In 2008 Boris Johnson, the newly elected Mayor for London announced a competition to design a bus to replace the iconic and much loved Routemaster. A joint effort by Capoco Design and architects Foster and Partners won the competition, and after a bidding process Wrightbus were chosen to build the New Bus for London, thereby nicknamed the Borismaster. By the middle of this year 808 of them will have been built, and it's fair to say they have divided opinion. People either love them or hate them. I'm in the love them camp.
The first time I stepped inside a Borismaster I was taken immediately by the obvious effort that had been made to somehow preserve the feeling of travelling on a Routemaster - the seat moquette, the circular soft lighting just like the old lightbulbs but using up to date LED's, the interior colour scheme even circular bell pushes. They feel solid, have lasted the London pace better than I anticipated and I have never had an issue with them.
But now there is a new kid on the block. Alexander Dennis have seen how successful the Borismaster has been, and have created their own version of the E400MMC to challenge the Borismaster. So today I went to London to compare the two. Ended up comparing more than that as it turned out.
After a very impressive journey on an Arriva 04 reg B7tl ALX400 to Bluewater and then a surprisingly acceptable ride on an 11 reg E400 to Woolwich I was pleased to see I could get to Peckham on a route recently converted to MMC operation.
|Two of the E400 MMC's on the 177, showing both destinations|
It was bloody freezing upstairs. I have always thought those air chill units too noisy and not that effective, except when they're not needed. The MMC's are a huge improvement on the old E400's but nothing has been done to improve the air chill system, and they still dominate proceedings on the upper deck.
However my grumbling was stopped in its tracks when I spotted my target for the day, the E400H City on its first London route - the 78 which operates between Nunhead near Peckham and Shoreditch in the heart of the East End. I have to say if I was Foster and Partners I would be a little miffed. Take a look at these two pics of two offsides.
Honest Guv we haven't copied anything - we just happened to have an original idea that by pure coincidence looks like something designed by someone else. Yup heard that one before. So what else did ADL copy I mean take inspiration from? Well those of you who have been on a Borismaster will remember the comforting burgandy and gold interiors.
|Front upper interior of the E400H City|
Yes that burgandy and gold. The only difference is that the plastic is the typical ADL moulded plastic that looks and feels as though it's come off the clearance shelf at Poundland. What about the seat moquette - after all the moquette on the Borismaster was designed to remind us of the original Routemaster moquette, but this the E400h City is a completely different bus isn't it?
|Rear upper deck|
Ah ok - no that's fair enough, the seats are a different shape after all. Now you will have noticed a major difference between the E400H and the Borismaster - it has one staircase too few, in fact it is defficient in the staircase department to the tune of one (thanks Pete and Dud). The whole idea of two staircases on the Borismaster was to get more people on and off quicker. The MMC clearly doesn't do that. I do like, however, what ADL have done with the rear window - the extra window provides much more light. Which brings us onto the lights. Bog standard E400 strip lighting I'm afraid, none of your LED circular lights as on the Borismaster, but then they wouldn't want to be accused of copying would they!
So come on Steve just show us the bleeping bus I hear you yell! Ok here it is!
|Arriva HA2 E400H City LK65 BYY at Shoreditch terminus|
And from the rear...
|Rear view of the E400H City|
So that's the aesthetics, what about the ride? Well it's an E400MMC so the ride is good. Few rattles, quiet engine, fast acceleration - almost too fast for London really especially under electric power as many people are still getting to their seats or coming downstairs - this isn't East Anglia. But the air chill wasn't nearly as intrusive as the standard E400 which is a major plus point. I ended up going on three of them, HA2, 3 and 15 as I just couldn't reach any firm conclusions about them, and I think that's the problem. I'm not sure these vehicles know exactly what they are, or what their purpose is.
They lack all the advantages of a Borismaster, 3 doors, rear platform, 2 staircases. The passenger capacity is no higher than a normal E400MMC. I assume performance is no different to a normal E400MMC so why do they exist? Is it that they are a lot cheaper than the Borismaster (the plastic certainly is) so operators who really want a Borismaster but can't justify the extra expense (or don't need the extra door and staircase) can have something that resembles one? The E400MMC is a perfectly good bus, far better than its predecessor, despite the air chill noise, so if the City version isn't meant to just be a cheap version of the Borismaster, copying just enough to not be sued, then what is it for? Discuss.
I got off an E400H City in North Peckham and jumped straight on a Borismaster operating one of the latest routes to be converted to the vehicles, the 168 which runs between North Peckham and Hampstead Heath, which is quite a trek.
|LT550 in front of LT547 at North Peckham|
I have always liked Borismasters. They feel better than anything else, have managed to recreate the retro feeling required by Boris Johnson (and many others), and as far as I'm concerned are the best bus around, in urban areas at least, as I've never been on one out of town, which is a shame as I can't really complete my assessment of them until I have. Are they better than the E400H City's? Yes. Does that make the Enviro a bad bus? Not in the slightest.
However since I had the opportunity the ultimate comparison had to be made, and I rode one of the heritage Routemasters on the 15 between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill.
|RM 324 in front of two imposters by Charing X Station|
I have to be honest here - it wasn't great. Bumpy to the point I couldn't type on the phone, rattly and jerky. The seat was uncomfortable but at least it was the warmest bus I'd been on all day. But there was one glaring obscenity. Unless my ears deceived me it had been fitted with a Dennis Dart engine. I know some have. I wish to make this clear - a Routemaster with a Dart engine is not a Routemaster - it is a crime scene!
So to sum up. The E400H City is a good bus but I have no idea why it's been built as the standard E400H does everything the City does anyway and is proving popular. The Borismaster reigns supreme but the original Routemaster I'm afraid is now well past its best and as for the Dart engine...
But it wasn't the worst bus I went on today. That award goes to a 15 reg, yes 15, Volvo B5LH Gemini 3 on the 6 which rattled and banged appallingly for a bus less than a year old. Perhaps Wright should put the same build quality into them as they do the Borismaster, but at least it backed up my Scottish conclusions of November. All in all a really good day.