Friday, 20 November 2009

The Benefits of Bendies

The gradual scrapping of London’s bendy buses is becoming less & less remarkable and newsworthy. So why is it that the media continue to bang on about it so much?

This time last week, the third route, no. 38, saw the last of its Citaro bendies, converted the day after to standard TfL double deck operation. Whether you think replacing 47 articulated Mercedes Citaros with 68 double deck VDL or ADLs makes sense depends upon your viewpoint. If that’s what Londoners really want and they can pay for it, so be it. And pay they will. Media estimates put the additional cost of replacing all three London bendy routes to date at £3.3mil p.a. That’s not counting the cost of any extra emissions.

In theory, there’s a lot going for the bendy bus:

  • Most seats are accessible

  • Passengers travel on the same level as the driver, reducing anti-social behaviour associated with upper decks

  • Artics can soak up peak loads efficiently

  • Passengers need not climb to the upper deck to find most seating. Bendies typically seat 49-56 on one level. TfL double decks seat 22-26 down stairs

  • There’s more space for buggies and wheelchairs

  • Passengers are not throttled between the entrance & staircase and can move around easier

  • There are more opportunities to get out in an emergency

  • The buses are nominally as manoeuvrable as or more so than a 12m rigid

  • They are successfully in operation in congested European cities that are no less constrained when compared to England
It’s understandable, in spite of these positive points, that operators have reservations. There are bus station and other infrastructural implications concerning bendies. There are garage and maintenance space issues to consider. They take roadspace. And then there is the threat of fares evasion where Oysters don’t exist, something that cannot easily be solved, even with one-way gates at the rear doors. And dare we mention passenger and the public’s perceptions, not always good, something demonstrated more perhaps in York than anywhere, following the introduction of the FTR Streetcar. There appear particular hang-ups regarding cyclists, although Mayor Johnson has had to concede there’ve been no deaths as first believed.

London’s decisions to abandon (all but one of?) its artic routes leaves a surfeit of bendies that may yet prove useful elsewhere. Interest to date hasn’t been especially strong but if the rumours circulating are true as to where some might emerge, there are some more surprises ahead, at least at the demonstration stage. In spite of the benefits, we still can’t see artics taking off outside London, even if double decks remain in long-term provincial decline. Or, rather, it would take a brave person to forecast the popularity of the bendy, even at its early 21st century peak.

TfL 38 runs to a remarkable timetable. Buses operate at 2-minute intervals at peak (every minute from Hackney Central 0659-0713 except 0707); from 0848 every three minutes; then 3-4 minutes off-peak. Evening buses are 10-12 per hour.


Anonymous said...

None of Boris's voters were told how much bendy-replacement would cost them - he clearly didn't have a clue himself anyway. If he had admitted the costs they may not have voted for him.
Boris is just pursuing this for his own personal (cycling) agenda.

Anonymous said...

Thank God - well rid of the damn things, and the quicker the better.

Anonymous said...

When Boeing 747s arrived in 1968 airlines and airports required a major rethink as to how to operate. This evolved over time and for many years a jumbo jet was the norm on busy routes.

Bendy buses have been around for many years although this country has never embraced them. The Autobus Imperiale has always been our preference. When they were introduced into London I don't think there was a sufficient culture change amongst those who look after streets and so the question of how bendy buses would become an integral part of London's transport system was not, unfortunately, properly thought through.

There are obviously those who have a dislike of bendys, witness Anonymous@0801, but I notice that they invariably use emotive language without explaining clearly what their dislike really is. Changing policies based on perception rather than fact is a very dangerous thing, yet it would seem that this is what has happenend here.

Perkins said...

"Changing policies based on perception rather than fact is a very dangerous thing, yet it would seem that this is what has happened here."

Alas Anonymous of 0829 this happens in just about every walk of life..........

Sadly, I have to say farewell to the bendies. I hope they find homes somewhere other than a Scandinavian airport [to quote Boris] soon.

They were brilliant at what they were supposed to do. Double decks especially without open rear platforms (!) don't work on stop-start routes with high volumes. And you just get mobile phones pumping out music upstairs (as Busing found on the 11C in Brum).

Anonymous said...

Your list of bendy advantages make them sound wonderful and perhaps if standing was banned or at least restricted, they would be. Unfortunately crush-loading is too often the norm and whilst, yes, they can "soak up loads efficiently", once full it's impossible to "move around easier" especially if one wishes to disembark. Because their dwell time is a little reduced and I doubt that the driver can see enough throughout the vehicle to spot people trying to get off, there is a genuine concern about missing one's stop. Of course, when these things are full the effect is rather unpleasant, more like a crowded tube train than a bus, at least with a double-decker one can usually escape upstairs especially welcome on a longer journey.

As for finding new homes, I'm not convinced, First seems to find enough problems provincially finding suitable places to run the ones it already has (without the ftr fiasco), witness Southampton.

dgs1969 said...

mmm...a destination for bendy buses, how about Top Gear, the caravan treatment would be most satisfying.

When you alight from a sweaty tube, having had someones minjy armpit in your face for twenty minutes the last thing you want is to repeat the experience on one of these road swallowing continental slugs.

Bendy buses...Foxtrot oscar

Metroman said...

