Ditching the Bendy Buses – Transport for London consults

Published on 6 January 2009 in , , , , , ,

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.

The background

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.

And those are the two documents TfL have published recently for routes 38, 507 and 521 – a summary and a response (both PDFs).

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.

Summary of Consultation for routes 38, 507 and 521 (PDF) – Transport for London

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…)

The Response

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…


  • Tom says:

    ‘Highly partisan’, eh?
    There’s a difference between bus kilometreage (which is how far all the buses on a route travel in a particular year) and the space taken up by buses, which I calculated as the area of London covered by buses during peak periods (when all the new buses are operating and most congestion occurs). Two different things.
    The kilometreage inevitably increases because you have more, smaller buses coming more frequently, but the increase of 30% is less than the increase in the number of buses, which can only be because the new buses average fewer kilometres each (because the off-peak service is reduced in capacity, the extra new buses stand around for most of the day).
    The 507 and 521 both see substantial increases in total bus length, the 38 sees a fairly substantial decrease due to using shorter, higher buses, even though there are more of them. The net result is about equal, as I said before (the cost of shortening the bus length on the 38 is paid in increased waiting time at the stops – the 507/521 should have about the same boarding speed, although apparently TfL were testing this before Christmas).
    One other point about the debendification, particularly on the 38, is the reduction in off-peak provision of accessible seating, wheelchair space and buggy space, which would appear to affect particular sections of the community disproportionately. I still need to crunch the numbers on that one, but it should be borne in mind. Not everyone can get up the stairs on a double-decker, but everyone can reach most seats on a bendy.

  • Hugh says:

    myself and many other companies alike who submitted their designs are some what dissappointed with the winner lot. they all host hardly any new features. yet my design and along with other people ive been networking with boast original thinking.

  • man and van says:

    a BIG no to bendy-buses from us! speaking from experience and feedback from our staff, we come to realise they are a pain in the neck…atking so long to get going, getting stuck on the yellow boxes(i wonder who’s paying the pcn’s?), cousing distress to bikers, etc. on the other hand good old double decker offers the balance and mixed conforts, or we have become a nation of lazy gits who walk up and down 10 stairs!!!

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    Personally I see far more cars in yellow boxes than buses. The number of people who don’t seem to understand that if you can’t clear the box you shouldn’t be entering it is ridiculous.
    Bus drivers (and drivers of other long vehicles) at least have more excuse for being stuck in a yellow box when traffic suddenly stops flowing.
    Of course there are no such bans on articulated lorries in London – I know at least one beer distributor is now using articulated drays for their deliveries. We can deny the bendy bus, but Boris can’t ban the bendy lorry!

  • Its is funny if you look how many peopple dont pay ticket to use this buses, i think a big part of the population(the ones that uses the bus) is happy with the bendy-buses couse of that 😛

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    About 90% of people in London use Oystercards and a huge number of them have season tickets. You can see this on any central London bus. What you’re probably seeing is people not touching in their Oystercard rather than the swathes of fare evasion popularly believed.
    That’s not to say some bendy bus routes don’t have greater fare evasion than others – TfL have released stats on such things – but it’s nowhere near the problem many believe it to be.