No journey fuss on bendy bus

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IT was a media event that had attracted much excitement among the island’s press and broadcast journalists.

But the demonstration of a controversial bendy-bus on 20-minute tour around Douglas was remarkable only in being completely unremarkable.

ALL ABOARD: From left, Department of Community, Culture and Leisure chief executive Nick Black, DCCL Minister Graham Cregeen MHK and director of public transport Ian Longworth. PHOTO: Mike Wade MW 130218 (42)

ALL ABOARD: From left, Department of Community, Culture and Leisure chief executive Nick Black, DCCL Minister Graham Cregeen MHK and director of public transport Ian Longworth. PHOTO: Mike Wade MW 130218 (42)

The assembled media throng joked about the need to wear crash helmets, having expected at the very least to be thrown about should the articulated bus turn over as it careered around a corner or became engulfed in a ball of flames.

In fact, there was none of this excitement and the bus behaved, well, exactly like a conventional bus.

This should perhaps come as no surprise, as director of public transport Ian Longworth explained.

Comparing the ex-London Mercedes Citaro bendy, one of two here for a month-long trial to test its suitability for use on Manx roads, with one of Bus Vannin’s single deckers from the same manufacturer, he said: ‘The front overhang is the same and the wheelbase is identical.’

He said that steering round tight corners is tough for all buses and an articulated vehicle can manoeuvre anywhere a standard length bus can.

Nick Black, chief executive of the Department of Community, Culture and Leisure, insisted he was a keeping a open mind about the suitability of the bendy buses.

He said the DCCL would make significant savings of £300,000 in staffing and fuel costs, if they were introduced, but added: ‘If they do not prove suitable, we will have to find savings in a different way.’

Mr Longworth conceded that the biggest savings would be in staff costs, as there would be a need for eight fewer buses and therefore eight fewer bus drivers, saving around £38,000 each a year on salaries.

He said that were it not for the budgetary pressures facing the department, the articulated buses would not have been considered.

As well as revenue savings in staffing and fuel costs, £3 million of capital costs would be saved in replacing older buses in the fleet, with 30 double deckers that need to be replaced over the next three years as the cost of overhaul will prove prohibitive.

If the trial proves successful, the bendy buses will be confined to school runs, used on regular services only when they are need to be positioned for the next school service. For the rest of the time they will be idle. But Mr Longworth pointed out that many of the existing double deckers stand idle for much of the day.

The biggest controversy over the vehicles is safety, however, and specifically safety of school children. Certified to carry 149 passengers, there will be seats for just 56, with standing room only for everyone else.

Mr Longworth pointed out that inside there was a ‘forest of poles’, with handrails and straps throughout the vehicles, including in the concertina articulated section.

‘We are dealing with a lot of myths,’ he said.

Among the myths are that bendys cause more accidents and are prone to catch fire.

London Mayor Boris Johnson famously banned them from the streets of London, but Mr Longworth said the figures Boris quoted about their safety record were heavily skewed with statistics from the busiest traffic corridors compared with rural routes.

There were a number of incidents where buses caught fire in London but these were caused by local modifications to compressors that led to over-heating and were solved when Mercedes engineers returned the vehicles to their original condition.

Mr Longworth admitted there were pinch points in the island such as Ballakermeen and old Laxey, where manoeuvring the bendy will be difficult because of parked cars or tourist coaches. But he insisted these were no more difficult that when using a conventional bus.

The bendy returned to the depot without a hitch, the only issue with this reporter being a slight touch of traffic sickness but this was more to do with trying to focus on interviewing while remaining upright with notebook in hand.

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