No Conductors For You! ‘Wheels Coming Off’ Boris Johnson’s New Routemaster Strategy!

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Until recently, perhaps the most bewildering thing about Boris Johnson – aside from the curiously benign disposition afforded to him by many of the UK’s major media outlets – was that he has twice been elected mayor of the largest city in Western Europe. This is not to say that his two victories (2008, 2012) were unmerited; more that it is difficult to recall a single original policy which characterises his time in tenure, and which therefore would have secured him an eight-year stint running London. (Many successes attributed to him, such as the rehabilitation of the London Overground, were designed and commenced by his predecessor, Ken Livingstone.)

However, this state of affairs has been surpassed by Johnson’s strange decision not to make the most of what is arguably his one Big Idea: the NB4L or ‘New Routemaster’. A genuinely splendid addition to London’s streets since its gradual rollout began in Q1 2012, the finalised NB4L is now running on no less than five routes, and is fast becoming an icon of the city: with its open-entry rear platform, affable conductors and graceful posterior, it draws admiring glances and friendly questions almost everywhere it goes.

But in February 2014 the new, Johnson-commissioned bus was introduced on route 148, with one proviso – no conductor was to be present. The official reason given by Transport for London (‘TfL’) was merely that ‘Central London’ would ‘always be the focus’ for the NB4L. For the following reasons, this is a response which is anything but satisfactory:

  1. Geography Lessons. Route 148 does in fact go through large areas of what is classified as ‘Central London’, including Notting Hill, Hyde Park Corner and Westminster Cathedral/Victoria Station. But unlike the other routes which have been fully converted to NB4L operation, the 148 also goes through some genuinely shabby areas which have not yet been gentrified to hell and back: Shepherd’s Bush, White City, Lambeth and Denmark Hill.
  2. Social Exclusion. The poorer areas served by Route 148 are also some of the most obviously multicultural in the capital, with significant communities of African and Afro-Caribbean Londoners. Not allocating this route conductors could therefore be seen as doubly invidious, reinforcing the image of London as a city exclusively for those with the ‘right’ kind of bank balance and skin tone.
  3. A Flawed Plan. The absence of conductors on the 148 merely serves to highlight some of the other illogicalities of the NB4L – not the bus itself, but the way it is being operated. Even on the routes with conductors, these personnel – who are pointedly absent at night – do not actually work the bus like the conductors of old, meaning that fare evasion is still possible: our Creative Director & CSO witnessed the absurd spectacle of a ticket inspector asking for passengers to show their passes while a bus conductor was already on board, but not authorised to go on the upper deck and do exactly the same task.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “No Conductors For You! ‘Wheels Coming Off’ Boris Johnson’s New Routemaster Strategy!

  1. Well the conductors for the New Routemasters is limited because the rear back is designed with a door for a more flexible service. But overall Transport For London haven’t got enough money in their budget to fund conductors, so the main routes like 24, 11 and 390 have conductors.

    When the New Routemaster prototypes rolled out in 2012, the 2nd crew member is actually a driver taking turns on driving and conducting the bus.
    But right now the 38 have no conductors, but they will soon come back when they phase more New Routemasters into route 38. I am not sure about route 10 which is due to be converted on 26th April will have conductors or not. But I definitely know the route 8 which converts on 28th June will not have any conductors.

    But most of the conductors tend to be students because they study, improve skills with customer service and earn some money so they can fund it towards their tuition costs.

    But when Cashless comes to London buses, there would be no need for conductors because people would be using their Oyster/Contactless Bank cards to validate their fare. Smart card system makes the conductors obsolete.

    But what makes it cheap, TFL hiring more revenue inspectors to ensure people validated their fare on open boarding buses then it is to hire conductors.

    You may be interested to see the role of the conductor which is different to the ones on the Heritage Routemaster routes.
    http://imgur.com/r2biRZw

    Lastly, its down to TFL and London Buses to decide whenever the routes converted to New Routemaster have conductors or not. There are open boarding services on route 507 and 521 which used to be a bendy bus route, but the bus type is based from the Bendy bus but it have no seats on one section of the bus which can load more people than a double decker bus.

    • Thanks for the comment, Bus & LU Optimist (@FreeBBC)! We would note that buses without conductors in London have been simply inadequate: far too slow and rife with fare evasion. The Big Reason why the bendy buses were phased out is that they were effectively free buses. Conductors are a major disincentive against abuse of the public transporation system.

      • No problems,
        Well there are many people that treats it as a normal bus by entering by the front door and touch in by the driver, I find that alright because its usually the manner the passengers got as they board the bus.

        But my mate filmed someone asking the NRM driver for a free ride at night. http://youtu.be/glrWnDYKtJ8
        But its filmed when the NRM’s recently rolled out onto route 24.

