lördag 3 maj 2008

The Last Routemaster

The Last Routemaster, originally uploaded by Boxley.

So the new Mayor, Boris Johnson, wants to get rid of bendybuses and bring back an up-to-date version of the Routemaster, complete with conductor. Excellent idea but he will have his work cut out. The most difficult task will be the accessibility regulations, originating from the EU, which mean that buses must be wheelchair-accessible.

This needs to challenged and derogation sought. It is motivated more by political correctness than a desire to make sure everyone can get about easily and affordably. Apart from anything else, a bus in which people can move about in wheelchairs will be a hazard to other people, for example those who are unsteady on their feet and need plenty of poles and things to hold on to, because grab rails cannot be placed where they are needed. Having had relatives and friends who were confined to wheelchairs, I am aware of the problem but I would certainly not have wanted to take them on any bus. For this, a good special taxi service is needed, using vehicles with proper anchorage points so that the wheelchairs can be held securely. And of course trained drivers.

But making wheelchair spaces on buses means that the vehicles need to be about 3 metres longer than they would otherwise be; a modern bus is about 50% heavier than a Routemaster, and in these days when we are supposed to be using energy more efficiency, this is unacceptable. The bendybus is an unsatisfactory attempt to satisfy the conflicting requirements but it's the rules that need to bend. The concept only works properly as a tram, and if the powers insist, then the money must be found to construct new tramways.

If Johnson manages to secure a victory for commonsense, a further battle will lie ahead in achieving a satisfactory engineering solution. The front-engine rear-entrance bus is, or should be, a simple and robust unit, but whether a manufacturer will actually succeed in producing an adequate design is another matter.

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