The New Routemaster, originally referred to as the New Bus for London and popularly known as the Boris Bus or Borismaster (a portmanteau of the name of the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who drove their introduction, and that of the AEC Routemaster that they were designed to replace) is a hybrid diesel-electric double-decker bus operated in London. Designed by Heatherwick Studio, it is manufactured by Wrightbus, and is notable for featuring a “hop-on hop-off” rear open platform similar to the original Routemaster bus design but updated to meet requirements for modern buses to be fully accessible. The first bus entered service on 27 February 2012.
The original AEC Routemaster was a standard London bus type, with a rear open platform and crewed by both a driver and conductor. It was withdrawn from service (except for two heritage routes) at the end of 2005 by London Mayor Ken Livingstone, in favour of a fully accessible one-person-operated modern fleet, none of which featured a rear open platform. The withdrawal of the Routemaster became an issue of the 2008 London mayoral election, and Johnson was subsequently elected mayor, with one of his campaign pledges being to introduce a new Routemaster. Following an open design competition in 2008, Wrightbus was awarded the contract to build the bus at the end of 2009, and the final design was announced in May 2010.
The design for the new double-decker bus features three doors and two staircases to allow accessible boarding. Unlike the original Routemaster, the new bus has a conventional full front end and a rear platform that can be closed when not needed, rather than the protruding,bonneted ‘half cab’ design and permanently open platform. The layout of the new bus allows it to be operated by one person at off-peak times. The cost of each bus will be £355,000 over the four year procurement period.
The New Routemasters have come under sustained criticism for design faults such as overheating for passengers in summer and emitting more pollution than their predecessors due to unreliable hybrid batteries.
The final design has doors at the front, centre and rear. The front and rear doors lead to staircases to the upper deck. The rear entrance has a platform and pole similar to the original Routemaster, which is kept open for hop-on, hop-off operation when a conductor is on board. Readers for the contactless Oyster card used for payment for transport in London are provided at each of the three boarding points; other types of ticket must be presented to the driver, as the conductor does not take fares or check tickets.
There is a new pattern of moquette for the seating, manufactured by Camira Fabrics. The internal lighting is provided by LED clusters, and there is a climate-controlled ventilation system. There is a system to display text and provide audio announcements via loudspeakers, and T-loop for users of hearing aids; the information typically includes the route number, destination, name of the next stop and that the bus is stopping.
The bus is a hybrid diesel-electric driven by a battery-powered electric motor, charged by a diesel fueled generator and recovering energy during braking by regenerative braking; the diesel engine runs only when the battery needs charging and so the bus has lower pollution and better fuel consumption than the earlier ones in this class did.
Original Routemaster in London
Designed for and largely operated in London, over 2,800 AEC Routemasters were built between 1956 and 1968, with a design so robust that the Routemaster outlasted newer buses intended to replace it, remaining in use until 2005, well into the deregulated era.
From 31 December 2000, it had become mandatory for all new buses delivered in the UK to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, leading to the development of the wheelchair-accessible low-floor bus. Older buses were allowed to remain in London until 23 October 2009 and in the rest of United Kingdom until 22 October 2014. Through the TfL contract renewal process, after 2000, the Routemaster began to be identified as the most common example of a non-wheelchair-accessible bus type used on TfL routes.
The first Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, supported the Routemaster during his first (2000–2004) term, indicating the type would be retained in a limited capacity on contract renewals as before. He also promised to convert the whole London bus fleet to low-floor with an original targeted timeline of 23 October 2009, which then was pushed earlier to 1 January 2006, requiring the withdrawal of the Routemaster from London. Contributory factors to the withdrawal were said to be the risk of litigation over accidents arising from using the rear platform, the cost savings of one-person operation and the fact that passengers preferred the comfort levels of modern buses to the vintage Routemaster. Livingstone said that the Routemasters were too dangerous, with approximately twelve people per year dying after falling from them during his mayoralty. The last examples were withdrawn from regular London passenger service in December 2005.
