Routemaster failings mean London bus procurement needs ‘complete rethink’


London’s hybrid Routemaster buses have been accused of serious environmental and safety failings, prompting calls for a ‘complete rethink’ of future purchases.

Despite the hybrid Routemaster vehicles being designed to halve CO2 emissions, drivers have warned malfunctioning vehicle batteries mean many are constantly operating on more polluting diesel engines.

Fears were raised that system failures meant buses were going ‘out of control’ and posing a danger to surrounding traffic.

Transport for London (TfL) has now confirmed that batteries on 80 buses have had to be mended or replaced following faults.

Speaking to Transport Network, transport expert and hopeful for the London mayoral candidacy, Christian Wolmar, warned there was ‘not necessarily a future’ for the £354,000 Routemaster buses.

Mr Wolmar uncovered the problems while in conversation with around half a dozen London bus drivers. He said Routemaster buses were ‘very difficult to control’, adding that there were risks of ‘the bus occasionally going out of control and rolling backwards’.

‘We should certainly not order any more of these buses and we should have a complete rethink about future bus procurement. They are basically flawed and a completely daft idea,’ Mr Wolmar said.

He said Londoners would be left to foot the bill for the Routemaster design – which includes an entrance at the rear – as he doubted TfL would be able to sell or lease vehicles designed specifically for the capital.

‘TfL have had to buy these buses because there’s no sell-on value. No other city wants something with the back door. They’ve already been very costly and TfL has had to buy them rather than, as normally happens, the operator leases them or buys them,’ he said.

‘So the whole concept was flawed and now we discover the environmental claims can’t be substantiated. We shouldn’t have gone and wasted money on a bus that isn’t particularly environmentally sound.’

However 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.’

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