BENDY buses will not be bought if a month-long island trial concludes they are not suitable for Manx roads, the Minister in charge promised MHKs.
Community Culture and Leisure Minister Graham Cregeen was quizzed in the House of Keys about what risk assessments had been carried out on the prospect of more than 90 children being forced to stand on bendy buses if the controversial vehicles are introduced on school runs.
He said: ‘I wish to make it clear that my department is planning to operate two of these vehicles for a month’s trial. This is to assess the suitability of these vehicles on the island.
‘If the benefits of using these vehicles are confirmed we plan to operate eight services using articulated buses. As the long term use of these buses requires a change in the legislation, Tynwald approval will be needed.
‘I would like to make it quite clear that we have not purchased any of these vehicles and if the trial does not prove successful, we will not carry out any purchase of them.’
An Arriva bendy bus from London was trialled in the island back in 2009.
In a statement, Nick Black, chief executive officer of the Department of Community Culture and Leisure, said that the date of a new trial has yet to be confirmed. He said: ‘The two vehicles involved are currently being prepared for service and are not in the island. There is no transport date booked for them at this stage though this is soon to be arranged.’
The DCCL believes bendy buses will make significant savings in operating costs in terms of staffing, maintenance and fuel efficiency – as well as being cheaper to buy. Bus Vannin says the £40,000 price of a second hand vehicle could be funded by the sale of two double deckers.
Mr Cregeen told the Keys the maximum number of standing passengers allowed on a Bus Vannin vehicle is currently 31 but a Mercedes Citara articulated bus is certified by the manufacturer to carry up to 101 standing passengers.
He said Bus Vannin was planning to change the internal layout of these bendy-buses if they were bought, to increase seating from 49 to 56, which would limit standing to 94.
Richard Ronan (Castletown) asked whether the department had taken into consideration other assessments and trials carried out in other areas of the UK – and if so could details of the risk assessments be circulated to members ‘so we can alleviate the fears that parents have about their children travelling to school on articulated buses.’
He pointed out that Northern Ireland had banned children from standing on designated school buses while Wales had followed the English passenger transport authorities by introducing a ‘one child, one seat’ approach.
‘Everybody seems to be driving forward regarding to safety of schoolchildren travelling, but we as an island seem to be reversing,’ he told the Keys.
The Minister replied: ‘It would be much appreciated if he would identify where he thinks the money is going to come from to purchase a whole new fleet of buses?’
Leonard Singer (Ramsey) suggested that the risks of using a bendy bus in the Isle of Man would be totally different that using one in a major city.
He said: ‘It does not matter whether it is on the Isle of Man, or whether it is anywhere else. The carrying capacity and the risks are the same.
‘The suitability as to whether they are acceptable on the roads is why we are bringing two over for a trial and that is where we will be checking the suitability.’
Juan Watterson (Rushen) asked the Minister whether any staff in his department had experience of operating a fleet of articulated buses on road services.
Mr Cregeen replied there were at least two, including one who had operated them in England.
John Houghton (Douglas North) asked whether those two would ‘happen to be from the same firm who are trying to sell this junk to the Isle of Man, that being Arriva? Have they previously worked for the organisation that is trying to sell us these duff bendy buses?’
Mr Houghton failed to secure Tynwald support last week for his call for a select committee inquiry to be set up to investigate whether there had been proper feasibility and consultation over the introduction of bendy buses.