The Routemaster continued in operation on heritage routes 9 and 15, with the former discontinued in July 2014. The heritage routes, shorter than the full 9 and 15 routes, were awarded as tendered routes by TfL and do not contravene the TfL accessible public transport policy requirement, as frequent wheelchair-accessible buses also operate on these routes.
FRM and XRM
An attempt to design a rear-engined front-entrance version of the Routemaster in 1964/65 led to the construction of the FRM1 (front-entrance Routemaster) in 1966. The prototype shared approximately 60% of its components with a standard Routemaster and was the first integrally-constructed rear-engined double-decker built in Britain. Because of its single door (a serious drawback for a bus of this capacity) and continued mechanical problems associated with its unique design, the FRM was considered a dead end although it provided proof of concept.
In 1968, London Transport went back to the drawing board for another replacement of the Routemaster, with an anticipated introduction date of 1985. The initial result was a four-axle low-floor design that would have been suitable for automatic fare collection. By 1975, the project was well in hand and had been named XRM (Experimental Routemaster). Features of the new design included a side-mounted engine for maximum flexibility in door and seating layout and hydraulic drive to four small-wheeled axles for the lowest possible floor. Experiments in the mid-1970s yielded disappointing results, and in 1978, the XRM morphed into a more-conventional-looking vehicle but with the rear door behind the rear axle. Other proposed features were LPG fuel and hydraulic suspension to lower the floor at stops. XRM design work was cancelled in September 1980, as it was calculated that it would cost £153m to build 2,500 new XRMs but only £13.5m to overhaul 2,700 Routemasters. London Transport had, by then, committed heavily to the Leyland Titan, to which they had significant design input and it was regarded as a more viable option.
A decade later, London Transport once again looked for another replacement. In 1989, designs were solicited from Dennis Bus, Alexander and Northern Counties. Somewhat surprisingly, the style specified was a rear-entrance half-cab layout identical to the original Routemaster, but by now, it was considered obsolete elsewhere in Britain.
In 1999, London Transport received an unsolicited design from its former vehicle engineering manager, Colin Curtis, who had overseen the design of the Routemaster. Dubbed the Q Master, it found little favour within London Transport and by manufacturers that Curtis approached. Transport for London announced that it would look at developing a Routemaster replacement, but the project was confirmed as dead in June 2003.
Initial Capoco proposal
On 3 September 2007 the Conservative mayoral candidate for London, Boris Johnson, announced that he was contemplating introducing a modern-day Routemaster. In December 2007, the UK automotive magazine Autocar commissioned the bus designer Capoco, designer of the innovative Optare Solo, to come up with detailed proposals for a new-generation Routemaster. Their design, dubbed the RMXL, was a hybrid technology low-floor bus with a lightweight aluminium space frame, with four more seats and twice the standing capacity of the old Routemaster, and operated solely by a driver.
The design incorporated disabled access through a closing front door behind the front wheels, while retaining open-platform rear access, with the staircase still at the rear. The hybrid drivetrain had a front-mounted continuous-revving hydrogenised petrol engine; this charged front-mounted batteries, which powered the rear wheels through rear-mounted electric motors. This arrangement, through not requiring a mechanical transmission, allowed for a low floor and a step-free entrance into the lower deck from the rear platform.
Hydrogen storage tanks would be located under the rear staircase. The design was covered by the national press but attracted criticism from Livingstone as being too costly to justify and still not safe, despite proposals to monitor the rear platform with cameras.
New Bus for London competition
|The two joint winners for the “whole bus” detailed design category.|
Johnson backed the Autocar / Capoco design in principle and suggested that he would hold a formal design competition to develop a new Routemaster if he was elected London mayor in May 2008. After winning, on 4 July 2008 Johnson announced the New Bus for London competition.
An initiative of Transport for London, the competition invited anybody, both companies and members of the public, to submit ideas for consideration. The competition had two categories, an Imagine category for general ideas and concepts, and a Design category, for more detailed proposals. In both categories, entries could be either “whole bus” submissions, or proposals for parts of the bus.
