London

New Routemaster's battery problems mean many run on just diesel

  • 20 July 2015
  • From the section London
New Routemaster Image copyright AP
Image caption Drivers complain the hybrid system does not work "in 90% of buses" and they "don't feel in control"

Driven by diesel or "clean and green", the 21st Century Routemaster bus is making drivers see red. But while mayoral hopefuls hop on board to join the row, transport bosses say they're on the right road.

I'm told that at the back of a bus depot, there is a large pile of power batteries that no longer work.

All have been removed from the new bus for London and are a crucial part of the hybrid system.

Drivers say that many buses across London are operating without them in place.

That means in some cases what Transport for London (TfL) claims is "the most environmentally friendly bus of its type" is running only on diesel.

Engine cannot cope

Leon Daniels from TfL had maintained that: "The New Routemaster is the cleanest and greenest bus of its class and we have seen absolutely no safety problems with its hybrid system."

But today he admitted 80 of the new Routemasters are running on diesel generators and in all 200 will have failing batteries replaced under warranty.

I asked Mr Daniels if he was embarrassed about these performance issues. He said he was proud that London was at the forefront of developing new technologies.

In fact the batteries have been a problem for some time. In March, I reported that the batteries were going to be replaced under warranty.

A number of drivers have raised the issue with Christian Wolmar, a transport journalist who is also seeking the Labour nomination for mayor of London.

They complain a lack of batteries means the diesel engine cannot cope. The bus is slower than usual and has poor acceleration.

A letter from one driver said: "In about 90% of buses the hybrid system does not work. It is instead running on the diesel engine all the time (not eco-friendly is it?)."

'A Boris failure'

Others said: "The hybrid system does not work", that it is "very slow", "it just cuts out in the middle of the road" and drivers "don't feel in control of the bus".

Mr Wolmar said: "What they have told me is profoundly shocking. These buses do not work properly, the electric motor does not work.

"They stall quite a lot and there's a danger of them rolling back. Sometimes they go completely out of phase and all the red lights come on and the drivers find it very difficult to control them at times.

"The drivers say almost nine out of 10 do not have the electric motors working. This bus is a ridiculous throw back. It has been a total waste of money. It's a Boris failure."

The Unite union has also received complaints.

'Wrong technology'

John Murphy, Unite's regional officer, said: "The batteries just aren't fit for purpose. It's not that the technology isn't there it's just the wrong technology.

"Personally I think this stems from the rush to get through this vanity project.

"They're not really a practical bus for London. The common practice now is to take the batteries out of the buses so effectively these very expensive environmentally friendly buses are just running on diesel."

These buses cost £354,000 - a normal hybrid off the peg costs about £300,000.

At the moment there are 500 operating on the roads. A further 300 will be on the road during 2016.

These have been bought by TfL, not the bus companies.

Some commuters love the look of them, others hate the stifling heat on the top deck that is yet to be resolved.

Mr Daniels said: "An improved battery design was introduced on new deliveries and any older ones which fail are repaired or replaced.

"This has all been done by the manufacturers within the warranty period, at no cost to TfL, or the fare or tax payer."

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