London’s fleet of New Routemaster buses, developed as a signature policy of Boris Johnson’s mayoralty, are to be converted to allow passengers to board only at the front of the vehicles in a bid to reduce fare evasion.
A pilot scheme on Route 8 has found that fare dodging was halved when the middle and rear doors were used only for passengers leaving the bus. Transport for London says that converting every New Routemaster model will prevent more than £3.6 million in revenue being lost each year.
Johnson commissioned what was initially known as the New Bus for London after becoming London Mayor in 2008, having promised that the vehicles would combine innovative low emission technology with a revival of features of the original bespoke Routemaster London bus, in particular an open rear platform which would enable passengers to board or leave the bus between stops, and the return of a second crew member who would be the equivalent of a conductor.
However, the “21st century conductors” or “customer assistants” were soon phased out and the rear doors stopped being left open between stops, meaning the “hop on, hop off” facility was lost. Even so, all three doors – front, rear and middle – continued to be opened at stops in order to maximise boarding and exiting and so minimise “dwell time”.
This, however, left the buses vulnerable to fare evasion, as a member of a TfL revenue protection team told On London in July 2018. At that time, TfL said that surveys conducted in 2016 had found that fare evasion overall on New Routemasters was only “approximately one per cent higher than the network average, which is currently running at 3.1 per cent” and that evasion rates on different kinds of bus running through “similar areas” were “broadly similar”.
Approximately 1,000 New Routemasters were purchased for use on London’s streets before Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor, called a halt. Though at first their distinctive “series hybrid” propulsion system, in which an electric motor is recharged when necessary in transit by a small diesel engine, were cleaner than other kinds, subsequent, cheaper, off-the-peg buses have matched that standard.
As well as promoting the New Routemaster, Johnson had campaigned for the removal of the single-decker, two-part articulated buses introduced by his predecessor Ken Livingstone, which also had three doors. Critics of the “bendy bus” had drawn attention to its high levels of fare evasion, which had resulted in the nickname “free bus”.
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