Transport for London struggles to find revamp cash
The famous ‘Boris bus’ manufactured in Northern Ireland may have to be taken off the road unless Transport for London’s (TfL) financial difficulties can be resolved.
Wrightbus made 1,000 of the buses after they were introduced by Boris Johnson in his second term as mayor of London at a cost of about £350m.
But the Evening Standard has reported that the bus fleet is approaching its “mid-life refurbishment” which is required about seven years into an expected 14-year lifespan.
However, the paper said that TfL is struggling to find the estimated £31m needed to carry out the upgrades.
Wrightbus was a hugely profitable company in the past and based its business model on producing low-emissions vehicles.
When Mr Johnson was mayor he announced a lucrative order to produce London’s distinctive red double-decker, an updated version of the original Routemaster.
Critics at the time said the new ‘Boris buses’ were too expensive and estimated that the first eight had cost £1.4m each to design and build.
There were also complaints that the new Routemasters, which were longer and heavier than other models, were unbearably hot, gaining them the nickname of the “roastmaster”, and later batches were altered to provide windows.
Mr Johnson visited Wrightbus during the EU referendum campaign in February 2016.
The firm moved into administration in early October 2019 after a fall in orders due to a general fall in the market for new buses, among other issues, before being saved by new owner Jo Bamford.
TfL‘s current government bailout has been extended until February 4 but its commissioner Andy Byford said the organisation was assuming a “Domesday scenario” of moving to the “managed decline” of the public transport network due to uncertainty over long-term capital investment. TfL is also fearful that its hopes of electrifying the capital’s 9,000-vehicle bus fleet by 2034 will be delayed by three years to 2037.
The company has already warned that 100 routes may have to be axed and frequencies reduced on 200 more, as part of an 18% reduction in the bus network. TfL has begun advertising contracts to refurbish the Ballymena-built buses, which unlike others are directly owned by TfL — meaning it has to meet the refurbishment costs.
This includes spending up to £5m on new driver’s seats and £1m on pre and post-refurbishment inspections.
A total of about 20 changes are due to be made to return the buses to “as new” condition. These include new passenger seat covers, upgrades to the fire suppression system, a re-spray of the red exterior paint, a “deep clean” of the interior and new customer signs.
Sadiq Khan refused to buy any more ‘Boris buses’ when he took over as London mayor in 2016.
Mr Khan said bus manufacturers across the UK would suffer if TfL was unable to lead the move towards electric buses.
Wrightbus declined to comment and no response has been received from TfL.