Friday, 21 September 2012

Fair or Foul?

Up to 600 LT-class New Buses for London will enter service on and before 2016, according to TfL’s announcement yesterday. The departure from the norm regarding this batch of buses, though, is that they will be owned by TfL (as is the vehicle design itself, of course). To date, the preferred acquisition method has been leasing. What the change indicates, to me at any rate, is that the NB4L is not anticipated to move beyond London at the end of its projected 14-year London life (not that we ever expected it to). Given the unusual nature of the bus, there’s no way that operators wish to get caught out as they did with leased artics.

If you think that the LT-class looks like no other double deck currently available, take a look at this vehicle, one of two Slovakian Troliga Sirius prototypes. No, it’s not a knock-off Chinese product but it nevertheless bears an uncanny resemblance to the joint winner of the mayor’s original design competition back in 2008, the RMXL. Whereas the Capoco design looked good with the smoothed lines of the drawing board (or CAD software, these days), it doesn’t seem to have translated well in the flesh.
Indeed, the Sirius’s front elevation, with its reversed racked windscreen, appears to resemble an upturned milk bottle. The upper deck front window and surround looks like it’s at the wrong end of the bus. Perhaps the dark blue does it no favours. Were Disney to produce a parody of its animated film “Cars” called “Buses” then perhaps the Sirius would take centre stage.

Said the neighbouring Czech site Buspress.cz,
”Similar buses operate successfully in London and other European cities, but also in many places in Asia, both in normal operation and on scenic routes”
Capoco produced the second joint winner, which is a modification of an earlier design for Autocar

The RMXL design that came joint first in the 2008 mayoral competition

36 comments:

Anonymous said...

not the only bus that looks good on paper but not in the flesh!

Anonymous said...

I must admit I'd always (from the first suggestion-cum-design competition) assumed that the NFBLs would be owned by TfL. It really does make no sense whatsoever for a purpose-designed bus for London (if London really needs such a thing) not to spend its entire life in London. No reason they can't be refurbished half-way through.

Of course, it's not the first time that buses have been rented out by TfL and its predecessors - the heritage RMs are, and the CityPacers were, IIRC - and assuming a NFBL comes with a price disadvantage compared to a B5LH/E40H/2DL then this really was always the only way forward. The difficulty in operators not procuring the vehicles though is that it removes at a stroke one of the levers available to operators to differentiate their bids from one another.

Anonymous said...

The whole thing is a huge vanity project - what makes London any different from Manchester, Birmingham or any other large conurbation. Complete waste of money.

Anonymous said...

This raises all sorts of interesting questions regarding the 'London way' of running buses. I'm sure readers can think of several others,but the fact this will deny other bus builders the chance to sell or lease 600 of their designs to London is just one.Nice little monoploy to be looked into perhaps ! If the policy continues,it marks the end of new buses used new in London and then cascaded elsewhere.

It looks like tendering for the routes run by these NBFLs will just become a battle of staff costs.That already results in long serving staff,and the highest earning ones often by several thousands of pounds per annum,being allocated to routes which are likely to be lost on tender,so that the overall wage bill is reduced for that operator.

Let the Dutch auction begin.

Anonymous said...

And they appeared to have birriwed the livery from The Delaine!

Anonymous said...

"And they appeared to have birriwed the livery from The Delaine!"

or 1972 Midland General!

Anonymous said...

"It looks like tendering for the routes run by these NBFLs will just become a battle of staff costs."

I would expect staff to TUPE so with the buses owned by TfL and no control over (direct) staff costs, what's the point?

Anonymous said...

Some interesting thoughts Anon 08:28, however I don't really see why buses starting life in London *should* then get cascaded elsewhere. I know a lot of the rationale is accounting-based but there's other ways of achieving similar results as Stagecoach proving by using Manchester in a similar way during the period they were out of London.

As for the building monopoly, my understanding was that as TfL owns the design, the building of the vehicles could be done by other manufacturers not just Wrightbus, however Wrightbus obviously has a huge headstart in doing this and technically the vehicle is a Wrightbus - and is taxed as such - but none of this has to be insurmountable going forward. TfL would have to be open in offering the build contracts across the manufacturers but whether Wrightbus' experience to date gives them a major advantage in tendering or not would be an interesting point.

On the other hand, there is limited manufacturing capacity in the UK, so if Wrightbus is tied up building 600 NFBLs, then their existing customers will undoubtedly start to look elsewhere if Wrightbus can't supply within suitable timeframes. I guess it'll be Volvo who suffers as the only other bodywork offered currently is MCV unless anyone can state otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Thats 600 pricey deckers the operators won't have to buy in the run up to PSVAR regulations coming in- expect a glass to be raised at any major operator HQ that is strapped for cash!

Anonymous said...

Some answers might be found here
http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/corporate/Part-1-Item08-New-Bus-for-London-Rollout.pdf

Yorkshireman said...

So will these be the same, with open rear platform, or a more sensible 2-door version?

Anonymous said...

Yorkshireman - they'll be the same.

Anonymous said...

