Friday, 19 December 2008

Boris manages biggest waste of cash yet

The Mayor of London has managed to waste a ton of taxpayers' money on a competition to design a new version of the Routemaster bus.

We all love the Routemaster. It is the iconic image of London. But it was gloriously unsafe and impractical. I don't know how many people were killed or injured getting off the back, but it must have been a load. The seats were too narrow for today's well-bodied types and the ceilings upstairs were so low as to cause serious damage to anyone over oompa loompa height.

But, having decided to get rid of the horrible bendy buses (although with an ever-slipping timetable), Boris has gone one further and decided to seek a 'new' Routemaster.

All the winning designs remind me of BMW's 'new' Mini. They have something of the original about them but are clearly not the real thing. And I say that as someone who drives one.

But, whilst the new Mini is a very good car in its own right, I have doubts about whether any new Routemaster will be Most of the designs seem to have the old style open access at the rear and have some form of wheelchair ramp in new centre doors. Most have the front engine and scalloped nose so that the driver's cab sits alone in the lead. But they simply look like a design student has fed the old Routemaster drawings into a computer and pressed 'update' (disclaimer - I'm sure a lot more work has gone into the designs than this, but it is not apparent from the competition website). None appear to have realistically solved the problems of the old bus.

The winners of this design competition got £25000. They probably spent this and more on the project, but how valuable is it if there is little or no chance of the designs ever being built. I don't want to decry fun for kids, but offering thousands of pounds in prizes to children to draw 'new' Routemasters hardly seems like value for money either.

With no real chance of getting new Routemasters designed and built, it seems to me that the only option is to keep the old ones on the road on a few select routes and to acknowledge the fact that they are cramped and dangerous - but also very lovely. Perhaps that is why Ken Livingstone decided to do exactly that...

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