Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled his Christmas present to Londoners last Friday when he announced the results of the competition to design a new Routemaster bus for the capital.
Now far be it from me to mistrust Greek scholars bearing gifts, but the earliest Londoners will even see a prototype of the new bus will be 2011.
Of course, people have nostalgic memories of the old Routemaster. The open platform at the back provided an incentive to hop off and on at will – even when the bus was moving. One of the spectator sports for tourists was to watch City gents (ideally in bowler hats) run full pelt along the pavement into the road and then with a flying leap hurl themselves onto the open rear platform of an accelerating Routemaster. (I have to confess that even I did it on occasion, although – I know this is difficult to believe – I was young and foolish then and considerably less well-upholstered.)
However, there was a reason why the Routemasters were phased out (apart from them being colder inside than buses with doors). And that reason, of course, was that the encouragement to jump on and off them led to some appalling injuries to those who misjudged the jump.
An urban myth has been created that the bendie-buses have killed dozens of cyclists and pedestrians. (Mayor Johnson didn’t create this myth though he certainly fed it during his election campaign.)
The statistics I saw, when I was a member of Transport for London’s Safety, Health and Environment Committee, certainly didn’t bear out the myth: there were none of the falls down the stairs associated with double-deckers and serious injuries involving other road users were not statistically different from those for other types of bus.
So the question we will have to ask of the new Routemaster (if it is ever commissioned) is how many extra people will it kill or seriously injure? And is this really less important than nostalgic feelings and aesthetics?