“There seems to be something
wrong with our bloody ships today,” complained Admiral Sir David Beatty at the
Battle of Jutland, after two of his capital vessels blew up. London’s mayor Boris Johnson today might be
saying something similar of his much trumpeted, eagerly anticipated new
The new vehicles are supposed to
return us to the good old days when, instead of waiting for automatic doors to
open, we could hop on and hop off buses with impunity. Often it was with injury, some would say, but
that’s entirely another matter from the one under discussion, which is why these
sleek latter-day Routemasters have no working air-conditioning.
They are being introduced, as luck
would have it, during London’s
hottest week of the year. This means, as
Peter Cook once said of aspiring judges, confronting a rigorous examination. Temperatures on the upstairs decks of
Routemasters II’s today are said to have soared above 30 degrees Celsius. This, as some ever-vigilant observers have
pointed out with relish, is higher than European Union rules allow for
transporting farm animals. Well, some
things don’t change: London
commuters have always been treated worse than farm animals, and without so much
as a moo or a baa.
Part of the air-con conundrum is
that the new bus has been designed with windows that don’t open. Whether this was an oversight, or a
deliberate ploy by some engineering genius to test the resolve of commuters in
order to prepare them for a coming nuclear conflict, or a volcanic eruption under
the Strand, is not immediately clear. I would have thought that windows that don’t
open are not a good idea for safety reasons.
Aren’t they a means of escape in the event of a fire? Worse, because it’s more likely, is what’s going
to happen to the air when half a dozen drunken yoofs clatter up the staircase
clutching Big Macs loaded with onions?
We could be in for a long, hot
summer of commuter riots and mutinies to match those of the Sepoy rebellions of
Something else I’ve read strikes
me as curious. The new buses are to have
conductors. Leaving aside the cost of
doubling the payroll of each vehicle, what exactly is their function? Not to collect fares, I assume, because that
would mean carrying a bag of money, an invitation to muggers. Anyway, 95 percent of passengers these days
have Oyster cards. I’ve read that their
main role is to stop people hopping on and off the rear platform of the bus,
presumably a precaution dictated by the health and safety regulators who now
watch over our every waking moment. If
that’s the case, and I’m not entirely certain that it is, then what’s the point
of restoring the beloved hop-on-hop-off option for which we’ve all been craving?
I imagine the air-conditioning
problem will be sorted out – although a similar problem on the Tube lines,
after many years of debate, research and experiment remains unsolved. And I’m sure we’ll then learn to love Boris’s
buses as much as we’ve come to love Boris’s bikes, and indeed Boris the man.
The mayor has lauded the new
buses, if for nothing else than as a splendid advertisement for British
engineering. We shall see.
Meanwhile, as conductors of yore
used to sing out, “Hold very tight, please”.
This may now be supplemented by “Air sickness bags are available in the
pocket of the seat in front of you”.
If you want to try them out, the
new Routemasters are now the only buses available on the Number 24 route
between Liverpool Street