

    The Borismaster, a bus created for political purposes?

    Not a likely recipe for success?

  3. An artic carries more people - probably true, although I have serious doubts about the quoted maximum capacities for artics. No driver will be able to assess when there are 80-90 standing passengers on a vehicle, and I suspect that the figures are simply absolute maxima based on the space available at up to 4 persons per square metre. With such high capacities, there is little chance of the numbers ever being exceeded, a situation which which would obviously place the operator in a difficult position in the event of an accident. However, the flip side of this approach is that the actual loads carried will be less than the maximum stated, and I have doubts that the maxima are ever achieved. The other issue is that the comfort for passengers in such 'crush-loading' situations is not exactly good - the 'public transport experience' would be a very poor one, so very unlikely to attract motorists out of their cars.

    Yes, of course the Borismaster is politically motivated. So was the Leyland National, to some extent at least. But sometimes a politically motivated impulse can be used to bring about improvements and benefits. Let's give this one a chance, rather than writing it off when it is hardly off the drawing board. Cancelling it now would be just as politically motivated as its inception, and would simply ensure that the money already spent would have been wasted.

  4. I actually think that the Borismaster has some positive design features. I like the front upper deck, but I hate the lack of a rear window.

    On the long wheelbase issue, I don't think that this is the concern for cyclists that fbb thinks it is. The key danger for cyclists with artic buses (and with articulated lorries too) is the blind spot, where drivers can't see cyclists on their nearside. With a vehicle that bends in the middle, fixed n/s wing mirrors are of limited assistance.

    The Borismaster is, of course, rigid and the driver's view will be very much clearer down the length of the bus. Little different to current maximum length coaches and we don't hear stories of them mowing down the bikes.

    A final thought. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We didn't like the Routemaster when it first came in, with its upright front, compared to the gently raked profile of the RT family.