The Mayor officially unveiled the New Bus for London on the streets of the capital this morning. We went down to Trafalgar Square to take a look.
The first impressions are good: this is a gorgeous vehicle. Whether you think this is a symbol of 21st-century travel or are convinced that it's a costly vanity project, the finished product is a beautiful thing to behold. Not since the Routemaster has London seen a bus that looks like it's been so lovingly designed. The influence of Thomas Heatherwick's studio, who worked on the project, is clear: the flowing forms of the exterior are matched inside, and every detail, from the recessed lights to the 'stop' buttons, are clearly the product of a heightened aesthetic sense. A hybrid vehicle, the bus is also being described as 'the most environmentally friendly of its kind', and in tests emitted 640 g/km of CO2 and 3.96 g/km of nitrogen oxide, around half of what a diesel bus pumps out.
The comparisons with Routemaster extend to the cork and rubber flooring, which is the same used in the older bus, and most notably at the rear, with its open platform. There are three doors in total on the bus; the one in the centre allows people in wheelchairs to board, while the back will, for the most part, be a hop-on, hop-off door, with an Oyster card reader at the bottom of the stairs. The rear platform will be kept open whilst a conductor is working on the bus, which should cover it for most of the operating hours; however, in late evenings, when no conductor is on board, the central and rear doors will be for exit only. There is also a staircase in the middle of the bus.
One thing to note is that, unlike most of the capital's buses, the windows cannot be opened, meaning it will rely on the air conditioning system for ventilation. All very well and good, but it might become unpleasant on a hot summer's day.
The bus will be tested over the coming weeks and is due to be put into passenger service on 20th February on the 38 route, a service that has been operated by Routemasters and bendy buses over the years. Transport for London have so far bought eight of the vehicles, and by the summer all should be running on the 38, the peak vehicle requirement (PVR) for which is 70, so the New Bus will make up a little over 10% of the buses on that route.
TfL has spent £10m for the eight buses, or £1.6m each, including research and development; building further vehicles will be significantly cheaper. This hasn't stopped Labour dismissing it as mayoral vanity project. If it is, then at least it's a good looking one.
The one thing it's missing at the moment, of course, is a nickname: 'New Bus for London' isn't particularly snappy. Suggestions welcome in the comments.