Alot of Ex London buses can be used in the rest of the uk, but no one wants to spend the money making the changes to make them more useful, IE moving seats, taking out the second door etc. I dare say there could get another 10 years out of them if there are looked after a bit more.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone mentioned yet that Boris' vanity project only does 5.9mpg when a standard diesel E400 does around 7mpg in London? Not seen that in the TfL propaganda?

Anonymous said...

Hopefully Leon might be along to comment on the fuel economy in due course. The figure of 5.9mpg doesn't equate to the impression given elsewhere, least of all here on Leon's own blog:
http://leondaniels.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/not-long-to-go.html

Anonymous said...

Presumably 5.9mpg is the fuel economy if running in pure diesel mode? The true economy would be gallons per mile across the total distance of diesel and electric modes which is, after all, the whole point of the technology.

Anonymous said...

Why do we need to have conductors nowadays, particularly in London where most people use Oyster cards ?

Get rid of that ridiculous rear platform and TfL could save some massive wage costs.

Anonymous said...

Have they sorted out that air chiller that hasn't been working when it gets hot ?

Perhaps they'll have to think about opening windows after all.

Anonymous said...

The two batches of Routemasters used on routes 13 and 19 during the 90's were owned by LT Buses and leased to operators under a peppercorn rent arrangement.

venturer said...

The reason buses started their lives in London, and finished up in the provinces, is simply that with the kind of maximum vehicle age (three years) once being quoted by TfL, any other course of action was impossible.

So to keep London-based buses depreciation costs the right side of "frigging daft" operators adopted an unrealistic straight-line vehicle depreciation in their accounts, and cascaded the buses out to the provinces three or four years later...effectively indirectly leaving the rest of the UK to pick up part of Red Ken's bills...

BusMaster said...

I would be interested to hear more on why contributors think that this procurement is a 'complete waste of money' and what the objections are to the rear platform.

To me it is not a complete waste of money, as vehicles would need to be procured, either as TfL capital expenditure, or through route contracts. At worst therefore it can only be considered a partial waste of money!

Regarding the design, I consider the open platform to be a real customer service benefit - I have boarded and alighted from RMs on countless occasions away from bus stops, generally because it was more convenient for me, the paying customer. Admittedly this benefit comes at a cost, but so do many customer service benefits.

The design is distinctive, perhaps even iconic, and the quality of the materials and design makes the upper deck a pleasure to travel on. My experience of the limited ventilation on the lower deck is however less positive...

In a world where customers can buy modern, but retro Minis, Fiat 500s and VW Beetles, surely the bus industry is missing a trick not to emulate this? Perhaps the bus industry is still too 'plain vanilla' and generally lacks the imagination and flair to move in that direction. It certainly doesn't seem to lack the funds, judging by the high-spec, if boringly functional, vehicles being procured by Stagecoach (Gold) etc.

Anonymous said...

Not all of us do, BusMaster. Some of us like it, rear platform and all :-)

plcd1 said...

@ Busmaster - the problem with the NB4L is that it is a "solution" to a problem that no one has defined. Why is it needed? What is so wrong with existing buses on TfL routes that requires a custom made bus? Operators are perfectly capable of procuring compliant vehicles to run under the contracts that TfL define. You mention the open platform - have you tried to board or alight from a NB4L? IME you get scowled at if you board away from a stop and are prevented from standing on the rear platform or from getting off between stops. Nothing like a RM. This is presumably to reduce the risk of accidents but, if so, what is the point of a facility you are not really allowed to use?

TfL has recently been accepting more bids with second hand buses or with buses being refurbished for longer terms of use. Now that's not necessarily a bad thing but is indicative of underlying cost pressures and the need to achieve budget cuts due to HMG and Mayoral demands for £ billions of cuts to TfL's finances. How, in that context, can TfL really justify spending so much money on the NB4L? Clearly the Mayor does not see the paradox as he set out the policy that TfL must deliver.

There is no dedicated funding yet for these buses. TfL is now reviewing the business plan to find the huge sums needed for these buses. Who knows what is being cut or trashed to find the money for this "solution without a problem"?

London's bus users need more services and more capacity to cater for the burgeoning demand. However deicated funding for this went years ago and we may now be looking at service cuts in order to fund this bus. The only way a service is improved is if another one is cut back to keep the budget impact neutral.

Fares may also be under pressure - we will see soon enough whether the Mayor has managed to "bare down" on fare levels or not. You then start the traditional "spiral of decline" which is the last thing London needs. If the Mayor really has £160m of capital monies and up to £40m per annum in opex to splurge on the bus network then there are far better uses for the money. The NB4L has some nice features but it is a long way from perfection.

Steve said...

Nonsense. Given that contracts are minimum 5 years how do you come up with 3 or 4 years life in London? Also, the most common method of ownership for London operators had been leasing for quite a few years, so depreciation doesn't come into it. And quite what Red Ken has to do with it all I've no idea.

Anonymous said...

London always makes out that it's some sort of special case. It isn't.

There's plenty of standard buses readily available for London - plus they don't have a silly open platform that needs a full member of staff to supervise.

