Friday, August 09, 2019
It's nine years since Boris Johnson unveiled his New Bus For London, and said this.
"This iconic new part of our transport system is not only beautiful, but also has a green heart beating beneath its stylish, swooshing exterior. It will cut emissions, and give Londoners a bus they can be proud of, complete with cutting edge design, and the freedom of an open platform."The open platform was one of the bus's key features, evoking the Routemaster of old and allowing "the reinstatement of a hop-on, hop-off service." As TfL said at the time, "three doors and two staircases will aid speedier and smoother boarding".
Alas hopping on and off didn't last long, because the cost of hiring an extra member of staff to stand on the rear platform proved excessive. Only a handful of routes ever got conductors, the rest having to make do with a closed door while the bus was in motion, and by 2016 all the extra staff had been laid off.
But Boris's freedom chariots are still losing money due to fare evasion by passengers boarding via the middle or rear doors... ironically just like on the bendies they were brought in to replace. So today that's being banned too, initially on only one daytime route, and the revolution begins at Bus Stop M!
From Friday 9th August, customers will only be able to board New Routemaster buses on routes 8 and N8 using the front doors. You will not be able to board using the middle or rear doors, and will not be able to exit at the front. The yellow card readers in the middle and back of the bus will no longer be in use.In other words, the 8 and N8 are going to be like every other normal London bus - you have to get on at the front. It's not rocket science. But it still requires a trial to get customer communications right, apparently, and to test out the potential technicalities of opening the rear door solely to let people off. Let's have a look at how that communication is going.
Bus Stop M has the honour of being the first inbound bus stop on route 8, so Bus Stop M is where the trial kicked off at 0456 this morning. I doubt that anybody was inconvenienced. No notices about the boarding change have been displayed here, nor at any other bus stop, but if you watch the Countdown display at Bus Stop M the following message scrolls past every five minutes or so.
Route 8 - From 9 August you will be required to board buses on routes 8 & N8 through the front door only validating your oyster, contactless card or smart device on the reader located by the driverThis gets the front door message across, but is unnecessarily complicated in a couple of ways. Firstly route N8 doesn't stop at Bus Stop M, so nobody here cares. And secondly once you've got on at the front obviously you have to validate your journey. Waffling on about multiple modes of payment is merely a distraction - less a useful extra instruction, more a wagging finger aimed at naughty fare evaders.
If you boarded a bus on route 8 earlier this week you might have heard a different message. I say might because it only plays every ten minutes or so, and because the noise of the aircon aboard the New Routemaster pretty much drowns it out. I've heard the announcement three times and still have absolutely no idea what the opening statement is, but here's how it ends.
"...through the front door only and touch in on the reader by the driver."That's a lot clearer, I think, with none of that unnecessary burbling on about souped-up digital watches. But the brevity hides another issue, which is that wheelchair users don't have to get on at the front, indeed they'd find that impossible, and what about parents with buggies?
This important quandary is answered in an email sent to regular users of route 8 (although I should mention I didn't receive one, despite falling into that category). Here's the smallprint.
If you need to use the wheelchair priority space you can still use the middle doors to board. If you're travelling with a buggy, let the driver know you need to board through the middle doors first. Then, go to the front and touch in on the yellow card reader or show your ticket to the driver.In other words, the 8 is going to be like every other normal London bus - you have to get on at the front unless you have a very good reason not to. It's not rocket science. But it turns out the more you try to explain a simple rule the more anomalies it throws up, and the more confused certain passengers may get.
To alert a wider populace, the Twitter account @TfLBusAlerts posted this special message yesterday afternoon.
From Friday 9 August, customers on routes 8 and N8 will only be able to board using the front door.— TfL Bus Alerts (@TfLBusAlerts) August 8, 2019
When you board, touch your Oyster card or contactless card/device on the yellow card reader or show the driver a valid ticket.
Wheelchair users can use the middle door. pic.twitter.com/RAzac5bWPK
I like how the first sentence directly contradicts the third. I like how the capital's buggy-pushers are still entirely in the dark. I like how the photograph shows Bus Stop J at Bow Church, which is directly opposite Bus Stop M. I like how TfL's promotional team sent a crowd of people to be photographed in Bow several months ago, before the leaves in the churchyard had fully grown. But most of all I like how Bus Stop J is actually the penultimate stop on route 8, so we're supposed to believe that these half dozen stooges are actually queueing to make a journey of less than 200 metres. But why let reality get in the way?
I went out and did a quick survey on route 8 yesterday, which was the final day of three-door boarding. I rode all the way from Bow to Liverpool Street and counted to see which door the 50-or-so passengers used to board the bus. Here's what happened.
Half the passengers boarded at the front, but the other half took advantage of the New Routemaster's relaxed boarding protocols and boarded either in the middle (30%) or at the rear (20%). Two pushchairs contributed to the middle door total. I was surprised the middle/rear-boarding proportion was so high, but regular passengers on route 8 have had five years' practice in picking which door to use and have clearly been taking advantage. I have no idea how many of them touched in and paid because I was sitting upstairs.
It's going to be interesting to see what happens this morning when the new regulations kick in, and how many passengers won't have noticed. I'm expecting No Entry stickers to have appeared on the middle and rear doors, and for the driver to keep these closed if nobody has dinged to get off. I'm expecting the yellow readers behind these other doors to have been decommissioned, and for the driver to stop and politely harangue anybody trying to use them. But let's see. After all, it's hardly rocket science.
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