Ditching the Bendy Buses – Transport for London consults
I was going to put this in the Daily Links but it seemed like that there was just too much analysis to make on this lot and it probably deserved its own post.
Anyway, as you might know if you’re in London, three London bus routes are about to be converted from bendy buses to a mixture of single deckers and double deckers. When I wrote about the ‘orrible “new” not-a-Routemaster, it slightly surprised me that it was not the competition winners itself that caused comment, but the bendy buses that are about to be phased out.
So in light of that, and some of the comments made here and elsewhere, I was very interested to come across two PDFs published by Transport for London regarding the conversions.
For a bit of background, when TfL make big changes to a bus route, they do consultations and consult various stakeholders – it’s a simple process as I found out a while ago when they wanted to divert a bus near the estate I live in (which led to a huge NIMBY backlash who thought two buses an hour in either direction would cause traffic chaos – they were seriously amusing to watch.)
And as part of the process, TfL publish summaries of the consultation and their responses to it.
If you’re interested in such things, I urge you to read them for yourself in order to make your own mind up (assuming you don’t have a firmly entrenched view anyway!), but here’s some things that caught my eye.
The Stakeholder response
According to TfL’s assessments,
The majority of stakeholder responses were against the proposals to replace the bendy buses with either single or double deck buses. However, some stakeholders acknowledged that community views are mixed.
Another bit proclaimed…
Those who were opposed to the conversion considered that bendy buses were better-suited to these routes’ primary function of distributing commuters from main rail stations. They were concerned about increased bus and passenger congestion at the rail stations.
Anyone who has seen a railway station bus stop in rush hour knows its chaos overload – and the 521 and 507 are both routes which serve big railway stations so a fair concern to have.
One bit that really caught my eye was this:
There was some concern that shorter, rigid single-decks would be less manoeuvrable.
This is an interesting one because it’s the direct opposite of the general public consensus that articulated buses are less manoeuvrable than their standard counterparts, and are therefore “really not suitable” for London’s roads (at this point I’ll mention that the 521 and 507 go mostly along straight, wide roads – just the roads that are so good for bendy buses in fact…)
If you ask me, TfL response really is the more interesting of the two documents because it puts some interesting facts and figures from the TfL machine into the picture.
Lets start (as the document does) with cost. Apparently de-bendying the bus routes will cost £3.5m more per year than it would if the operators kept their current fleet (buying new bendies would be more expensive than keeping the current fleet, but not substantially).
There is some good news. On route 38 (to be converted to double deckers), TfL estimate that the conversion will see a 1.4% decrease in C02 emissions, and a 16.4% decrease in NOx emissions, although particulate emissions will increase by 31.7%. These stats presume the usage of a certain type of double decker bus and are provisional. There’s no comparable data for the 521 and 507 which will be converted to single deckers.
But there’s also some bad news as we get to the provisional stats on a metric called bus kilometres. This isn’t explained very well, but appears to to be how much space buses will take up on the roads.
One of the whopping bendy arguments is that bendy buses take up far more road space – which is true if you look at the metric of a single bus against another.
However that’s only part of the picture – it’s also very important to look at overall amount of space on the roads, as bendy buses are also often blamed (because they’re big) for causing congestion. It’s also not possible to replace one bendy with one double decker and keep the same capacity – bendy buses hold about 150 people compared to 80 on a double decker. This as part of the move to de-bendy the bus routes, TfL are increasing the bus frequencies along the three routes – in some cases resulting in a 2-3 minute frequency.
In one of my previous comments, I mentioned some estimates done by the highly partisan Boris Watch site (Boris could solve the problem of world hunger, and it’s likely they still wouldn’t be happy!), where they did some maths (and showed their working) and reckoned that the saving would be about 9m of road space post conversion.
Now TfL and Boris Watch’s figures don’t appear to be directly comparable, but either way, Boris Watch predicted a minor decrease in space buses take up on the road.
It appears that they were way, way, way off the mark. According to TfL’s provisional figures, removing bendy buses will see an increase of around 30% of bus kilometres on the road. TfL believe this is not a significant increase in context of total traffic, but either way, this one really stunned me in because it was in the wrong direction, and because the increase was so huge.
Of course it remains true that an individual bendy bus takes up more road space than an individual double decker, but in the overall picture, we will see more road space taken up with buses which isn’t going to really do much to help congestion.
And in conclusion
It’s a mixed bag of results both in the stakeholder views and the responses. But we can say that bendy buses cost less and take up less road space overall – and that the appetite for removing them is less than overwhelming from the consulted stakeholders.
Other views will no doubt vary. Some will of course see the extra costs and extra road space as a worthwhile sacrifice in a noble cause. As you may guess, I remain far from convinced.
Still, the bendy’s a gonna on those routes. The Mayor has his manifesto pledge to stick to after all and only time will tell if it was an inspired pledge or not.
For me, the true results will come around a year after de-bendification when another set of data gets published on the TfL’s website – the bus performance reports compare year on year performance of stats on every London bus route. The performance stats for these three routes will make interesting reading.
One final word
The final word has nothing about bendy buses, but everything to do with Transport for London who have, for years, published all sorts of facts, figures and documents on their website as a matter of routine, and have done for years. Want to find out how much a bus route costs? It’s there. Reliability of the Waterloo and City line? Sorted. If only more public bodies were as open with their data, we’d probably never would have had a Freedom of Information act…