        I have witnessed drivers giving passengers free rides on buses in suburban areas, I witnessed one driver when a passenger puts her change onto the tray, the driver asks where she’s going and she’s only going for a short distance down the route and the driver gives back the change and tell her to move down. I also had cases where the oyster reader is not working and the driver waves me through into the bus because the Oyster reader is not working.

        Here’s another video with the conductor http://youtu.be/OSwFDl9IY2o
        it’s from 2012 where a passenger jumps on by the back and then he walks up the stairs and the conductor says “your oyster” to the passenger so he stops and apologises and touches in.

        But with open boarding buses, it’s usually down to the passenger to validate their fare when they are on the bus. But London is not the only city to have a trust system on the public transport, Many European including Eastern Europe have the open boarding trust system because it makes boarding more quick and get people to where they go more quickly. But no need to think of it as a London problem as its usually a worldwide problem. But at least there are announcements on NRM routes announcing “You must touch in with your Oyster or Contactless payment card as soon as you board.” They should also announce “Revenue inspectors operate along the route, please ensure that you validated your fare.” Those kind of announcements would scare passengers to touch in because they don’t want to fork out fines for not touching in.
        The genuine passengers that don’t touch in are the Annual travelcard oyster holders because they paid thousands to have a year travel with the TFL services. I also believe that students with free bus travel don’t need to touch in as well, same goes for Freedom pass holders as well. But there will still be many confused passengers on using the bus but TFL needs to bring out more information as possible on using the bus.

      • That’s pretty much all complete nonsense – with Oyster and the almost total removal of cash fares buses are quick and convenient; you just can’t compare the bus service now to the Routemaster days, because it’s carrying far more people in a much larger city, more efficiently (and why, if RMs were so damn good did bus ridership fall off a cliff during their heyday?). Bendy buses were phased out because of a daft campaign against them founded on lies, dreamt up to push Boris into City Hall, and for no other reason.

        In short: the bus network thrived while Routemasters were phased out and bendy buses introduced (amongst other things), the network expanded and considerable ridership was attracted. In what way is that ‘simply inadequate’?

  2. I question this view that the bus is a triumph; it’s overweight, too long and doesn’t meet the TfL specification written for it (which Boris ignored when spending taxpayers money on 600 of them). It’s also badly designed from the point of view of users – the ‘posterior’ comes at the expense of an upstairs rear window which anyone who regularly uses buses will tell you is useful to see if the bus you’re changing to is behind. Finally it’s expensive to buy compared to its rivals and doesn’t match them on any reasonable grounds for a public transport vehicle, such as fuel economy. It’s notable for being the only hybrid on the market that doesn’t qualify for the Government’s Green Bus Fund, which means no one else is going to buy any.

    The ‘conductor’ is not a conductor, they’re a ‘customer service assistant’ and are employed essentially to stop you falling off the rear platform – they’re not able to sell or check tickets, for instance. They are also not full time on any route, some of which have no crew after 9pm and some after 6pm and most not at weekends at all. In short, TfL have done the bare minimum to allow Boris to pretend to have ‘re-introduced hop on hop off buses’ when what it really is is a 3 door bus that can occasionally run with one door open and a person standing around in it. It’s a con trick, paid for with your money, which as a symbol for Boris’s Mayoralty is basically unbeatable.

    The reason fpr all this deception is the same reason the original Routemaster was phased out: cost. The majority of the cost of running buses is paying crew members, so the larger the ratio of passengers to crew the more efficient it is in terms of subsidy per passenger. A conventional double decker has 87 passengers to one crew, Boris’s leviathan, which cannot legally carry 87 passengers due to being overweight, has about 77-83 passengers to two crew.

    This has been pointed out by anyone who actually knows how buses work since 2008 and TfL must have known the maths doesn’t add up. Since 2010 Osborne’s cuts to TfL’s grant means the bus subsidy has to be cut more every year. This means that any reasonable analysis would have concluded that they were an unaffordable luxury, yet because of Boris the city has had to continue pouring money out. This means the money that should have gone on expanding the bus network to cope with demand has not been spent, and the bus network existing in 2008 is having to cope with the growth since and there are no plans in place for how it’s supposed to cope with the growth Boris is busy encouraging on every spare plot of land.

    It’s not an ‘icon of the city’, it’s a damaging vanity project that is actually causing harm to the bus service that is hugely important to London.

  3. Without entering the conductor debate, I would say that driverless buses cannot be too far away. Coming back to mayoral politics, I would Boris Johnson being mayor twice shows what an abysmal state our politics is in that the public allows such people into office.

  4. Thanks, Wmistudymovie, but my question as to how long “not too far away” actually is remains. I’m 51. I’d be staggered if driverless buses happen in my lifetime.

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