We felt this one coming. When TfL announced in the summer that it was trialling front door boarding-only on the three-door New Routemasters, it was only right to fear the worst.
Now, front door boarding-only is about to become an annoying reality across the network. Coach & Bus Week Magazine reports on a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent to TfL. It suggests that the trials have sharply slashed revenue lost from all those fare-evading weasels who were finding it too easy to slip onboard, unnoticed. 'Early 2020' is given as the date when New Routemasters across London will switch to front door boarding only. (Wheelchair users will still be given access via the middle doors.)
Hold the phone, you might be thinking — all other London buses are front door-only access — so why the brouhaha? For us, at least, the three door access was pretty much the only thing that actually worked on these lumbering beasts (don't get us started on uncomfortable seats, badly-placed handrails, weak air con, lack of eco credentials, it goes on).
The decision involves another sheepish retrofit for a vehicle that's already had to splash out an extra £2m on putting in windows that opened. (As it stands, one button opens all three doors.) It'll be frustrating for all those slightly-geeky commuters who know exactly where to stand at the bus stop, to access their door of preference. We also predict mild chaos — for some time at least — as commuters come to grips with where they can and can't enter/alight and where they can/can't tap in.
You can't really blame TfL for this decision; New Routemasters were haemorrhaging about £3.6m annually through fare evasion, and anything it can easily scrape back to tackle mounting financial troubles is understandable. But the news marks another duff footnote in the legacy of former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who hyped these buses to us in the first place as having hop-on, hop-off platforms, manned by a beaming conductor. All 300 conductors have long since lost their jobs.