Hop-on, hop-off bus concept goes back to the depot as Routemaster doors lose their point

Thomas Heatherwick-designed hop-on, hop-off Routemaster-successor bus Feb 2012 © david.altheer[ at ] gmail.com
Bus conductor London late 1940s © London Transport Museum
Old-skool clippie: bus conductor, 1950s (supplied by London Transport Museum)

THE HOP-ON, HOP-OFF bus concept was a boon to Hackneyites and other users of the 38 bus travelling the route to Islington, the West End and Victoria station.

The open rear door on it and other Routemasters allowed users to leap on and off in between stops, as in the picture at top.

This kept the bus moving and lessened queues at stops.

Now the idea has joined the many transport projects on which our masters expend our funds before scrapping or mothballing them.

Next month, September 2016, the “New Routemasters”, the Thomas Heatherwick-designed leviathans, will lose their conductors.

Unable to sell tickets, they were in reality safety officers, but their departure, after many hours of negotiation with unions, means that commuters will be at the mercy of the bus stops, with all the randomness of placing we all know so well. No hopping on or off in between stops, some of which must be a kilometre apart, others barely 100 metres.

When Ken Livingstone stood for Mayor he said he’d be mad to scrap the Routemaster but once elected he brought in the bendy bus, a Mercedes-Benz articulated creation that fitted ill into London’s medieval streets. And it tended to catch fire.

His successor, Boris Johnson, could hardly wait to remove them from London’s roads, an action regretted at least by some Hackneyites who had dubbed Stoke Newington’s 73 “the seventy-free” because fares were seldom collected.

Johnson held a competition for a bus to evoke the RMT, and Heatherwick’s, with its hop-off, hop-on rear door, fulfilled the heritage brief.

Six routes — 9, 10, 11, 24, 38 and 390 — use conductors/safety officers on New Routemasters.  Another 19 routes that use New Routemasters have no conductors.

TfL says that dispensing with conductors will save about £10 million a year. The transport bosses do not, however, reveal the cost of commissioning the New Routemasters, hiring the conductors — then undoing the hop-on, hop-off aspect.

Nor are they likely to talk about the cost of importing the bendies then disposing of them.  

With only a driver, New Routemaster buses operate with the rear platform closed when the bus is moving. 

Thomas Heatherwick-designed hop-on, hop-off Routemaster-successor bus Feb 2012 © david.altheer[ at ] gmail.com

TfL surface transport managing director Leon Daniels said: “The New Routemaster routes that don’t have conductors also operate very effectively.” Well, yes, but the key feature, is negated, although it has to be admitted that young people and tourists were not aware of the facility for between-stop alighting and descending.

TfL’s bus network comprises about 700 routes in Greater London, carrying almost 2.4 billion passengers a year. 

Transport expert Christian Wolmar and former would-be mayoral candidate told Loving Dalston he supports the ending of the customer-assistant role.

He said: “In the days of Oyster cards and contactless payment, they [the customer assistants] had no role and it was simply part of Boris’s crazy bus scheme to have them in the first place.

“They should be retrained for other roles.”

 A small number of genuine Routemaster buses will continue to operate with conductors on route 15.

David Altheer 220816

* Backstory: Dalston’s multimillion bus-station fiasco; Stratford International, local station; New boards, please, Dalston traffic makeover; More No 38 Boris buses; Man who would be Mayor

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hos Heatherwick designed hop-on, hop-off bus @ Dalston Junction London E8 161013 © david.altheer@gmail.com

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