Prepare yourself for bus hell!

Published on 22 December 2008 in , , , , ,

I’m going to let you into a little secret. You might think from my last post that I’m actually really pro-bendy buses.

Actually I don’t care one bit about bendy buses. I see them as I see as I see most buses – a tool to get me from A to B. And with any tool, I just want the best one for the job. The exception is, of course, the Routemaster which I love to bits – purely because they’re something out of history. A museum piece running on the roads. I’ve let five normal buses go past me before now, just so I can get on one of the heritage buses.

And I want to get from A to B in the most comfort in good time. What kind of bus turns up to take me there doesn’t hugely concern me.

But it’s been interesting to watch the absolute velocity of some of the arguments from some web forums and newspaper comments. From the numbers of columns that Andrew Gilligan writes on them that scrapping the bendy bus is the only important matter in London politics at the moment. (I’d go for the state of the economy and rising unemployment myself, but what do I know?)

Either way on the topic, there’s a complete polarisation of views. And they’re interesting.

The views are:

  1. bendy buses are bad and evil and MUST be banished now (this is often coupled with “Cyclists are dying every day due to them”)
  2. what planet are you on? They’re just buses. Get over it (this is often coupled with “No cyclist has ever died in London due to a bendy bus”)

What I continue to find interesting with the first view is how many people holding that view, want the bendy bus replaced by double decker because the double decker is “best”.

But do the British actually like using double decker buses?

Not owning a car, I use buses quite a bit. And on a reasonably busy London bus, without fail, the situation goes like this:

  1. Get on bus
  2. fight past 20 people crowding round the staircase
  3. see all seats are full
  4. go upstairs
  5. find half of it empty
  6. sit down, relax, safe in the knowledge that most of the bus is having a far less comfortable journey than you

I’ve seen bus drivers shout very loudly at people to go upstairs, only for no one to do so. I’ve stood at bus stops as bus after bus has failed to anyone on, yet I can see upstairs that there’s loads of space.

It’s not hard to think of reasons why people don’t like going upstairs. After all, traversing those staircases when a bus is moving isn’t easy. You also don’t know if there’s space upstairs (can someone come up with some automated “Upstairs full” signs? They’d be great) so it could be a wasted journey.

They’re also nice and sweaty thanks to small windows – this could be solved by having windows at the front, if only we could get rid of the idiots who would pour drinks and things down the front of the bus, screwing up the driver’s vision.

The single staircase is also a nice blocker for bus boarding/exiting – you can’t load the bus up with new passengers if loads of people are coming downstairs and exiting via the middle doors.

Oh and the back seats on the top deck are often devoid of canvas and padding because some other idiots like to vandalise and rip them to shreds (the back seats of a single decker bus are always notably less vandalised)

So why do we love and insist on loving and having a public transport vehicle that we don’t use properly and which people treat so shabbily?

Probably because “it’s British” and therefore is right (we had an empire you know!)

Britain is one of the few countries where you’ll find the double decker after all – most parts of the world stick to single deckers or articulated buses (or trolley buses and trams). And we all know when something is “British” and “under attack” then the British batton down the hatches and go into defensive mode. See the pint, imperial weights, the pound and so on, and so on and so on.

So double decker good, all other buses bad.

But are all double deckers good? Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the double decker articulated bus! Yes, it’s bendy and double at the same time! Now there’s a concept that will scare the living shit out of some people!


  • Kirk says:

    This I like!

  • CentralUser says:

    I regularly catch a bus along the Marylebone Road. The road is long and straight.
    My choice of buses to catch includes the 18 (bendy), the 27 (double decker), the 205 (double decker) and the 453 (bendy).
    I am usually on the bus for less than 5 minutes and will always choose the 18 or 453 over the 27 or 205, whenever a choice presents itself.
    Why? Quite simply the ease of getting on and off.
    It is as simple as that.
    There are lots of other arguments for and against but, like you, I just want to get from A to B with the greatest of ease. Keep the bendy bus!

  • Stuart says:

    Here’s a vote for double-decker TRAINS and tubes, as they have in both Paris and Rome (and quite probably other capital cities).
    “But the tunnels aren’t high enough for the tubes and any overhead power cables and tunnels would have to be raised for the trains”
    No – the European models quoted above have a “lower deck” as opposed to an “upper deck”. I.e., when you get on, you get on at the upper level. You can then go downstairs for the lower level.
    “But where do the wheels go?”
    Simple – Underneath the “landings” where the doors open. Think about how much space is wasted below the carriage on UK trains, where there are only wheels. The rest of the space, between the sets of wheels, is where the extra carriage space is in Europe.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    Would love them myself. I think not making the Crossrail tunnels double decker is a huge wasted opportunity myself.
    Although double decker trains seem to have the flipside problem – no one wants to be downstairs!

  • David says:

    As an American transport planner who lived in Britain for over a year, I find this obsession with bendy vs. double-decker to be amusing. I agree with this post – I just want to get from A to B in the fastest amount of time. Bendy buses tend to allow passengers quicker boarding/alighting, which gets the bus back into the flow of traffic sooner. Double-deckers seem slower in that regard, and assuming they move at similar speeds, bendy buses seem to be the obvious choice.
    Most double-deckers I saw were underutilized in both London and Leeds, as people didn’t seem to want to climb stairs, especially while the bus was in motion. As a result, I remember being passed up on the street by a bus simply because its lower level was packed – I saw empty seats above. I also recall that double-deckers had more liability issues as well; I’ve never seen so many people fall down on a moving bus until I experienced double-deckers and their tight stairs.
    On the twin issues of those clusters that form around the middle door and the abandoned seats that are often found on the upper level: I thought private companies operated British bus fleets for profit? Here in the US, the drivers demand passengers “move to the rear” to pack in more people, even though the systems are government-owned and don’t recoup their costs. But in the UK, drivers don’t feel any pressure to compel passengers to avail themselves of the upper level, potentially losing fares for their employer? Odd.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    The staircase issue is such an issue that London TravelWatch (the passenger watchdog) went as far as doing full research on the matter in order to make a formal recommendation for bus staircase design in London. The PDF of the report is available from their website.

  • RaiulBaztepo says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo