Idiot of the Week?

4:03 pm - October 27th 2008

by Mike Killingworth    

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There’s always plenty of competition for that title, but I’d like to nominate Val Shawcross, Labour GLA Member for Lambeth and Southwark, who is quoted in the Evening Standard as accusing Tory Mayor Boris Johnson of “letting his personal prejudice override any sense of reason”.

What dreadful thing has Bozza done now? Well, he’s decided not merely to replace London’s awful bendy-buses with rear-platform double-deckers with conductors, but to order 800 of the things – enough to operate most of the routes that run through London’s West End, if not all of them.

It’s hard to believe that bus design is a matter on which the “correct position” can be derived from a love of, or a hatred for, an ideological position on more obviously political matters – and the reality is that Londoners want their Routemasters back, or failing that, as near a replica as possible which meets contemporary standards on safety and “greenness” (they’ll almost certainly be “dual-fuel” jobs). Which is what Bozza wants to give us.

You’d think that people would learn from election campaigns, especially ones they lose. Whilst I doubt Ken’s bendy bus policy cost him his job in City Hall, I never once heard anyone – even Ken – claim during the campaign that it was a vote-winner. You’d think the Labour Group on the GLA might even take the opportunity to back Bozza on this one, if only for the kudos of later being able to say that they don’t go in for childish point-scoring.

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Mike is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He does not yet blog anywhere.
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Reader comments

Bendy-buses work; Routemasters don’t; anyone who supports Boris’s scheme is a fucking idiot; this may well include a large proportion of the public; kudos to Labour for supporting the right option rather than the popular one…

2. Luis Enrique

I can’t understand why more Londoners don’t like bendy buses – can I be the only one that likes being able to use three entrances? and not having to climb stairs.

John Band, please show your working.

Bendy Buses work…at killing people. [/facetious]

I hate bendy buses but I would probably prefer a cheaper option of replacing them slowly. Unless Boris is selling them on at a reasonable price, I would be concerned about the cost implications of replacing the fleet so soon after “upgrading” them.

Bendy buses don’t kill people. They do, however, transport a lot of people very effectively, meet safety guidelines, and already exist (which is relevant both because of the cost and the environmental impact of junking hundreds of nearly-new buses).

7. Mike Killingworth

I think the first British city to have bendy-buses was Sheffield in the 1980s. Dunno if they still use them. Frankly, JB, your line is that dreary “Whitehall knows best” which is simply poor politics.

Can anyone share a credible study with the rest of us on dangers of bendy-buses?

john, Cycling fatalities in London run at about one per annum. Given that bendy buses account for a tiny fraction of the total number of miles driven on London’s roads, even a single fatality would render them grossly over-represented in the statistics. This means that – thankfully – there is insufficient data to resolve this matter on the fatality statistics and also that your point about evidence based policy making is flawed.

As a cyclist with the scars to prove it, my own perception is that cycling alongside bendy buses makes me feel more vulnerable that just about anything else.

Safety aside, bendies are slower through heavy traffic than conventional buses – somewhat off-setting the advantages of being able to board through three sets of doors – and even that advantage is gained only because pasengers getting onto current double deckers are required not only to board by a single door but also to pay the driver. If one could get on through both doors of a double decker and touch in once aboard as one can on a bendy bus the embarkation advantage would all but vanish.

There is a minority of routes broad enough and straight enough to make bendies a good option but not many.

People like Routemasters and conductors. If you want a pop at Boris do it on another issue. He abolished the 50% affordable housing target today for God’s sake. (Not that he had a lot of choice mind)

Why not bring back Routemasters or something similar. People like them. Sometimes it’s ok to go with public opinion.

“John Band, please show your working.”

John, do you want to, or can I have that very special pleasure? Andrew Gilligan called me rude names in the Standard today over the bendy jihad, by the way. I feel strangely honoured.

“Cycling fatalities in London run at about one per annum”

In road accidents? Between 15 and 19 annually is about the figure, the biggest single contributor being collisions with goods vehicles. Notably it hasn’t risen significantly since bendies were introduced, despite a huge increase in cycling (91% since 2000). The best thing you can do for cyclists is to give them more dedicated road space, something I thoroughly support and Boris doesn’t, on current behaviour – it means being beastly to the poor motorist, you see.

“People like Routemasters and conductors.”

People also like cheap bus fares, which stops happening when you introduce conductors, since the majority of bus operating costs are in wages. A lot of the problems with the RM/bendy controversy (not least of which is that the two should be seen separately) arise because people are asked if they like the policy without being asked if they’re prepared to pay the price. Indeed, all involved in pushing it run a mile from serious analysis of what it woud cost, which tells you a lot. Boris has gone large on having a value-for-money agenda (and I can’t argue with that, except that he needs teaching that cutting projects with a positive cost/benefit ratio is stupid). This is transparently incompatible with both scrapping bendies and bringing back conductors (who’d have almost nothing to do except watch people touch in, anyway).

This is without mentioning the whole point that the bendy/RM controversy was dreamed up by people with no interest in either liberal policies or efficient public transport, so praising them on LC is a bit daft, really. TfL are trying to make a silk purse out of the plan (seemingly by amalgamating it with existing plans they’ve been working on with bus manufacturers to prime the market in hybrid buses), which is highly laudable, but still a waste of their time.

^ this.

Mike Killingworth

I am fairly sure that First have stopped running the bendy stock, we have lots of nice single operator single and double deckers.

It’s worth reminding Mike that Val Shawcross was elected for the Southwark / Lambeth boroughs – city centre areas which overwhelmingly voted for Ken in the last election, and where public transport is a harsh daily reality rather than something that looks nice on a postcard.

Several of the busiest bendy-bus routes run through this district, and as a frequent passenger myself, I just don’t see how those routes are going to be serviced by any other type of bus without a drop in capacity and a significant increase in standing time at each stop.

So what Val is doing is effectively and strongly putting forward the views of her constituents on a matter which is actually important to them – and this, apparently, makes her an idiot? What a grim, depressing view of politics.

As an aside, it seems to me that there’s little research on whether their passengers have a problem with bendies (or existing double-decker stock), the claims that they’re dangerous to cyclists have been thoroughly debunked, and we’re now looking at spending hundreds of millions of pounds on replacing fairly well bedded in, “bug-fixed” transport solutions with untested vehicles with significantly higher operating costs… And all for what? Because the Routemaster was a “style icon”? And this at a time when we’ve got a deficit in the TfL funding, question marks over Crossrail, and key redevelopment schemes being dropped all over the capital…

I stand corrected on the casualty figures. Don’t quite know how I got such a wrong figure into my head. Wishful thinking perhaps.

There is a role for bendy buses but I still don’t understand why you can’t board throgh both doors of a double decker when you can on a bendy bus.

A question for Mike Killingworth: what do you do when you get a phone call saying “Congratulations, you have won a free Mediterranean cruise” or saying “Congratulations, you have won a free fitted kitchen”? I hope that you treat them with a pinch of salt, because there is almost always a hidden downside. Similarly we should beware of Tories promising to bring back bus conductors and emoting over an “iconic” 40 year old bus. (What would Horace Cutler think?). The downside of Boris’ promises on transport is that they could be very costly, and they’re not going to paid for out of Boris’ own pocket or by the Evening Standard or Policy Exchange. If Ken Livingstone had said that he was going to keep a significant number of Routemasters on the road, Boris and the Standard and Policy Exchange would have been attacking him for “waste” and “vanity projects”.

Val Shawcross has been asking some very good questions which have teased out the weakness of Boris’ policies. It is far from clear how Boris is going to carry out the first tranche of bendy-bus replacement without either cutting the carrying capacity significantly or pushing up costs. Val is my London Assembly member, and I’m normally very critical of her but this time she is on the ball.

