Belfast Telegraph

Ulster firm's London bus hits the streets

By David Elliott & Simon Calder

Ballymena coach company Wrightbus saw its new bus model take to the streets of London yesterday, winning plaudits and criticism in equal measure.

The bus is the "green" successor to the iconic Routemaster and made its first paying journey from Hackney in east London on route 38 which ends at Victoria Station.

"From today Londoners will have the chance to jump aboard this stunning piece of automotive architecture on which every feature is tailored to the London passenger," city mayor Boris Johnson said. "It represents the very best in British design, engineering and manufacture and is a demonstration of what can be done given imagination and determination."

This first bus will be quickly joined by a further seven prototypes at a rate of one every couple of weeks as they roll off the Wrightbus production line. All eight will be in service by June.

A team of 25 engineers and a 40-strong production team have built the prototype buses.

"It's not just a pretty face," Mr Johnson said. "The green innards of this red bus mean that it is twice as fuel efficient as a diesel bus and the most environment-friendly of its kind. When ordered in greater numbers it will make a significant economic contribution to the manufacturing industries, while also helping deliver a cleaner, greener and more pleasant city."

But the mayor was notable by his absence from the first public run of the bus, which was followed on its route by protesters.

Transport union TSSA had chartered an old-style Routemaster bus and dressed it up to protest against the new vehicle. "Bus fares up 50% - sack Boris," demanded a poster.

Transport for London claims that the Routemaster's fuel consumption is 11.6 miles per gallon, exactly twice the figure for ordinary diesel buses.

It is a true hybrid, running for much of the time on its batteries, abetted only when necessary by a diesel engine. Much of the time it runs with only a gentle hum, in the manner of a trolleybus.