Friday, 19 December 2008

New Routemaster Design Winners Announced.

Well, the winners for the new Routemaster are now out.

While most are fine designs at a graphic art level, they appear to be a slave to one or two aspects that cripple their use and do not appear to push forward a number of important issues for a large London bus of the future. Warning: I am biased.

All appear to have the front wheels right at the front, single staircases and permanently open rear platforms, therefore preventing practical one man operation and rapid passenger movements when necessary. It would be good that a London design is seen as a London-wide design if not a worldwide sales opportunity. Unless you can close that rear platform and operate with just a driver, these designs will be impractical - just imagine the scope for vandals!

A design was hatched not too far away from these pages by someone known to Roger...

Now, the rendering above is a photoshop of a Trolleybus*, but incorporates a number of key features:

1. Dual staircases, positioned one at the front and another at the back. This allows the bus to have passenger flow from front to rear and avoids any "dead ends", promoting passive passenger safety. I have seen this work VERY well in Hong Kong on the trams there, which are jammed solid most of the time - you slowly make your way along the vehicle from back to front (and in the case of the Routemaster, it would be from front to back). 

2. 3 or 4 axles. One design in the competition, the Concrete All Round entry from Belgium had dual rear axles, but the rest were locked in the 2 axle straightjacket. 3 or 4 axles permit single tyre hubs and so makes the interior space more flexible and removes the need for a narrow "throat" at the rear.

3. All wheel steering. With a degree or full all wheel steering, a bus can be longer, more manoeuvrable and the throat between the front wheels can be wider as those wheels are not required to turn to such extreme angles.

4. A drivetrain using full regenerative hub motors (much like the PML Flightlink drivetrain). This makes all wheel steering far simpler and allows the vehicle to easily adopt series hybrid, fuel cell, plug in or trolleybus (overhead wire) operation as necessary and permits very low floors as not even drop axles are required.

5. A fully modular body frame similar to that used by the original Routemaster. This allows the design to go from a short 7'6" wide single deck "hopper" bus right up to a 13m long, 4 axle 8'5" wide double deck leviathan using a majority of shared components. Currently many bus designs hardly have a single window pane or body panel that can be used elsewhere in the SAME bus!

6. A proper front entrance next to the driver that can allow the design to operate with just a driver or with a conductor as needed.

7. A rear platform that can be opened or closed depending on the operational environment.

I think the exterior designs of the winners are far better than I or many others could have ever come up with, but I hope the interior and drivetrain configurations can incorporate a wider range of ideas from across all the entries. The key advantages of the Routemaster was that it could disgorge passengers rapidly and was a light, modular and highly maintainable design (unlike today's models which barely get 4mpg, a 50 year old Routemaster gets 8mpg and weighs 8t vs the latest crates that are 11t+ and dead on their tyres after 15-20 years).

One novel entry was brought to my attention as it included aspects my brother was suggesting to me, in the form of a rounded rear that permitted a rotating door to open and close the rear platform that swept around the rear. 

I am not too enthusiastic about some of the ideas for alternate use of this design (freight?) and it is still "stuck" with the lack of a fully forward front door,  but it at least had 3 axles and a novel way of opening and closing the rear platform.

The competition is over and the designs have been handed over to the bus manufacturers. I hold out little hope though - these "enterprises" struggle already. We currently have rough truck components shoehorned into ugly, haphazard, heavy bodies by these NIH throwbacks. It will be like asking Vauxhall to build a Mercedes. It might have some superficial resemblance, but underneath it will be a mess and totally miss the point.

Still, if I am proven wrong, it will be a good day for London.

* These were fantastic vehicles of their day and were withdrawn with decades still in them. The Trolleybus in question has had an additional (front) axle, front staircase and a front entrance ahead of the front axles spoofed in. I am happy to put up a credit to the original photographer if I could find it!


Obnoxio The Clown said...

An open rear platform is mandatory!


Roger Thornhill said...

A mandatory open platform capability does not mean that it must ALWAYS be open all of the time!

An open platform means the bus can never be left unattended.

Dick Puddlecote said...

Gotta have the open rear platform. But would Health & Safety allow it in this day and age?

Roger Thornhill said...

I think it should be a good exposure of the utter stupidity of the underlying H&S concept of "protection".

We have had open platforms for 100+ years.

It is all about personal responsibility AND courts who will throw out the first and inevitable ambulance-chasing compo-cases that will spring up. Once the fakers and parasites know that there is no money to be had out of such claims, the problem will go away almost entirely.

JuliaM said...

"All appear to have the front wheels right at the front, single staircases and permanently open rear platforms, therefore preventing practical one man operation and rapid passenger movements when necessary."

The open rear platform seems to be what people want, though..?

If a design was created that allowed the rear entrance to be closed at the driver's initiative (to be used only on rest breaks, etc) would that be acceptable?

Roger Thornhill said...


That is my point - the design should allow for an open rear platform during central city operation but the ability to shut it during rest breaks, storage or even during lighter, suburban use when it is FREEZING COLD. A permanently open rear platform, i.e. one that has no means to shut at will is, frankly, DAFT.

Knowing the bus makers - i.e. boneheads - they will follow the design even though it is stupid.

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