There is a lesson here for creating a liberal-left alliance. Its politics have to have some substance. It has to show to the public what the real choices are. It has to get away from offering the public the equivalent of free fitted kitchens. Disillusion with politics is due to the superficiality of what politicians usually offer, and we have to get away from that. Tony Blair made the Labour Party think that invading Iraq would be easy and would let the Labour Party out-manouevre the Tories, and look what that has led to.

18. Mike Killingworth

[15] I am perfectly well aware of which seat Ms S sits for. If the bendy-bus is popular with her constituents – and wisely you offer no evidence that this is so, because there isn’t any – it will be with those who have discovered that it offers free public transport. If a bendy-bus is the only bus you use, it makes sense to fare-dodge, because the penalty fare is £10 and you will almost certainly get more than eleven (ten from the New Year) free rides on it.

This loss of revenue can be off-set against the additional cost of conductors (why no one has pointed out the job creation benefit of the plan I dunno) and in any case I take it none of you approve of fare-dodging.

I notice that Our Ken hasn’t rushed to Ms S’s side on this one. Re-arrange to form a well-known phrase or saying “dead flogging horse a stop”. The shape of buses will not be an issue in the 2012 Mayoral, methinks.

I’m not clear what you’re trying to say here, Mike. On the one hand you seem to be saying that the shape of buses isn’t an important issue and there shouldn’t be an ideologically correct position, but on the other hand you describe bendy buses as “awful” and say that the people of London want their Routemasters back. It was Boris (and his backers) who created this “bendy = bad, Routemaster = good” ideological position, not Val Shawcross. Val is asking questions which should allow us to take decisions based on real data. I don’t think that she’s flogging a dead horse: she’s exposing Boris’ own “politically correct” position.

20. Mike Killingworth

Well, it was “political correctness” that got rid of the Routemasters in the first place. It was thought that rear platform buses were incompatible with EU law. This was subsequently discovered not to be so – or else there was some effective lobbying – because of course we have a “heritage route” using, er, Routemasters.

We do need to re-engine the entire fleet with dual-fuel propulsion as part of Goverment’s “green” strategy, and I’m not sure if the RM profile would allow that (hell, I’m not a bus engineer!).

As to the impact on fares, Ken never argued for bendy-buses – which, as has been pointed out, can only work on a limited number of routes thanks to London’s street pattern – on the grounds that they would keep fares down. (And during the campaign he said he wouldn’t introduce any more of them, so presuambly guano thinks he was wrong, too.)

There’s such a heck of a lot of “transfer pricing” in London’s bus and tube fares – some journeys have always subsidised others and always will – that any attempt to tease out the impact on fares of any single measure is a mug’s game. You can only look at it in the round. Those who are so concerned to cut staff costs will presumably want TfL to introduce driverless tubes ASAP.

Well, it was “political correctness” that got rid of the Routemasters in the first place. It was thought that rear platform buses were incompatible with EU law.

No, it was the fact that they were 45 years old, inaccessible to the disabled, and very expensive to keep in service (the Heritage routes are allowed because they wholly duplicate routes with full disabled access).

This loss of revenue can be off-set against the additional cost of conductors (why no one has pointed out the job creation benefit of the plan I dunno) and in any case I take it none of you approve of fare-dodging

On job creation, I’d rather TfL spent 500 x GBP20k = GBP10m [*] on hiring people to carry out infrastructure work than on doing something completely useless. If London’s transport were so super-amazing that there weren’t a million other more useful things to do with the money, then perhaps there’d be a better argument here.

On fare evasion, this is another BorisMyth (TM). The rates of fare evasion on bendy buses are not significantly different from fare evasion on driver-operated buses.

Also note that total fare evasion across all transport modes in London is GBP70m. Buses account for half of London public transport journeys, and the bendies make up 200 of London’s 8000 buses. Let’s assume they carry 4X as many passengers as the average bus, and so make up 10% of bus journeys – that implies 70 * 1/2 * 10% =GBP3.5m of fare evasion. So even if conductors cut this to zero, which they wouldn’t, it’d be a poor return.