Is there nobody who can stop this ridiculous waste of money on 1200+ wages ?

Saxhleel said...

I would hazard a guess that Singapore or Hong Kong have far busier and far more arduous conditions than London. They don't need a special bus/vanity project, so why does London?

Anonymous said...

Well said Steve. Not certain where Venturer got that from but Arriva certainly have T and V reg deckers still working.

As has been noted, some people lease though Stagecoach, Arriva and First tend to buy. What Stagecoach did (and later used Manchester to do the same) was to cascade after 3 years. This brought nearly new vehicles to the provinces (!) without having large NBVs. Nothing to do with London contracts

plcd1 said...

@ Saxheel - it's true that HK and Singapore do not have a vanity bus. However HK is slightly unusual, relative to the UK, in terms of the volume of tri-axle high capacity double deckers. They do have the patronage levels to warrant them though. Singapore is also a bit odd, IMO, in having quite so many single deckers with relatively few seats given the increasing usage levels. They are, though, going through a big expansion programme with more double deckers due. SBS Transit have dabbled with new drive trains on a couple of experimental single decks.

It will, though, be interesting to see how or if HK moves towards hybrid deckers given the worsening pollution problem and growing environmental awareness. Would Wrightbus build a single staircase, dual door NB4L for Hong Kong evaluation? Could it provide full air conditioning? I'm sure ADL will supply whatever hybrid E400 or E500 the HK operators might want.

Mikey C said...

It seems sensible for TfL to own these buses, which clearly won't be cascaded on in the same ways that standard buses will be, but then this is a recent concept, Ms and Ts, for example, served 20 years in London. And there's plenty of other vehicles that the provinces can pick up, with the vast size of the bus fleet in London.

In practice, very few London routes change operator anyway, especially the flagship central London routes, as usually garage location is a massive factor, the 24 is one of the few exceptions. Companies can stil tender, but based on operating the TfL fleet rather than their own, which seems easy enough.

I don't understand why a capital City that spends billions on new Underground lines and Crossrail, should expect to only buy buses 'off the peg' when the cost is fraction of a small tube line extension?

Anonymous said...

Surely the question should be why doesn't London simply buy 'off the peg' when there are totally suitable buses already available ?

The 'extras' on the new bus are largely just Boris being silly.

Anonymous said...

I'll probably get shouted down and called all sorts for saying this,but given the loadings and huge revenues that most,but not all,London routes must generate,just why does it cost TfL so much to support them?

If you can't make money with a bus monopoly in one of the world's major cities,something smells a bit off.

If NBFL costs end up reducing or removing services on other parts of the network,perhaps operators should be allowed to pick these up outside of the regulated system...after all,to cut a route because of your ill-funded project should not deny passengers a service.

Surely I'm missing something?

RC169 said...

Anonymous said...

"Surely I'm missing something?"

If buses run very slowly, then the cost per mile rises, because most of the costs of bus operation are time-related - i.e. the staff. Wages are probably generally higher in London, so this combination of factors explains some of the difference in costs compared to other parts of the UK. However, as the time related costs are significant, this does mean that the cost of the buses themselves is a minor factor, and if the NBfL has better fuel consumption than current models, there should be some savings there. It therefore seems extremely unlikely that other services would be reduced because of the use of the NBfL - that argument seems so far-fetched that it can only be politically motivated.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that, with its open platform, the NB4L will require a second crew member on board, adding significantly to the cost of operation. Thus money which could be spent on improving services (or maintaining existing service levels) is spent instead on this nice new bus. It might be "nice to have" but is it a necessity? Don't forget too that the NB4L is heavier than contemporary double-deckers. Therefore, to comply with vehicle weight limits, its capacity is lower (just 77 passengers, including standees). So unless the production vehicles can achieve weight savings compared to the prototypes, London will end up paying more for less. Is that really so far-fetched?

Anonymous said...

Leon Daniels has said on one of the Yahoo Groups that the production NFBL will be lighter than the prototypes as "many of the materials used on NBfL will be exchanged for lighter equivalents. They were for one reason or another not available except in volume which the production run of LTs will create"

On his blog he's also said that the price per bus will be "broadly comparable with modern hybrid buses".

RC169 said...

Anonymous said...

"Don't forget that, with its open platform, the NB4L will require a second crew member on board, adding significantly to the cost of operation."

As I understand it, the "open" rear platform is a feature that can be closed, when the bus can be operated as a conventional OPO vehicle. I too am sceptical about the value of an open rear platform, but it seems to have been requested. I doubt very much that the facility to board or alight between stops will attract so many more passengers to cover the additional costs incurred, but some things have to be tested to ascertain their worth.

Logically, if the use of the open rear platforms proves not to be worthwhile, then the buses will probably run with the rear doors closed, and ultimately, the design could be modified.

Mikey C said...

RC69
The rear platform isn't about attracting passengers (it's not as buses are competing against other operators), but rather providing them with a facility that many want to use. A whole generation of Londoners are still used to jumping off buses between stops, it'll be great to do this again in Oxford Street for a start!