Blog : Loving the New Bus for London

Keith Adams

New Bus for London - Picture TfL

If you’ve not been in London for a while, don’t particularly care for the big city, or haven’t been hooked into popular media for a couple of years, the arrival of a new bus in London to replace the old Mercedes-Benz ‘bendy-buses’ might well have passed you by. For the rest of us, it’s good to see that these British-built buses, which nod to their past without dipping into retro pastiche, are really starting to appear in numbers in the capital.

For me personally, I’ve tended to view buses as a bit of a peripheral interest, sparking a little nostalgia when I see an old one, or being mildly irritated when I need to overtake one lumbering in front of me on a country lane – but, after a day spent riding the Wright New Bus for London in service, it’s hard not to be impressed with what they’ve achieved when it finally came to replacing the old Routemasters.

The job of creating a replacement for a 1960s British icon is never going to be easy – just ask MINI, Jaguar or London Taxis International. However, in each case, it could be argued that coming up with something suitable for the 21st century, which is inspired by the original, pays respectful homage but isn’t too mired in the past, is possible. The styling of the Wrightbus NBfL does take a little getting used to but, once you’re on board with its awkwardly long front and rear overhangs and the quirky, modern and asymmetric paint job, the styling really works.

But the true genius of the NBfL is inside, where the clever use of themed seat trim, flooring design, a domed roofline and old-style (but padded) hand rails harks back to the original. For a seasoned traveller on the old one, it’s the interior that’s the most evocative aspect of travelling on these buses. It has to be said that the technology’s pretty impressive, too. Up front, on the top deck, the view is panoramic, so for cruising on Route 390 to Notting Hill Gate, you get such a good view of the West End, one wonders why anyone would shell out for one of those pricey topless bus tours. And I’m also easily pleased by another aspect of the NBfL – the satisfying old-school ‘ping’ you hear from the Stop button when it’s pressed.

The 4.5-litre Cummins diesel, which is neatly tucked underneath the rear staircase, is a generator for the hybrid drivetrain – so, for the passenger, the engine note never matches the road speed, as it does in more conventional vehicle. Silent getaways are a treat – as are the lowered emissions. According to its maker, the NBfL puts out 640g/km and delivers 11.6mpg. Given that it has a capacity of 87 passengers, that’s rather impressive – especially as that equates to the total emissions or fuel usage of, say, five Ford Fiestas. So, not only is this bus good looking and great to ride on, it’s also highly efficient.

I’m sure it’s pricey compared with other buses and will probably only end up being run on the more high profile routes in London, but sometimes – and one has to admire TfL for this – cost considerations can be given less priority than normal in the name of prestige. I suppose its real effectiveness as a bus will be to determined by how many other towns and cities, both here and overseas, take an option and purchase these £330,000 NBfLs.

However, for now, let’s rejoice that we’ve successfully reinvented another transport icon of the past and that it’s built here in the UK – Ballymena in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Wrightbus employs 1000 people, and business is booming, following further recent new orders from FirstGroup. Proof, if ever it was needed, that the UK is still at the sharp end when it comes to design and innovation. If I do end up driving in the capital again any time soon (and I hope not), I’ll make sure I give any NBfL driver I come across a nod and a smile in appreciation of his fine choice of steer…

Photographer - Stan Papior Wright London Bus   Red

Keith Adams


  1. I saw a couple of these when I was in London last summer; it was quite uncanny when they moved away from a standstill in total silence.

  2. “Silent getaways are a treat – as are the lowered emissions”
    Yes, so lets go the whole hog and make them silent all the time, and pollution free by converting them all to trolleybuses and re-erect the overhead wires. It can be done. London once had the largest trolleybus network in the world, but it was all scrapped to allow the old Routemaster to take over.

    Recent figures show that Oxford Street, a bus and taxi only street is the most polluted in London from traffic fumes. The filthy, stinking, vibrating, diesel engine needs to be abolished.

  3. @5 Next you will say the trams in Edinburgh are a runaway success, or the Metrolink-45 mins to Manchester or 20 mins on the train parked next to it?

    Far too many buses on the road driving around empty all day anyway.

    TfL has been a joke for years. And still is. And HS2 will be.

  4. You’ll never beat the Leyland Royal Tiger Doyen for styling!And that badge! But the New Routemaster is very impressive!

