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The London Bendy Bus


Between 2002 and 2006 six of London s bus companies put into service 390 articulated bendy buses on twelve routes for Transport for London. During what turned out to be a foreshortened nine years in service, the Mercedes-Benz Citaro G buses familiar on the continent and worldwide earned an unenviable reputation in London; according to who you read and who you believed, they caught fire at the drop of a hat, they maimed cyclists, they drained revenue from the system due to their susceptibility to fare evasion, they transported already long-suffering passengers in standing crush loads like cattle and they contributed to the extinction of the Routemaster from frontline service. In short, the bus we hated. This account is an attempt by a long-time detractor of the bendy buses to set the vehicles in their proper context not quite to rehabilitate them, but to be as fair as is possible towards a mode of transport which felt about as un-British as could be.

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1 Review(s)

The London Bendy Bus

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When 'hated' Citaro artics stalked London streets Review by Stephen Morris - Buses
Everyone, it is said, has their 15min of fame. I have enjoyed two instances with an aggregate much less than 15min, surrounding the end of bendybuses in London.
I appeared on Radio 4's PM programme, when Eddie Mair picked up very excitedly on my suggestion that Mayor Johnson's act of consigning millions of pounds-worth of investment to the dustbin for no good reason was 'criminal'. After all, unlike other centres, where bendybuses were simply dropped into existing routes (as I found to my cost in Nottingham when I had to walk the full length of the bus to alight where the exit doors coincided with a pedestrian barrier), great care was taken to modify infrastructure to make sure they would work properly in London.
The other was on ITV's London evening news, when I was billed as 'the only man in London who likes bendybuses'. That description was inaccurate on several levels, but the introduction of Matthew Wharmby's book, entitled 'The Bus We Hated', set the tone and had my hackles up even before I got reading.
He states in his introduction that the 'challenge of this book is to set aside ingrained prejudices'. I would have self combusted as spectacularly as some members of the bendybus fleet had I seen the version that did not attempt to rise to that challenge; as it was, I saw little attempt to meet it.
I am of a persuasion that means that after glancing at the Daily Mail, my blood quickly begins to boil. Having read this book, my vascular system could have powered a town the size of Dunstable for several weeks.
For a writer on buses, the author seems to have a curious dislike of public transport, railing on numerous occasions against London's congestion charge, which he sees purely as a means of assuaging Ken Livingstone's 'greed'. Accessibility is written off as mere 'political correctness', policies that help those less well-off to access employment opportunities are the spawn of the devil and buses clearly should be built not only in Britain, but in London.
One might sympathise with the author's statement that 'they just weren't British', but xenophobia reaches new depths when he tells us the first deliveries were registered in Birmingham, apparently 'underscoring the "foreign-ness" of the vehicles that was already evident'.
Clearly his Utopia is a London full of RTs and RMs, uncluttered by people who cannot afford to pay the full commercial value of the fare, viewed from his car sitting in traffic jams full of people enjoying their freedom to spend more than the cost of the congestion charge in wasted fuel and wasted time.
I daresay had this book been written with the same level of political frankness that accorded with my own view I would be praising it for its perceptiveness and excellent research (though even so, some of the blatant party political comments are inappropriate even if you agree with them).
But yes, it is well researched, even if it ignores much of the rationale behind the introduction of the bendybus and the work that went in to make them work. They did have merits, and even the author agrees that they were particularly well suited to the former Red Arrow routes with their massive peak loads. And in fairness he goes on to suggest a couple of other routes where bendybuses could have a future.
I also confess to agreeing with him on the danger of a future Labour administration reintroducing bendybuses to replace New Routemasters, followed by a Conservative administration reversing that policy and so on ad infinitum.
There is a huge amount of detail, and each year is studied in turn. It goes back to the first attempts to run bendybuses on the 207 and before that to studying of demonstrators, the first of which came into the country before articulated buses were even legalised. There is a nicely illustrated chapter on the buses in their new lives and a complete fteetlist as well as details of buses re-registered down the years.
It is a history that needed documenting, and it is well documented here. Production values are high, as they need to be for a 112-page book priced at a penny short of £20, and for the most part the illustration is good (despite one of the stated shortcomings of the bendybus, that they are not easy to photograph); a few photographs are a bit substandard, but the quality of the rest more than compensates.
Inevitably an author is faced with the conundrum of whether to use a photograph that is slightly below par to illustrate a point for which no better one turns out to be readily available.
It is a useful, attractively produced book on an interesting topic, and if you consider the Daily Mail to be a left-wing rag, this is definitely the book for you. If not, get your blood pressure checked and take medical advice before you open it. (Posted on 25/05/2016)

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