London Mayor Boris Johnson took a ride on one of his city’s brand new, emissions-slashing double-deckers Friday, calling the bus “the latest, greatest masterpiece of British engineering and design.” Just days after entering service though, the prototype sat on the side of highway waiting for a tow-truck to arrive―creating a stir in the British press and raising questions about its reliability.
The buses are inspired by the classic red Routemaster double-deckers that had been an iconic part of the London cityscape since the 1960s, until being phased out in the mid-2000s by former Mayor Ken Livingston. Manufactured by Northern Ireland’s Wrightbus and designed by London’s Heatherwick Studio, the new buses are powered by Volvo’s heavy-duty hybrid technology program.
Though technical details about the new buses are sparse, in 2009, Volvo collaborated with another bodywork firm to create a double-decker for the private London bus contractor, Arriva. That bus was based on Volvo’s B5L parallel hybrid system which offered 25-percent fuel savings over a standard diesel engine. The new Wrightbus-manufactured models unveiled by Transport for London last week are said to greatly improve on that figure, providing better than double the fuel economy of a regular bus (an impressive 11.6 mpg,) and half the emissions.
As for Monday’s breakdown, officials say that there was nothing technically wrong with the bus but are re-examining its use on highways. According to a Transport for London spokesman, the driver of the bus pulled over after noticing a warning light indicating that the battery needed to be charged temporarily by its diesel engine. While the battery was charging, the double-decker reportedly ran out of diesel fuel. Shortly after the arrival of the tow-truck, workers were able to refuel the bus and get it back on the road.
Transport for London will be testing eight of the new hybrid Routemasters next year. Once the kinks are worked out, Mayor Johnson hopes to unleash a full fleet of them on London’s streets in the coming years.