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Bye, Bye, Bendy Bus. Bye, Bye

July 26, 2009

Much had been made of Boris Johnson’s aim to rid London of the bendy buses as one of his election promises when he campaigned for Mayor in 2008. He finally started the process on the 24th July by removing the number 507 bendy covering the route from Waterloo to Victoria, to be replaced by single-deck buses, apparently. Why not the double-decker? Surely replacing the bendy with single-deckers will be a bigger nightmare incurring additional cost in buses, drivers and more passenger misery as we fight to get on. As much as I want these buses to go I’d also like some common sense employed with regard to this, otherwise it becomes another piece of political vanity that will cost us all dear.

I am among the number of Londoners who are happy to say goodbye to this particular pain in the neck. I can tell you as a humble user of public transport it has not been a lovely experience to travel on one of these buses. I remember when Ken Livingstone, our previous Mayor, trumpeted these vehicles as a great solution to the travel problems of London back in 2002 because this bus at 18 metres accommodates more people, enables speedier boarding with multiple doors and is built for disabled access as well as pushchairs and trolleys. This is all good and I’m all for it. Unfortunately, as usual, the ideal is as far away from the reality as the chances of seeing a Unicorn, getting a date with Pamela Anderson or winning the lottery. There were hiccups with a couple of the buses catching fire in the beginning of the roll out but that was quickly rectified and there has not been even a whiff of smoke since. That’s the only very important benefit there is.

My first experience of the bendy bus was when I found my more than adequate local double-decker vehicle replaced by these giant slinkys. I got on and found myself nose to armpit all the way to Oxford Circus in the hot sun with very little ventilation. There didn’t seem to be enough seats, some of them were facing backwards in a laudable attempt to engender community but didn’t work, as people were uncomfortable at being so close because it’s London after all and when I eventually got off I was exhausted. I felt like I had just travelled in a cattle truck. I swore blind it would be too soon before I got on another one. But then they started replacing some of my favourite routes, including the 73. At that point it was still a Routemaster, but it was soon to go and so it became my destiny to travel by cattle truck and mirror my experience of the tube on terra firma. One of the pleasures of a bus is to have a large choice of seats so you can settle down to watch the world, particularly if you sit upstairs which I often do. This small pleasure was denied me once the bendys were in place. I was that set against it that for the first few months I would make mooing or bleating noises every time I had to get on one. The other thing that properly hacked me off was the amount of people getting on with no intention of paying. It became known as the free bus and TFL lost a lot of money, which then translated to higher fares for those of us who did pay, at well above inflation rate. Indeed, on Friday evening I was listening to Petrie Hosken on LBC and she read an email from a listener who only ever used the bendy bus when on holiday here, as they didn’t have to pay. This person estimated they had saved hundreds of pounds. That’s right darling, you did, ‘cos I picked up the tab. I understand the bendys have caused difficulties for drivers and cyclists too and I’m sure those groups will have a rant about it somewhere in cyberspace.

I don’t know how this is going to pan out but I do hope that something good comes out of it. This really needs to work as it could make a more pleasant travelling experience for us all and although I know I’m chasing rainbows, maybe it’ll be cheaper too.

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