The Imagine category called for the submission of imaginative ideas for a red double-decker bus with a rear open platform, and one other entrance/exit with doors. The Design category called for detailed designs of a low floor red double-decker bus with at least one internal staircase, a rear open platform, and one other entrance/exit with doors, to be crewed by a driver and conductor, and suitable for carrying 72 passengers seated and standing. The designs were required to satisfy a table of mandatory and suggested design specifications, and “be practical and economic and capable of being put into mass production”. The competition offered cash prizes for entrants, with £25,000 for the winner, and smaller awards for good ideas.
One initial set of proposals gained media attention after being unveiled during October 2008, for a “smiley bus” known as the H4 (designed by the H4 Group). Future Systems offered a “space age” alternative powered by hydrogen. Foster and Partners submitted a glass-roofed design. The winners were announced on 19 December 2008. There were 225 entries in the Design category, and 475 entries in the Imagine category
The £25,000 prize for winning the whole bus Design category was shared between two entries, one from Capoco Design, a bus, coach and truck design firm, and one from a joint submission made by architects Foster and Partners and automotive company Aston Martin
Tendering process & final design
The winning and other merited entrants in both the Imagine and Design categories for both ‘whole bus’ submission and part submissions were passed by TfL to bus manufacturers, for them to draw up detailed final designs meeting all relevant legislation, and later presented to TfL for consideration on a competitive-tender basis. By April 2009, a formal invitation to express interest in the project was published in the Official Journal of the European Union
In May 2009, six manufacturers were invited to negotiate for the contract to design and build the new bus. They were Alexander Dennis, EvoBus (which includes Mercedes-Benz), Hispano Carrocera, Optare, Scania and Wrightbus, having all met TfL’s criteria for pre-qualification for tendering, which included demonstrating they had a manufacturing capacity of building 600 buses over three years. Volvo declined to enter the bidding process. Transport for London set a deadline of 14 August for the submission of detailed tenders; Scania and Evobus pulled out before this deadline. Scania did not believe they could produce the first prototype in the time stipulated, and Evobus had concerns as they were not at the time manufacturing any double-decker.
On 23 December 2009, Northern Ireland-based vehicle manufacturer Wrightbus was awarded the contract to build the Future Routemaster. The contract called for a bus with a capacity for at least 87 passengers, two staircases, three doors, and a rear platform which could be left open, or closed with a door when there was no conductor on board. The bus would be a hybrid, utilising technology to make it 40% more fuel-efficient than conventional diesel buses, and 15% more than London hybrid buses already in operation, reducing nitrogen oxide emissions by 40% and particulate matter by 33% compared with diesel buses.
On 17 May 2010 the final design was unveiled by Wrightbus, with asymmetric glass swoops as its signature “futuristic” styling feature. Transport for London and Wrightbus worked with Heatherwick Studio to produce the styling for Wrightbus’ final design. As it is an iconic bus for London, TfL has applied to the Intellectual Property Office for Registered Design Protection for the exterior design.
The body has two diagonal glass windows from top to bottom decks, one curving around the rear, the other on the right-hand side towards the front, which provide natural light to the interiors of both staircases. The rear staircase is in the same position as in the original Routemaster, curving around the rear section, while the front staircase is straight, ascending on the right-hand side of the chassis over the driver’s cab, opening out in the front of the upper deck.
The bus is certified to EC Whole Vehicle Type Approval and ECE Regulation 107, according to the manufacturer’s.
The use of three doors and two staircases is not new to London: London Transport evaluated a prototype bus in the 1980s as part of the Alternative Vehicle Evaluation programme: a specially modified Volvo Ailsa B55 with two staircases. These trials were curtailed due to the running-down and eventual closure of London Transport’s bus Engineering Research department.
A static mockup was unveiled at Acton depot on 11 November 2010: the first engineering prototype was driven by Boris Johnson at a public demonstration on 27 May 2011. The first working prototype was unveiled in December 2011 and driven from City Hall to Trafalgar Square. Within days of its unveiling, the first prototype was reported to have broken down on the M1 motorway north of London, but this was due to human error; it had run out of fuel. The first new bus (fleet number LT 2) entered service with Arriva London on 27 February 2012, on route 38. During the 2012 London mayoral election, former Mayor of London and Labour candidate Ken Livingstone said that, if elected, he would buy no more New Buses for London because of the price. However, Boris Johnson won the election and in September 2012 approved the order for 600 of the new buses, with public funding required estimated at about £160 million. The prototypes remain in service on route 38.
