Will Boris Johnson’s ‘Boris buses’ stimulate the economy?

London mayor Boris Johnson has a lot of hope riding on his new fleet of  ‘Boris Buses’ – not least that they will stimulate the economy and boost the jobs market.

Johnson has ordered 600 of his so-called “Boris Buses” to be built and on the road by 2016. According to him, the fleet will safeguard at least 220 jobs in the region and stimulate hundreds if not thousands more related jobs throughout the UK. But Boris-bashers have been quick to point out that the buses cost some £50,000 more to build than the current stock of double-deckers and will not employ a significantly huge numbers of employees. So, who is right?

 

All aboard for jobs?

For those who haven’t seen one yet, Johnson’s new buses are a modern interpretation of the much-loved hop-on-hop-off Routemasters, which had an open rear platform. That ageing fleet was withdrawn in 2005 and replaced by the then mayor Ken Livingstone’s generally reviled and now extinct bendy buses.

So what’s the score in terms of jobs? Well, for a start, the open platform means the Boris Bus will require a conductor in addition to the driver. But, unlike on the original Routemaster, conductors will be there to ensure passenger safety on the open platform rather than sell tickets. More to the point, as the platform will be sealed off at night, they will only be needed at peak times.

Wayne King, regional officer at one of the UK’s biggest unions, Unite, told Totaljobs.com that he is sceptical that these new buses will boost the jobs market significantly. “There will be an increase in conductors, because at the moment that position doesn’t exist,” he says. “But there won’t be a conductor on every bus all day, only at rush hour.”

Right, so, maybe there won’t be huge numbers of extra conductors, but at least Johnson’s buses are keeping British manufacturers busy, unlike the bendy buses, which were built in Germany.

Certainly, Northern Ireland’s enterprise minister Arlene Foster reckons the integration of the buses is good news. The contract to manufacture the 600 buses has been won by Wrightbus in Ballymena.  Some 40 people were originally employed at the chassis plant, but this is rising to 90 to meet production schedules. Wrightbus has also invested almost £15m in research and development and staff training.

Indeed, one of Johnson’s most persuasive arguments for the Boris Bus is that the programme of transport improvements will generate significantly more jobs outside the capital than the 40,000 it currently supports. For instance, the engines will come from Darlington, the seats from Telford, the seat moquette will be made in Huddersfield, the ramps in Hoddesdon and the Treadmaster flooring is from Liskeard.

It’s all good. But critics would say the cost of the buses will leech funding from other job-stimulating initiatives and drive up fares. For sure, these new buses are expensive. The cost of each of the 600 buses is £354,500 compared with the £326,000 price tag of the standard double-decker currently in use. In addition, the bill for the extra conductors has been estimated at £60,000 per vehicle per year.

Transport For London (TfL) didn’t get back to us with a comment, but news stories claim it will pay the extra costs, including salaries. Johnson has argued that tests of the diesel-electric Boris Bus showed huge potential savings on fuel.

Nevertheless, King at Unite is not alone as seeing the new buses as a vanity project: “I think the money could have been better spent,” he said, “There were issues with disabled access and they could have improved it in the existing fleet and waited until the economy was stronger before spending the money.”

Perhaps the most persuasive argument from Johnson is that investment in London’s ever-growing transport network has an economic knock-on effect around the country. This call to look at the bigger picture was echoed by Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, who was speaking at the British Hospitality Association summit in London on 11 June. Walsh underlined the importance of investing in London’s transport infrastructure to maintain the UK’s competitive edge as a tourist destination, adding that the tourism industry contributes a mighty £115 billion a year to our economy.

“The UK economy is dependent on the capital’s travel infrastructure and needs to be competitive. Anything that harms London’s economy harms the UK economy,” said Walsh.

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