Boris bends the figures on bendy buses?
25.03.08 by Buffalo Bill
As you may remember, London Mayoral candidate Boris Johnson has made bendophobia, an irrational hatred of the bendy bus, a manifesto commitment. He apparently plans to bring back an updated Routemaster, with conductors. Naturally, there is little agreement on what this will cost. Ken’s camp says it will cost close to £100 million, which is a lot of money. Boris seems to think it will cost closer to £10 million. (update: Ken’s figures have been verified – analysis by independent public transport consultants TAS estimates the cost of Johnson’s plans to just under £114m.)
To me, it seems slightly strange to base an entire campaign on bringing back the Routemaster (see footnote 1), especially when, as we all ought to remember, the Routemaster was totally out-dated technically, and totally unsuited to the elderly, the disabled, parents with very small children, and anyone with large amounts of shopping. I can vividly remember the thick black clouds of smoke that used to issue from their exhaust pipes, and the terrifying noises that came from under their bonnets. The big selling point of the bendy bus is that with three doors you can get on and off them much quicker, unlike double-deckers. Critics say that they are fare-dodgers dream, and are far less convenient than the open-platform Routemasters were. The bendy buses likewise are not equipped with that convenient rail which made it so easy to get a tow up the little hill from Farringdon Road.
Of course, they also take up lot more room on the road, which is especially noticeable at junctions. They can be intimidating to share a road with, especially if you are a less-than-totally confident cyclist, which is presumably why Boris has called them ‘cyclist-killing’. He claims that they are much more dangerous than double-deckers, and produced some figures to back up the claim, which apparently show that the bendy buses are twice as dangerous (collisions per mile travelled) than double-deckers. However, despite being challenged to do so, he was unable to produce a single incident of a cyclist killed by a bendy, whereas it was reported that a double was involved in a fatal collision with a cyclist on Park Lane in February of this year.
Case almost proven? Not so, according to this Channel 4 News report.
Figures released in January to the London Assembly paint a more moderate picture than the overall totals to which Boris refers. This breakdown compared collisions on all 12 bendy bus routes to collisions on 15 selected non-bendy routes. These selected routes tended to cover busy inner-city areas rather than the quieter suburbs. The number 41, for example, which goes from London Bridge, through Holborn, to Wood Green, or the number 8, which goes from Bow in the East End, along Oxford Street to Victoria. It’s not necessarily a scientific study, but it would seem to be a more accurate representation of the kind of routes bendy buses serve. According to this breakdown, bendy bus routes threw up 5.6 collisions with pedestrians in 2006/07; non-bendy bus routes 5.17. Collisions with cyclists were 2.62 on bendy buses; but 2.78 on non-bendy routes.
Case not proven at all, I would say. Personally, I don’t especially like the bendy bus or the double decker – whichever, it’s another large vehicle on the road, with a big exhaust, which obscures my sight lines and cuts me up. But I do think that replacing a large part of the bus fleet, something that will cost me money, ought not to be done simply because one man does not have the cycling skills to deal with a particular vehicle safely especially when the evidential case that they are more dangerous is questionable.
I am also somewhat surprised that a London cyclist, who is making a bid to become Mayor of London, has not identified the most dangerous vehicle on the road to cyclists in London: lorries. ‘From the estimates of vehicles use in London, the risk of heavy goods vehicles being involved in accidents in which cyclists die in inner London can be estimated at five times that of buses, 14 times that of light goods vehicles, and 30 times that of cars.’ That’s according to 1994 report published by the British Medical Journal. In fact, Boris recently described the Low Emission Zone, a scheme which aims to clean up the exhaust of goods vehicles has described the scheme as ‘the most punitive, draconian fining regime in the whole of Europe’. Although the LEZ is not primarily aimed at improving the safety of London cyclists, I am willing to bet that taking the dirtiest lorries off the road will make some impact in the figures for killed and seriously injured by lorries.
I don’t suppose that Boris actually likes sharing the road with lorries, but I haven’t seen a single statement from him indicating that he is aware of the HGV/LGV/lorry cyclist problem. Ken, despite being a non-cyclist who has made several very dodgy statements in the past about cyclists, has actually done a lot to improve the lot of cyclists in London.
1 Footnote: Christian Wolmar, a man whose views on transport I very much respect, agrees with me:
The idea that in what is supposed to be the world’s leading city, the most visible argument is about a kind of bus is slightly strange… …There are not many votes in arguments about types of buses. It’s entertainment, like a Punch and Judy show we can all enjoy from time to time.
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