  5. Jobs for a thousand, a bus that is selling, a bus that looks as if someone actually had some style in their head – what’s not to like?
    Great stuff!

  6. The buses in service are now up to the mid 100s now and they are a common site on the roads in London. Congratulations to all involved in daring to do something different.

    The standard of design and construction of the vehicles is very high and they are very different to the normal boxes on wheels that are buses in this country nowadays. The internal styling takes many cues from the Routemaster of the 1950s and the colouring of the interior and seating is similar to that used originally.

    That said, I am not sure what they are trying to be – a one man bus or a traditional crewed platform bus. It is a modern bus with a Routemaster style platform (with doors) on the back. These are often closed out of use when the buses are operated as one man operated, which they area the weekends.

  7. Alasdair, @9, the original Routemaster interiors, as I recall, had yellow ceilings and quite a strong green/yellow influence in the seat moquette. To me, the dominance of red in the seats and white ceiling reminded me much more of the Midland Red D9 as originally built in the early 60s. This was reinforced by the quality of the ride, especially when, on pulling into the kerb at stops, the bus rocked from side to side, just like a D9.

    I do agree entirely with the the main thrust of your post. This is a designed-for-purpose quality product, as was the Routemaster, D9, and Bristol Lodekka, and not built down to a price.
    This is the only vehicle that has re-ignited my enthusiasm for a modern bus for many years, and I thoroughly enjoy every journey on them.

  8. I really like these buses – its good to see some thought put into the design of them plus they are good to ride on and use. I also like the way they respect history without being a pastiche. So much better than those terrible bendy buses ever were!

  9. @6 I half agree with Francis. Here in Edinburgh there are far too many buses and many of them are empty. There is a bus stop almost every 50 yards so they probably never get out of 2nd gear. They add significantly to Edinburgh congestion and pollution. As for the trams……..oh dear.

    On saying that I think the new London bus is fantastic and deserves to become a great success.

  10. I am not quite sure how @6 links my post on trolleybuses and pollution to Metrolink and Edinburgh trams, but there you are ! In fact Metrolink has been a success, although by keeping the high platforms and stopping at every stop, clearly running times from end-to-end are longer than trains that only have a few stops. However running time has to consider service frequency. If you just miss a train that runs every 30 minutes, your “running time” is extended. As for the Edinburgh trams enough has been said already but the project management and set-up was deeply flawed from the start. I expect it will be successful once it starts running, even though the line is only a third of what was intended.

  11. I’ve seen these a couple of times – they look really nice and a good update to the older buses with the link back to the old Routemasters. Using Hybrid/Electric drivetrains is in no way ecological – you’d be better slapping a 6 litre turbosupercharged stratified charge 2 stroke in them than do that.
    Dont agree? Heres why.

    1. Stratified Charge engines – even two strokes are as clean as most petrol engines – and they can *even with 50:1 mixture oil systems* be catalysed (I know because my bike came with a catalyst and that was a 32cc SC two stroke)
    2. Electric/Hybrid arent clean in any sense of the word. All they do is move a percentage or the entirety of the pollution up the chain, usually to highly polluting coal (at worst Lignite, yes Germany I do mean you) oil or gas stations, relying on increasingly creaky architectures and meaning at a worst case scenario the loss of the electricity grid means no transport whatsoever (at least fossil fuels means we have transport even without electric).
    3.) Its more energy intensive to mine ores for batteries, then refine them, then make the batteries, then ship the batteries, then install the batteries, then replace them again in 10 years time – than it is to build a decently powerful ICE – of what ever cycle and bolt it in. Maintained carefully an ICE engine can last 50 years+.
    4.) KISS. Keep It Simple Stupid. Otherwise known in Korea as the “chuck it out” brigade. The more complexity the more weight, the more weight, the more weight the more fuel consumption, the more fuel consumption the more complexity to gain the MPG back. Not to mention the maintainence costs in both peoples time, money and the wasted materials and energy replacing the completely unnecessary Throttle Position Sensor for the 15th time in 20k miles…

    These buses may look good and I am the first to admit that they do – but I bet you good money that 10 years down the line Boris “Of course im sane, I’ve a note to prove it” Johnson will be living in terror of livid London Transport managers and assorted related death threats.

