It’s pretty much exactly two years and six months since I got the go ahead from Editor Hallett to run a future bus design feature for Autocar’s Christmas 2007 edition.
My eye had been caught by a row between wannabe London mayor Boris Johnson (then Tory MP for Henley) and incumbent Mayor Ken Livingstone (and his merry men at Transport for London).
‘Why,’ asked Boris, ‘can’t we bring back the Routemaster? And why does London have to suffer the Bendy bus?’
Boris was widely mocked as hopelessly naïve. Couldn’t he see that the Routemaster was olde England and only fit for the scrappy? The Bendy bus was all that was modern and inclusive.
Well, it was actually Ken Livingstone who followed the Routemaster bus into exile from the capital and Boris has delivered what was said to be undeliverable, by commissioning probably the most advanced bus in the world.
The New Bus for London is built around a light and long lasting aluminium chassis and powered by a self-charging electric drivetrain. It’s a bespoke design for the capital’s polluted and crowded streets. Even better, it will be made in the UK.
It’s quite odd to see the final product, a result of the New Routemaster design I commissioned from Alan Ponsford, owner of Capoco, one of the world’s leading bus design companies.
I’d met Ponsford years before and his business card had sat on my desk, managing not to be lost or thrown away. When I called him about making Johnson’s vision real, he knew exactly what needed to be done.
We had one face-to-face meeting at the Institute of Mechanical Engineers to discuss the design, but the basic recipe of an aluminium spaceframe, open rear deck and self-charging electric drivetrain has made it through to the production version.
In December 2007, I took the Capoco drawings to show to Boris at his Mayoral campaign HQ and encouraged him to plough on with his vision.
The drawings also got a run of publicity in the national press over Christmas that year. I even ended up exchanging stiff words on the letters page of The Times with David Brown, head of London’s huge bus operation.
While I’ll hold judgment of final styling (it was handed over to a London design consultancy: an odd move considering the quality of the submissions to the New Bus for London design competition held in late 2008…) the fact is that a four-page feature in Autocar has ultimately resulted in a remarkable final product.
But I’ll have to admit a wry smile when I saw David Brown and Transport for London boss Peter Hendy on TV the other evening, extolling the virtues of the design.
A TFL boss once told me that ‘I’d made his life rather difficult’ by continuing to champion the idea long after the Autocar feature was published.
But surely a bespoke, easy-access, super low pollution bus with a 30-year lifespan is a far better investment than an off-the-shelf bendy, which will be worn out in just five?