Wrightbus in £2m refit for 500 London buses after they get a roasting from commuters
More than 500 buses built by Ballymena firm Wrightbus are to undergo a £2m refit after passengers in London branded them "saunas" and "cauldrons on wheels".
The Routemaster, or 'Boris buses' as they have become known, were introduced by London Mayor Boris Johnson in 2012.
Now dubbed 'Roastmaster' after temperatures soared to more than 30 degrees during the summer, owner Transport for London (TFL) has revealed that all buses in service are to be refitted with windows that open.
Designer Thomas Heatherwick had originally wanted the windows to open, but was overruled because of claims it would ruin the efficiency of the on-board cooling units.
Once hailed as "the most environmentally friendly bus of its type" due to its diesel-electric hybrid engine which pumps fewer toxic emissions into the air, TFL admitted last year that the new Routemasters were suffering "teething problems" because of faults in air conditioning and the absence of opening windows.
Ventilation issues are the latest in a series of problems that have plagued the new buses - which cost approximately £354,000 each - since they were introduced, including the poor performance of some batteries in earlier models.
The bus is, however, still one of the greenest models in the world.
The 250 buses still on order from Wrightbus will have the windows fitted in the company's Ballymena factory.
TFL has confirmed that Wrightbus will not have to foot the £2m refurbishment bill; but it will be involved in fitting windows into already operational buses, although the work will be carried out in TFL garages across London.
"Wrightbus will be involved, although they may contract some of the work out," said a TFL spokesperson. "The cost will be covered out of the existing TFL budget."
Transport for London's Director of Buses, Mike Weston, said: "We were aware of passenger concerns about the cooling system on the new Routemaster and the mayor asked us to work with Wrightbus to look at possible design options to improve passenger comfort.
"We're pleased they've now been able to come up with an affordable and working design to install opening windows, which we anticipate will have been installed across our entire fleet by next summer," he added.
Depending on design, the difference in cost between building new buses with windows compared to original buses that don't will be negligible, says TFL.
Green Party London assembly member Darren Johnson welcomed the refit, but said the mistake had been costly for the city.
He added that his constituents regularly complained about the heat on the buses.
In July 2014, Wrightbus announced a £30m deal to supply 415 buses to Singapore. It followed another £41m deal in the country in 2012.
The Co Antrim manufacturer is now the main supplier of double-deckers to Singapore's public transport operator.
Wrightbus declined to comment on the new windows.