    Even when the original Routemasters came out they were built with over-specced parts and bombproof engines & transmissions.. result they lasted.. I very much doubt these will…

    PS: If these have batteries, they’ll contain lithium. Lithium and water dont mix – at least to any advantage of any bus passengers present. I wonder what would happen if some bright spark (pun unintended) decides to blow one of these buses up, on a rainy day, and the batteries are punctured/damaged. Cue fireball & a new definition of KFC for London Transport – Kentucky Fried Customers. Not a nice way to go.

  12. Jemma, please explain why you consider a throttle position sensor to be, “completely unnecessary”, which vehicle? pedal position or throttle blade? If you’ve replaced something 15 times in 20,000 miles, perhaps you’re mis-diagnosing the fault or fitting an incorrect replacement part?

  13. Landyboy: If an engine will run cleanly without it – it is therefore unneccessary. I used to run a Humber Sceptre 1600 manual. It didnt need a TPS, nor did it have an ECU, ditto a camshaft sensor or any of the other various gubbins. Result: The engine had 200,000 miles and ran absolutely perfectly. Had a nice 80hp and an even nicer 6 speed transmission. The automatic didnt even have any special as regards cold running, all they did was set the choke idle higher so it didnt stall cold…
    While I understand the idea behind ECUs and sensible monitoring and the like but it is utterly pointless if out of the 600 possible failure conditions the only one that doesnt illuminate the CEL is running out of petrol. How is anyone supposed to know whats happening – and dont tell me its anything other than a ruse by manufacturers and dealers to get more cash – its certainly not to help the customers.
    Ive not had to replace that on mine, landyboy, although with the Alpha engine its a known weakness as well as various other sensors. Why, because despite the fact a properly timed modern engine (bar things like VVT & Multiair) will run fine mechanically without them, the deranged idea of fitting a computer means you are stranded which for you might be a frustration, for women it can be downright dangerous.
    Cars & vans and the like are transportation devices – properly designed & maintained they should be able to do that for decades. Modern cars? If the cambelt doesnt get you, a sensor will. If the sensors dont it’ll be a wiring fault. If it isnt that it’ll be a mechanical design fault (Renault EGR on DCi, BMW timing chains, Clio suicidabonnet). Failing all that, and your insurance company writing the car off because some little nerk nicked your VW grille badge – you’ll be 20 years down the line to find out that every spare for that car has been recycled to make the set of yet another interminable Miley Cyrus comeback tour. The vehicle will still pass the MOT, wont have a spot of rust, everything will work perfectly – but for one part and you’ll have to waste a perfectly good vehicle, and all the energy and resources for the one to replace it – because so and so manufacturer chopped in 50 years worth of useful spares to please his accountant..
    Over and above all of that – if it isnt enough – is the garage charging you 70 quid to “ave a look” which translates as “get the YTS kid to start it up, rev it silly, and see what falls off”. Added to that the majority of “mechanics” nowadays who need a good run up to even read the words “first principles” let alone understand what it means. Their idea of solving the problem is replace everything and charge the customer until something “hopefully” works..
    I have no issue with progress but to me progress is making something better not worse. If a car from the 60s can manage 200,000 miles then the new one should do more than that. Fuel consumption like for like should be better. Reliability should be better. Out of just those three two are now worse. Sure you get better reliability, until something electronic dies and you are good and proper stuck – thats not an improvement. Yes, you might be able to run a cambelt engine to 250,000 miles – but not without spending 250quid replacing it every 60,000 – 100,000 miles. At worst thats 1250 alone over the life of the car just for a cambelt – when a double run camchain costs you exactly nothing.

    Have I made my point yet?

  14. Sorry Jemma, I just asked.
    Tempting as it is to try and refute your claims and explain some of the design decisions that car manufacturers go through to make easy to operate, legal vehicles, I have better things to do on a bank holiday Monday.

  15. All the innovation is no doubt there, which is great…

    However the front could looks like it has been designed by someone on hardcore drugs! 🙂

    When compared against some of the other designs which were presented (and probably equally as innovative) they seriously have picked the most odd looking design they could have.

  16. @16, Cars have all this stuff for emissions control. Not for power or economy just emissions. And that’s why the fuel economy isn’t really great unless you drive in a lab.

