Ever since the first New Bus for London came into service on route 38 in February last year I've been meaning to go for a ride on it. The problem was that Victoria to Hackney is not a route that co-incides with any of my regular journeys so I would have had to make a special trip. Not only that but I would also have had to plan the timing as there was only one of the new buses in operation and the rest of the time the route was served by the regular buses.
But all that has changed now. Since last Saturday, the 24, running from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath became the first route to be served solely by the new buses; a fleet of 32 have been introduced. And this route partly overlaps with my journey to work. It didn't get off to a good start as one of the buses broke down on launch day and caused traffic chaos in Kentish Town; apparently a passer-by commented, "It’s not a bus, it’s an installation".
It certainly is a work of art; red (well, it could hardly be a London bus if it wasn't), shiny, curvy and reflective. But what's it like as a form of transport? I have to say I enjoyed my trips on it today. I hopped on via the back platform, reliving the old Routemaster experience, at the bottom of Kentish Town Road, went upstairs (I don't do downstairs unless it's full up the top or I have a lot of luggage) and sat at the back. The bus driver treated us to a running commentary. As we were approaching the Camden Town stop he announced, "Camden Town, get ready to get off..." Presumably this was because a lot of people often get on there and as you can get on via all three doors - front, middle and back - there might be a danger of clashing with the people getting off.
We moved off down Bayham Street. "Is this your first journey on this bus?" he asked. "I hope you're enjoying it. It's a new bus. Very high-tech. Like the old Routemaster." I began to wonder whether it was his first time driving it. He was clearly enjoying himself.
We rounded the corner by Mornigton Crescent Station. "No rush if you're getting off here," he said, "I'll wait for you." Then he saw that no-one was waiting at the bus stop. "There's no-one waiting, no problem." But then he seemed to realise that no-one wanted to get off either so he sailed past the stop.
What with the bus driver announcing every stop, the recorded messages informing us of the next stop, the dot-matix display showing us the next stop there was definitely no danger of not knowing where we were. In addition to this the recorded message and the display exhorted us to "Watch out for traffic when leaving the bus." Why should we need to do this with this bus any more than with any other bus, I wondered. Didn't the bus pull up by the kerb like all other buses? The only difference was the back platform. Might there be a danger of passengers leaping off this into the path of a passing car or bike? I asked the 'conductor' - whose sole function seems to be to make sure people behave themselves getting on and off via the platform (which is closed off by a perspex barrier when there's no condcutor) - about this. "It's extra health and safety," he said. Should we invent a new slogan: "You are Safer on a Boris Bus."
I enjoyed my journey to work so much this morning that I couldn't resist jumping on another 24 on the way home even though it meant that I had to catch two buses when one would have done - a luxury I would not have allowed myself until I got my Oyster 60+ card earlier this year which gives me the wonderful benefit of free travel. The driver kept silent on this trip but the recorded announcement was out of synch with the dot matrix and was informing us that we were at Goodge Street Station when we'd passed it a few stops earlier and were approaching Robert St...
Is the bus too expensive, is its economy over-hyped, is it a vanity project? There has been much discussion of such questions but for today all I'm going to say is I had fun.