It’s been a long and winding route for the New Bus for London project. I commissioned the first proposal in December 2007 and took the drawings to the then-Conservative candidate for London Mayor, Boris Johnson.
Johnson won in May 2008 and set the project in motion – in the face of significant opposition from people who called him mad and the bus a ‘vanity project’. Today, there are just three prototype versions of the finished object running in London at the moment.
Eight of the electrically-driven Wrightbus prototypes have been ordered, with the expectation that between 300 and 600 will arrive over the next four years. However, last Friday night the NB4L came perilously close to being hauled off to the scrap yard. Candidate Ken Livingstone – an avowed opponent of the bus – said if he became London mayor he’d scrap the project, even though Transport for London desperately wanted it, Northern Ireland needed the investment and the development costs of less than £12m had already been spent.
At the stroke of midnight, with over 2 million votes between Livingstone and Johnson, Boris scraped home with a 64,000 majority and the NB4L survived. The following day I was walking up Piccadilly in central London and saw one of the NB4Ls heading towards me. They’re rare enough for me to stop and take a snap, but as I did, the bus stopped right next to me. So I jumped onto the open platform, swiped my Oystercard and, four and half years after the idea of a range-extender, electric, Routemaster was first kicked around in the Autocar office, I was finally travelling on it.