  17. Jemma – fully support every word. I’ve been doing some study on the development if the Austin 7 recently and the following points are relevant – with regard to progress – the definition of.
    1) The original 7 was designed and first appeared over 1922/23
    2) The car attained 50 mpg in average hands
    3) The car had a 697cc side valve engine that propelled even a slightly sporting model to over 60mph (our National Speed Limit at present).
    4) The car with significant upgrade would see 100mph.
    5) The car has on many occasions circumnavigated the globe, done the Peking Paris and numerous other extraordinary feats.
    Why? Because it was ‘right’ for the purpose and it was simple – very simple!
    As a matter of interest what was the only car (bearing in mind there were 60’s, 70’s and later decade cars competing) that failed catastrophically in the desert on last years London Cairo rally?
    A 4×4 Mitsubishi Pick Up. The electronics failed and it had to be rescued by air.
    A lot if what we buy into today is fashion, hype, aspirational nonsense, environmental speak and one upmanship – it may be many things but ain’t progress! We read that the new Disco (may have) information to the driver of the terrain ahead when he is off-roading and the ability to be controlled by a pedestrian when backing up to horse box. As an off – roader of many years standing that now means the driver can be a complete idiot, incapable of making rational decisions and incapable of driving his machine accurately. Progress?
    Of course it is. ‘They’ tell us it is. It must be so!

  18. Firstly, it is a handsome vehicle that is growing on me. When it was first revealed I just thought what had they done with front as it’s ghastly but after time, it’s got a pleasingly handsome look to it although the front dome reminds me of an Alexander bodied J-type Leyland Atlantean. Also, I do think the glass-sided staircase does add to light and makes it easier to go upstairs. This is a feature that Wrightbus has incorporated into its standard Double-decker design for the Gemini 3 body launched to coincide with the advent of the Euro6 emissions. Also, as mentioned, it’s pleasing that it’s a bus built in the UK, even if the new Euro 6 engines for it will come from China as opposed to Darlington.

    But……and there is a pretty big but with the New Bus for London (NBfL) or New Routemaster as Transport for London (TfL) would now prefer you to call it. It’s just so hard to ignore the elephants in the room about this bus. Firstly, there’s the fact that outside of London, the bus won’t sell. It just won’t. Full stop. Now in case any one questions why, count the doors and count the crew on it. There in lies the clues. Go to any town or city in the UK and you’ll see that most buses there have one door and a driver. In a de-regulated environment, that’s what economics dictate. An extra person means an extra wage and human beings are one of the most expensive costs to any business. No where outside London is there a demand for a three-door, twin staircase, two person double-decker. Given the unique environment in London – deregulation never came to London, where the TfL subsidies flow like water – it can get away with employing someone solely to stand on the rear platform to make sure you get on and off properly and who doesn’t come to even check fairs. No other place in the world could get away with this madness. It’s a bus designed for London and nowhere else. Can you imagine if BMW had built a car that was only designed for Leeds? It would be rightly lampooned. Yet TfL want us to celebrate this as a national icon.

    The second Elephant is the cost. It costs – if you believe TfL – £326,000 per bus. A standard Hybrid double-decker built to London Spec will cost between £250,000 – £300,000 per bus. Let’s say £280,000. A saving of £46,000 per bus and that’s before you add in the cost of the platform attendant. I’m sure it’s lovely inside and very pleasant to sit in, but then again equally so is an Alexander Dennis Enviro 400H or Volvo B5TLH/Wrightbus Gemini, buses that carry the same amount (or more) passengers in less road space (they’re shorter) than a New Routemaster.

    So why build a New Routemaster in the first place and not just stock up on Enviro 400’s or the Volvo’s, both proven designs which would cost less? Vanity. Pure and simple. It’s the same vanity that forced British Leyland to build the Titan in the format that made it unsaleable outside London. The vanity that says that London’s ‘unique’ operating requirements mean it needs bespoke buses, when actually it doesn’t. London no more needs New Routemasters than Glasgow needs New Atlanteans or Birmingham needs New Metrobuses.