I think that the main problem with artics is that people in Britain expect to sit down on the bus.

There is a good case for retaining the artics on Red Arrow. However on routes like the 38 and 73 there are enough people travelling for over 15 minutes on the bus, that seating capacity in more important than total capacity.

I always look at capacity as being seating capacity. Standing room was there for unexpectedly busy times when there may be disruption etc. There has been a subtle shift towards quoting total capacity, suggesting that some operators think that people are happy to stand. My view has always been that passengers should expect a seat but that there may be occasions when passengers have to stand.

dgs1969 said...

I think you nailed that one Metroman, I think you are spot on there.

Anonymous said...

I have artic coaches going through my town on a daily basis and they aren't exactly the safest things on the road (especially for cyclists).

Anyway due to the increased length they have more blind spots. As I heard somebody saying once "they may be 18m long but try telling the driver that".

RC169 said...

Earlier comments have referred to the occasionally 'emotional' responses about artics - I'll try to avoid that!

I think this is one area where the UK and mainland Europe differ, in a couple of respects. One, of course, is the physical overhead clearance, which is generally greater in the UK and therefore allows the operation of double deckers, whereas in much of mainland Europe, a vehicle over 4m high would be a major problem. Admittedly low floor technology allows a double decker within that limit (and has done for about 50 years!), but it would have involved separate designs, which probably would not have been cost effective for manufacturers.

Secondly, the attitude of passengers - in the UK they do like to have a seat, while this seems to be less important in mainland Europe. As a comment yesterday mentioned, buses are often seen only as feeders to rail-based systems in countries like Germany, journeys are often short so that standing is more acceptable.

Britain does therefore have the infrastructure to accomodate double deckers, and that includes garage space. Not to make use of that space for two decks is inefficient, particularly in places like London where land is at a premium. Other factors which mitigate against artics are the additional weight - leading to greater fuel consumption, plus the additional equipment which inevitably requires maintenance - the extra axle and the turntable mechanism.

I accept that the extra costs incurred could be offset by the additional capacity, but I do question how often artics really load to their full capacity. The full capacity would be reached with about 80 standing, and whilst that may not be quite as dense as the 4 per square metre that I understand is allowed, it would certainly be 'well packed in'. Certainly not very inviting, in case the operator was trying to tempt people out of their cars onto the buses!

So despite the way in which TfL are replacing the artics, I suspect that a 1 for 1 replacement would, in most cases, be adequate, in which case the cost argument would favour double deckers. I do accept, however, that there are some situations where an artic may be ideal - the Red Arrow services would seem to be a case - where journeys are short, and passengers will accept the discomfort. In that respect, the fact that TfL has chosen to remove artics from a Red Arrow route so early in the programme seems odd, and one wonders if there is a hidden political agenda at play there.

southron said...

Yet in the local paper, (Evening Argus), Roger French at Brighton and Hove, having trialled a Bendy on his University route 25, (admittedly more suitable than most for Bendy operation), is making encouraging noises about taking on some of the ex-London fleet if the price is right...

Stevie D said...

As someone who has lived in and around York for nearly a decade, my main objections to the bendybus are that they are totally unsuited to narrow city streets with tight corners. They may be "nominally" as manoeuvrable as a rigid 12m bus, but in practice they just aren't - drivers baulk completely at gaps and turns that they would take without without pausing for breath in a B7RLE.

A double-decker makes much better use of roadspace, and is more suitable in congested and narrow city centre streets. I'm sure there are places where the main roads are wider and straighter and where bendybuses wouldn't cause anywhere near the level of disruption that they do round here.

Anonymous said...

If you can get a bendy round Southampton Central station South side, you can probably get them to most places.

Tom said...

It is a capacity issue, though - the £3.3m for the first three routes isn't a guess, it's from TfL's own figures, and obviously the double deck replacements are more costly per bus replaceed than the single deck Red Arrows so the higher rate applies to the remaining 9 routes - I estimate a recurring annual cost of £20m.

That cost comes straight out of the shrinking bus subsidy and therefore comes at a cost of reduced capacity somewhere else - all those shiny new E400s and Eclipse 2s could have been making someone's journey better elsewhere in the capital rather than making people pine for the bendies.

Crush loading, apparently, is not uncommon on the DD 38 and bunching is worse due the massively increased loading time. Against that, when demand is less than peak they're possibly better, but the question arises as to whether it's best to design your transport system around peak or off-peak use. I'm not sure running the tubes or trains based on working fine off peak would fly, really. You need to compromise.

"Standing room was there for unexpectedly busy times when there may be disruption etc."

Not when you're trying to move another 3/4 billion passengers a year it isn't - the system is *expectedly* busy now, for quite long periods. In the end, of course, it comes down to whether you're happy for the bus network to contract, which is the clear intention of Boris's policies - he doesn't actually like buses despite all the PR.

"more like a crowded tube train than a bus,"

Yes, that's the point. They make sense if you realise that adding capacity to the rail and tram networks takes a lot of time and money, while the demand is here now. I'd happily replace them all with trams and DLR-type systems, but where's the vision, cash and backing for that these days?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the person currently operating as Mayor might be replaced by two or more conventional individuals come the next tendering exercise, or election, as it is called. He obviously has too little capacity.