This morning, there were a lot of strained looking people at the London Transport Museum. Boris Johnson, the new London mayor was announcing a competition to design a new ‘open-platform’ bus. Johnson had made reviving the Routemaster bus concept a theme of his successful election campaign.
The transport establishment and Transport for London (then chaired by Ken Livingstone) rushed to condemn the idea out of hand, while defending the 390 controversial ‘bendy buses’ that are currently running in the capital.
After Autocar commissioned leading bus designers Capoco to show how it could be done last December, the letters page of The Times lit up with arguments for and against the idea.
At the Transport Museum, the assembled press were gritting their teeth, looking for holes in the plan. ‘Wouldn’t ending the bendy bus contracts cost a fortune?’ ‘Wouldn’t people kill themselves falling off the back?’ ‘Surely we can’t afford it?’
Standing next to Boris was TfL boss Peter ‘bendy’ Hendy and David Brown, TfL’s Head of Surface Transport. Both looked uncomfortable. But then they had helped attack Boris when he was chosen as the Conservative candidate for mayor.
Cleverly, Boris fielded the press’s cynicism by getting Hendy and Brown to defend the ‘New Bus for London’ competition.
Amazingly, Hendy started to wax lyrical about the possibility of building a cutting-edge bus. As cutting edge as the aircraft-influenced Routemaster was in its day.
“Current technology uses truck axles, engines and transmissions. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get away from truck-derived parts” Hendy said. “A new generation bus is necessary for capacity, necessary for lower noise levels and necessary for emissions.” Hendy also suggested that such a cutting-edge bus would eventually be adopted throughout the UK.
And with that, the cynicism subsided and a gradual realisation dawned on the press pack: Boris wasn’t completely nuts after all.
Maybe a new-generation Routemaster is possible. And maybe Britain could still manage to lead the world in cutting-edge transport design.