(and while I don’t /approve/ of fare-dodging, I don’t disapprove of it objectively in the way I disapprove of GBH or burglary – I think it’s far better to run a ‘free’ bus system than to spend more on enforcing payment than you’ll get back in extra farebox revenue).

And during the campaign he said he wouldn’t introduce any more of them, so presuambly guano thinks he was wrong, too.

Can’t speak for Guano, but “we have taken the most traffic-heavy routes and bendify them; we’re not going to bendify any more buses for the time being because they don’t have the right load profiles” is perfectly consistent with my position.

Those who are so concerned to cut staff costs will presumably want TfL to introduce driverless tubes ASAP.

Would be good (and could technically be done on the Victoria and Central lines tomorrow), although wouldn’t cut staff costs as you clearly need /someone/ official on the train at any given time.

This isn’t a disagreement over principles – it’s one where there are clear correct answers supported by data, and clear wrong answers supported by nothing, and the Yay Routemasters! Boo Bendies! lobby is just, in factual public transport analysis terms, wrong.

Routemasters may well be good politics, especially among suburbanites who don’t ever actually use buses on corridors like Whitechapel Road or Seven Sisters Road where bendies are the only sensible way of dealing with the demand. They’re sufficiently unimportant in the grand scale of things that if it really improves the Left’s chances to support them, then cynically compromising on this to win other battles might be morally OK. But let’s be clear – if you join the bendy jihad, then you’re doing so either because you’re ill-informed or because you’re cynically playing to the ill-informed public.

[*] 2.5 conductors per bus sounds about right, unless we’re going to go for neo-Victorian shift patterns

22. John Meredith

Thank god for the open platform bus. This is so obviously the best possible design for a London bus. How many teeth have I ground to destruction as I have had to sit and wait for a bus to inch towards the stop ten feet away whil eI got later and later.

“If the bendy-bus is popular with her constituents – and wisely you offer no evidence that this is so, because there isn’t any – it will be with those who have discovered that it offers free public transport.”

You’re quite right in one regard – to the best of my knowledge, there has been no decent study of attitudes to the bendy buses among those who actually use them. The sole evidence of public opinion against them, on the other hand, is the election of a Mayor who campaigned for their removal from the roads – except that, er, he was elected overwhelmingly by those in outer constituencies which are not served by bendy buses.

If this doesn’t constitute evidence of popularity (although frankly, I suspect that Val Shawcross as a very active and accessible local politician is probably rather better placed to know the views of her constituents than you are), it sure as hell doesn’t constitute evidence on which to base an enormous investment at a time when TfL is struggling to meet existing commitments.

Then again, I guess that as a bus user who happens to rather like the bendy vehicles (for reasons already outlined – huge capacity and extremely quick stops), I guess I’m automatically a criminal in your eyes? 🙂 Then again, John’s figures on fare evasion rather give the boot to that particular myth – mostly created, as far as I can gather, by people who don’t actually understand how Oyster works tutting to themselves at all the passengers getting onto bendy buses without touching in. If you have a valid travelcard, as most passengers at busy times do, you’re not actually required to touch in.

24. douglas clark

See you folk. Grrr..

This is a far better solution to your transport problems than bloody Routemasters.

Support something sensible, please?

25. Mike Killingworth

[24] A much needed project, even if no one’s quite worked out how it’s supposed to cross the Euston Road.

“huge capacity and extremely quick stops”

have you ever travelled on a bendy bus? It takes an age to get from one end of Oxford Street to the other even at 2300 when there is very little traffic. They appear to have the acceleration of a snail on mogadon. The timing of the traffic lights mean that no bendy bus can get through 2 sets of lights on green – so unless the sneaky driver does an amber gamble you are stuck at intersection after intersection. When they stop, they stop for so long that you could pop out to Starbucks for a coffee. The amount of time they take to get round Marble Arch is a disgrace – it is better to get off at the previous stop, walk round the corner and hope to catch another bus – the one you were on will not catch you.