All of the first 272 were delivered with Euro 5 engines except for six, which were fitted with trial Euro 6 engines. The remaining deliveries were also expected to receive Euro 6 engines.
In 2014, a further 200 were ordered which will bring the total to 808. This was later cut back to 805. In January 2016, an additional order was placed which will bring the total to 1,000.
In May 2013, LT1 and LT2 were loaned to the UK government to take part in a global trade mission covering 16 countries in four continents over 12 months. In October 2013, LT3 was sent on a demonstration tour to Hong Kong and then to Singapore in February 2014. As at August 2014, LT1 was in store in Abu Dhabi pending a decision on the future of the programme while the other two had returned to England.
In August 2014, LT2 commenced a six-month trial with First West Yorkshire. It was repainted green. In November 2014, Stagecoach Strathtay commenced a three-month trial of a pair of New Routemasters in Dundee. Buses LT312 and LT313 were used daily on the conductor operated route 73 from Arbroath to Ninewells Hospital. The Stagecoach Strathtay trial ended early in mid-December 2014, after the two vehicles proved incapable of running to the timetable and suffered a series of high-profile breakdowns in service.
New Routemasters currently operate on the following routes:
|Route||Operator||Garage||Peak Vehicle Requirement||Introduction Date|
|3||Abellio London||Battersea (QB)||22||8 February 2016|
|8||Stagecoach London||Bow (BW)||30||28 June 2014|
|9||London United||Stamford Brook (V)||22||26 October 2013|
|10||London United||Stamford Brook (V)||23||26 April 2014|
|11||London General||Stockwell (SW)||25||21 September 2013|
|12||London Central||Camberwell (Q)||36||28 March 2015|
|15||Stagecoach London||Bow (BW)||24||28 February 2015|
|16||Metroline||Cricklewood||18||26 September 2015|
|24||Metroline||Holloway (HT)||27||22 June 2013|
|38||Arriva London||Clapton (CT)||59||10 May 2012|
|55||Stagecoach London||Leyton (T)||34||28 February 2015|
|59||Arriva London||Brixton (BN)||26||22 March 2016|
|68||London Central||Camberwell (Q)||24||6 February 2016|
|73||Arriva London||Stamford Hill (SF)||53||14 May 2015|
|88||London General||Stockwell (SW)||24||22 August 2015|
|91||Metroline||Holloway (HT)||21||9 May 2016|
|137||Arriva London||Brixton (BN)||31||2 December 2014|
|148||London United||Shepherd’s Bush (S)||25||15 February 2014|
|149||Arriva London||Tottenham (AR)||38||13 October 2015|
|159||Abellio London||Battersea (QB)||34||12 December 2015|
|168||Metroline||Cricklewood||22||10 December 2015|
|189||Metroline||Cricklewood||20||30 August 2016|
|211||Abellio London||Battersea (QB)||20||4 June 2016|
|390||Metroline||Holloway (HT)||22||7 December 2013|
|453||London General||Mandela Way (MW)||35||18 October 2014|
|N3||Abellio London||Battersea (QB)||13||8 February 2016|
|N8||Stagecoach London||Bow (BW)||21||28 June 2014|
|N11||London General||Stockwell (SW)||7||31 October 2015|
|N38||Arriva London||Clapton (CT)||26||10 May 2014|
|N55||Stagecoach London||Leyton (T)||12||28 February 2015|
|N73||Arriva London||Stamford Hill (SF)||13||14 May 2015|
Other routes scheduled for conversion are Route 76 on 28 January 2017 and 48, EL1, EL2 and EL3, all in February 2017.
When in one-person operation, the driver operates all three doors. When in two-person operation, a conductor stands on the rear platform and that door stays open even while the bus is moving. At stops, the conductor presses a button to inform the driver that the platform is clear; the driver operates the other two doors as is done for one-person operation.
The annual cost of employing conductors from 06:00 to 19:00 on weekdays was about £62,000 per bus.