    The new Routemaster is a fine bus, don’t get me wrong. However, and in my personal opinion, it’s the wrong bus for its time. A bus built solely for one small – in global terms – market simple because its only customer stamped its feet and said it wanted one and, gorged on subsidies, it demanded that it was built. And at the same time as it was spending thousands of pounds more than it need do on buses it cannot sell on when it withdraws them, transport authorities outside London are cutting services up and down the country due to lack of funds to support them. That’s why I cannot see why this bus is a good thing.

  19. I understand that this model is only c£30k more than the boring alternatives – less than 10%. It is a triumph for those with some imagination – I love it…

  20. @Jemma

    So as far as I can make out you are raging at the way modern vehicles are developed. Yes in the past it made perfect sense to build vehicles that could last 250thousand miles of use and be serviced by the owner with a spanner, hammer and a grease gun. The law, market and the buying public have very much changed that.

    It is not in the interest of the manufacturers to build a vehicle that can last that long and there are three major drivers for that:

    1) Emissions requirements, to get a modern vehicle to meet current and predicted emissions requirements requires ever tighter tolerances and lots of electronics.

    2) With the availability of cheap finance the public are very much interested in buying new/nearly new vehicles that they will keep for three years max. Those cars will be covered by warranty so the ability to run sweet at 250 thousand is a non issue.

    3) The European End of Life Directive. Manufacturers have to pay towards the cost of disposal. It is far easier for them to dispose and recycle newer vehicles.

    Put that all together alongside the publics desire to have every imaginable electronic gadget and it forces vehicles to be more complex.

    Also before you get too nostalgic for the simple old days consider the new Ford Focus Ecoboost and its forebear the Anglia 105E. Both have nearly exactly the same size engine. The former a 997cc straight 4 Kent the latter a 999cc 3 cylinder turbo. The Anglia has a top speed of 74mph which will feel fairly hairy whilst the Focus can cruise at 90 and get up to 115mph. The Focus can also drive for nearly 650 miles on a tank of fuel in total comfort and you won’t need to tinker with it on the way.

    I know people who work in car safety and they are very clear that modern cars are just in a different playing field when it comes to reliability and safety. Old cars needed constant ongoing maintenance whilst modern ones can pretty much sale between each mandated service without the bonnet needing to be opened.

    It is a different world and to suggest that modern vehicles are unreliable is rather asinine considering the technology that goes into them.

  21. Wrightbus are a local success story, over the last 10-15 years they became leaders in supplying low floor buses, when most fleets were looking to replace theirs.

    It amuses me to be travelling along the motorway, and to see buses in various liverys heading to Belfast docks – First, Lothian, even a couple of these Routemasters – which was a bit disconcerting!
    Then, travelled to Las Vegas, and hopped on the tram-bus, which so happened to be a Wright product!

    Great to see local products taking the world by storm!

  22. Oh, if only the world really were like that which Fedaykin sees ! Electrical problems are the reality which besets every motorist today, particularly key / immobiliser failures . Mechanical reliability may have improved – although it was not often all that bad in the first place – but the woeful problems resulting from over-dependence on electronically modulated devices have turned modern cars into a nightmare. It was William Douglas, the veteran aircraft manufacturer , who had it right : “What you don’t fit don’t give no trouble ..!!”

  23. “..the arrival of a new bus in London to replace the old Mercedes-Benz ‘bendy-buses’..”

    I’m so behind the times I actually thought this bus replaced the Routemaster..

  24. @christopher storey

    I beg to differ, I own a year old Hyundai and I haven’t had a single electrical issue. If it did develop one I would pop to the garage and it would be sorted under warranty. That is what the public wants now.

    This gets me into the world of statistics but before we judge modern cars for the reliability of their systems we need to consider sample sizes. How many cars are on the road now in comparison to forty years ago? What was the maintenance profile for a car forty years ago vs now?

    Simple fact is there were far less cars and those vehicles tended to be in operation far longer with multiple owners. Forty year old second hand cars were not unreasonable. Now a fifteen year old car is in banger territory. Cars forty years ago tended to require constant preventative maintenance by the owner. Cars now will often not even have the bonnet up between manufacturer mandated services. Just consider the level of reliability we are talking about here. I have a friend who works in a Fiat garage servicing modern examples of that mark. He tells me it is boring by in large, the car comes in for its service, he plugs it in for a diagnostic report and then they change what is required on that service interval. Major electrical issues are rare and generally easy to sort. The biggest thing they have issue with these days is consumable stuff like tyres and brake pads which arguably is not an issue of the car per say. Modern cars with their very tight tolerances are not heavy on oil. Now consider we are talking about Fiat here!

