Have taxpayers been sold a one-way bus ticket?

19 May 2010
Sarah Campbell blog picNothing gets Londoners more pumped up than the transport network. Except maybe the Olympics. So it was never going to be a smooth ride for London Mayor Boris Johnson as he unveiled the futuristic design for the capital’s new double-decker buses. The design is pretty cool: two staircases, three sets of doors, sleek exterior. The mayor’s office reckons it will be 15 per cent more efficient than other hybrid buses, and 40 per cent more efficient than normal diesel ones. And it should be on the roads by 2012 – just in time for the Olympics. But before you accuse me of being London-centric, there’s a procurement issue here. Critics have pointed out that developing and manufacturing the first five vehicles will cost £7.8 million. The Guardian quotes Darren Johnson, a Green party member on the London assembly, as saying: “Londoners need a guarantee that none of these buses will hit the streets until there [is] a competitive bidding process [pitching] the new bus [against] a conventional hybrid.” This is unlikely. The contract to design and build the bus was already won through due process by Northern Ireland manufacturer Wrightbus in January this year, with the outlines and requirements for the design already in place. The deal has already been done. The more pertinent question, which to be fair Darren Johnson is also quoted as asking, is how much more the buses are going to cost than initially anticipated – and if so, why? It seems the price may have leapt by £50,000 per bus. Now the Greater London Authority is tied into the manufacturing contract, there is no longer any scope for going to market for a cheaper bus. Is this the case of a manufacturer being given the space to be truly innovative and come up with something new, beautiful and iconic – or has the taxpayer been tied into a contract far too early?
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