The other routes do not operate with conductors, and the rear platform remains closed whilst the bus is moving. In 2014, the TfL board was told that new routes would have no conductors but would operate with the rear door closed while moving.
In July 2016 it was announced by TFL that the conductor would be phased out on all six crewed routes in September 2016.
To address issues caused by air-conditioning failures, in September 2015 it was announced a program would commence to retrofit opening windows.
Under the bus contract tendering system for London, routes are often updated with new buses every seven years, with new buses owned or leased by the operator, whether the route operator changes or not. Redundant buses, if not used on other London contracts or sold to other London operators, often go on to further use outside London, either cascaded within the fleets of the large national operators who own several of the London operating companies or sold to other regional companies.
London transport commissioner Peter Hendy acknowledged in 2008 that there were economic challenges in requiring current private London bus operators to tender for routes if they required the outright purchase of the New Bus for London. He acknowledged it could lead to higher bids overall because a rear platform bus was unlikely to appeal to operators outside London and with the questionable utility of hybrid technology to more rural operations.
An independent review of London buses by KPMG for TfL’s London Buses division, which oversees the day-to-day network and route-tendering system but does not own or operate buses, found that in the current credit climate London bus operators were reluctant to take on the residual value risk posed by the New Bus for London route contracts, and TfL would not be able to own the bus fleet due to capital restrictions. It, therefore, recommended to allow use of the new buses route contracts to be extended to the expected life of the buses or use of a leasing company to own the whole fleet or to guarantee in some way that the residual risk to operators could be reduced.
The launch of the design for the New Bus for London led to BBC One’s The One Show airing a segment on 18 May 2010 reviewing the 100-year history of the London standard double-decker, with John Sergeant reviewing the history of, and riding preserved examples of, the 1910 LGOC B-type, the RT and the original Routemaster.
Because of the close connection between British car magazine Autocar and New Routemaster, it was the subject of a road test in December 2011. The magazine said it was “the best in public transport”, referring to the vehicle’s hybrid drivetrain as “brilliant economy and an interior to die for”.
The New Routemaster was also road tested by Top Gear’s James May in an episode where it left London and drove to attractions such as Cheddar Gorge before returning to the capital to take part in a ‘Best of British’ vehicle celebration.
The New Routemaster has been criticised for the effectiveness of its air conditioning (although it actually has an air-cooling/heating system, which operates differently from an air ‘conditioning’ system), especially during hot days.
The upper deck windows have also been criticised for being small, not giving comparable views to other bus models, and not letting in much light to the upper deck, making it “gloomy”.
Although London Buses’ Director of Operations promised that all New Routemasters would be staffed by conductors and the rear platform would be open 12 hours a day, when the buses were introduced on route 148, there was no second crew member and the rear platform was opened by the driver at bus stops only.
In July 2015 the BBC reported a high level of battery failure, with 80 New Routemasters operating in diesel-only mode. 200 New Routemasters have at least some failing batteries, which will be replaced under warranty. An improved battery design is being introduced.
The New Routemasters emit more harmful particles than the buses they replaced. London mayoral candidate and transport expert Christian Wolmar, who first revealed problems with the New Routemasters, said in July 2015: “This is further evidence that this project was misconceived from the start. I have been told that drivers have been complaining about the failed batteries since August last year and yet nothing has been done. It is no surprise the emissions are higher than those on conventional buses as the New Bus for London is not operating as designed. It is supposed to be powered by an electric motor, but instead is using its inefficient diesel engine that should, in normal conditions, be running at constant speed”.
Accidents and incidents
The New Routemaster has been involved in several accidents and incidents:
- In September 2013, three people were seriously hurt when a New Routemaster on route 11 crashed into three other buses and some parked cars on Chelsea Bridge Road.
- In June 2014, the driver of a car going 100mph was killed, one person was left fighting for their life and 12 were hurt when the car hit a New Routemaster on route N38.
- In April 2015, a car was wedged in between two New Routemasters on Goodge Street. The occupants of the car were treated at the scene
- In January 2016, 13 people were injured when two New Routemasters on routes 11 and 148 collided with each other and hit a van in Parliament Square.