“Bendy-buses work; Routemasters don’t; anyone who supports Boris’s scheme is a fucking idiot; this may well include a large proportion of the public; kudos to Labour for supporting the right option rather than the popular one…”

Routemasters worked perfectly well for years. The only place I’ve seen bendy buses work is the US where the average road is the width of the M25. Ken obviously went to Germany/Holland on a jolly and thought “hhhmm they look nice and European, maybe they’ll help London convert to the Cafe culture”. Anyone who thinks that something that size can work on London roads (narrow, bendy, lots of traffic, lots ob one-way, lots of lights, lots of junctions and lots of cyclists) is a fucking idiot in my view.

Yeah, no traffic, narrow roads, one-way streets, junctions or cyclists in the Netherlands.

I didn’y say bendy buses worked in Amsterdam I said they had them. Buses are an inherently socialist concept which I refuse to use anyway.

30. douglas clark

Mike @ 25,

Over it or under it? The Victorians seemed to find solutions to problems like this, why can’t we?

31. Mike Killingworth

[30] More on the cross-river tram here: and here: although I think the latter is a bit out of date.

I think the problem with going under the Euston Road is the existing road underpass and various statutory undertakers’ works being in the way; going overhead raises the issue of how to serve Euston station properly.

“We have a tight comments policy aimed at fostering constructive debate” Does this apply to the original posts? I don’t think that the original posting here encourages constructive debate. Calling Val Shawcross an idiot is hardly constructive. It appears to me that Val has been trying to get sme hard data to help decision-making, so it is a bt far-fetched to say that she is the one who has taken up an ideological position on this issue. The tone of impatience, in the original post, with people who want to bring some hard data to this issue is not what you would expect from Liberal Conspiracy.

33. Andrew Ross

TfL’s figures do show that bendy buses are significantly more dangerous than other forms of bus:

Pedestrian injuries: 5.6 per million miles, compared with 2.6 per million miles for all other buses.
Collisions with cyclists: 2.62 per million miles, compared with 0.97/m for all other buses.
Accidents: 153 per million miles, compared with 87/m for all other buses.

Written answer to Geoff Pope AM, May 07. See

Shawcross’s claim that replacing bendies with double-deckers will cost £300,000 per year per bus has this week been described as “amazingly high” and “naive” by the main industry trade journal, Buses. Tender results on the TfL website show that bendies are in fact more expensive than double-deckers, by around 5%.

Bendies also offer poor passenger service; three of the four least reliable routes in London, according to TfL’s latest quarterly bus route monitoring stats, are operated by bendies. Frequencies have been cut and the number of seats available on some routes has fallen by as much as half after they were converted from double-deck to bendy operation.

I’d say you’d got your characterisation of Ms Shawcross pretty well right.

Hmm, ‘Andrew Ross’, are you kennite in disguise? One comment here, one comment on a Gilligan piece in the Standard, one comment on CiF (as ‘Ross281’), all speaking in much the same voice as the late sockpuppet using very much cut and paste waffle from the various Gilligan-supporting anonymous/pseudonymous comments we’ve recorded in recent years.

Anyway, I hope Mike Killingworth is happy at TfL’s slashing of most worthwhile transport projects today. At least we’ve got the new Routemaster. Prototype. In 2011. If we’re lucky. Clue: TfL under Boris is not the friend of the London public transport user, particularly if they’re poor and have no choice.

35. Mike Killingworth

[34] No, I’m never happy when sensible public transport projects are deferred. But I’m more than used to it.

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  1. Mr Gilligan, I Presume?

    […] Ross, comment, Liberal Conspiracy, 2/11/2008 (left on a frankly bizarre thread started by one Mike Killingworth on the 27th October 2008, the same day as Gilligan’s attack […]

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