Drivers Report Safety Concerns Over Boris Buses

Adam MacLean
By Adam MacLean Last edited 105 months ago

Last Updated 18 September 2015

Drivers Report Safety Concerns Over Boris Buses
Photo by Martin Stitchener from the Londonist Flickr pool

Drivers are reporting major problems with the 'New Routemaster' buses, aka Boris Buses, according to transport journalist Christian Wolmar.

Forty drivers who work on the 24 route — the first to run with Boris Buses — have compiled a dossier of faults, which include:

  • The hybrid batteries are not charging. This puts extra pressure on the small diesel engine which is not designed to power the bus on its own. This is leading to the bus being slow to respond at stops and traffic lights — which in turn affects surrounding traffic. It also, of course, seriously calls into question the bus's green credentials.
  • Drivers say the reason the bus is sluggish to respond is because the engine 'splutters' when the accelerator is engaged. Some drivers are therefore keeping their foot on the accelerator when the handbrake is on — a risky practice.
  • If the bus is on an incline it can roll back when the handbrake is taken off — even if the accelerator is being pressed.
  • Some buses are coming out of gear, which means the bus has to be restarted.
  • If you've ridden on a Boris Bus you also know about the overheating problem — as we demonstrated on the hottest day of this year. The drivers' cab is also reported to be uncomfortably hot in some buses.

The drivers, who fear losing their jobs if identified, say they've reported their concerns to management at Metroline, which operates the 24 route. One driver has apparently been fired for repeatedly refusing to take out the new buses over safety concerns. Another driver said:

"There is going to be an accident and someone will get seriously hurt. We want to stop that and that is why we are talking to [Christian Wolmar]."

Wolmar, who is also running to be Labour's mayoral candidate, is calling for an urgent review of the operation and procurement procedures of the buses. He describes the bus as a "scandal from start to finish", saying each New Routemaster costs nearly 50% more than an ordinary equivalent; the 'customer assistants' necessary for the bus to run with the back door open cost £62,000 a year each; and the claim that it is the "cleanest, greenest bus of its class" is seriously called into question by the failures in the hybrid system.

Leon Daniels, TfL’s managing director of surface transport, said:

"The New Routemaster is the cleanest and greenest bus of its class and we have seen absolutely no safety problems with its hybrid system. Metroline has confirmed that they are not aware of any issues arising from changes between electric and hybrid modes in service and they have had no such problems reported to them by their drivers.

"However, concerns have been raised previously about the performance of the batteries on the earlier vehicles. An improved battery design was introduced on new deliveries and any older ones which fail are repaired or replaced. This has all been done by the manufacturers within the warranty period, at no cost to TfL, or the fare- or tax-payer."

Tom Edwards at BBC London has also heard that there is a pile of batteries sitting in a bus depot that have been removed from some New Routemasters, which are now running solely on diesel.

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