    There is perception vs reality going on here and you talk of immobiliser gremlins but how big an issue is that vs the large number of vehicles on the road. Vehicles that are capable of constant high speed and generally abusive use with zero preventative maintenance for months on end.

    The average driver has little to worry running a modern car and electrical issues are far rarer vs the sample size then you are suggesting.

    A modern car is more comfortable, reliable and safer then anything forty years ago.

  25. I don’t understand how we get from the new London Bus to Hyundai’s, Anglia’s and Austin 7’s, why a nice written piece about a decent looking product cant be met with praise and rational rather than bickering and comparing cars to buses and modern technology to the tech in a 90 year old car is beyond my train of thought.

    I enjoyed reading the piece, it is a shame a lot of the comments following wander off into never never land (as usual)

    We saw many of these when in London last year, they looked really nice, modern and quiet, so many foreigners were taking pictures and looking at them, and when we saw one nearby, we hopped on and had a look, before it drove off.. LOL..

  26. Fab looking Bus design especially the “retro Route master”oval shaped rear & spiral staircase..Just needs a little heart shaped chrome grille on the front to complete it !Well done Wrightbus ballynena! A great design!

  27. @25,Its one thing having a seven year warranty on a car, its another when they wont honour a High pressure fuel pump failure (16 so far, from a fleet of 706) with low miles and fuel analysis drawing a blank.

    Warranty claims submitted from my place of work with ford alone is £4 million per annum (we carry out our own repairs as we are FoMoCo accredited) on a fleet of 22,000 Ford vehicles, never mind VAG and Mercs.

    @23, Aye, a Boris wet dream, I wonder who’s palms got greased along the way.

  28. Yes, they’re great. Can’t wait to see them in Berlin, Copenhagen and other double deck using places. Just what The UK needs and should be proud of.

    Ref the argument about the relative reliability of old and new cars. I seem to have a lot less trouble with my 6 year old 100k miles car than my Dad did 30 years ago with his succession of sub 3 year old Maxis, Cortinas and SD1s. I know it’s a small sample size, but I’d be pretty confident things have moved forward…

  29. @36, Sure they have, trouble is they are not built to last- I know hardly any car rusts before our eyes anymore but we still have a hugely important second hand car market-upwards of 8 million cars sold year in year out. Yet we have a throwaway mentality, the point made above @25 being good in terms of recyclability, with the energy and costs in the disposal makes a mockery of this.

    When I was an apprentice we used to “skim” the brake discs or drums if scored now its throw em.

  30. I think it should be known that not all routes using these buses will have conductors. The rear door can be closed when conductors are no on board. Don’t ask me how a stranger can know if a conductor is on board or not !!

  31. Some 1970s – 80s London buses had “flip flaps” that would tell passengers boarding to pay the driver or conductor.

  32. Great buses I tested last february. If only we could have some in Paris… Ours are smelly diesel with a cruel lack of room. Long live the double deckers!

  33. @23

    I’m sure that the hybrid tech, and some of the design features (even if they exclude the rear doors) will filter down to other Wrightbus products.

  34. @ Francis Comment 6

    The irony is that Lothian Region Transport, that run the Edinburgh buses and trams, have now renamed themselves “Transport for Edinburgh”. I had to chuckle when I first saw that on the side of a bus….

  35. @12 John McAllister

    Totally, you practically need breathing apparatus to walk the length of Gorgie or Morningside Roads

  36. Why does it have to be a London-centric bus? Is that why its dearer? Why not Manchester, Coventry and Hong Kong as well?

    MCW managed to flog gear to them places.

  37. @38 and @39,
    Dont understand the issue about payment as London buses dont accept money anymore – it’s all contactless payment cards – either Oyster or bank cards. Get in any door and tap to pay.

  38. Loved reading about your newfound appreciation for the new London bus! Your engaging insights into its design and features are fantastic. Thanks for sharing your positive experience with this iconic mode of transport. Looking forward to more of your engaging posts!

  39. I’m pretty certain the preceding post by ‘Kim Jones’ has been generated by a Bot, and not a real human being.

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