Bendy Bus: a [low] step in the right direction

The Isle of Man saw its first bendy-bus arrive on the island yesterday, as part of trials by the Department of Transport to assess the suitability of the vehicles to the island.

Bendy-buses try to be the best of high-density (but route restricted) double decker buses and smaller single-deck vehicles by placing the passenger cabin area across two vehicles, and articulated in the middle. Due to their larger size, they often have two sets of doors which helps in getting passengers on and off the bus quickly, which makes them particularly suitable to high-frequency services. Their lower-floor also provides a more comfortable safer centre of gravity and accessibility as per the Disability Discrimination Act for disabled users.

They have, however, experienced a lot of negative press of late. While these buses have been in use in mainland Europe for decades, England (and London in particular) have had a large number of complaints regarding their use resulting in building up a negative reputation. This, I feel, is unfair. These buses provide a very good solution to high-density, high-frequency services, such as those surrounding city centres. My service of choice while in Manchester was the 135, which arrived every 6-7 minutes and was invariably very well occupied (and also ran deep into the night providing a safe means of getting home). Unfortunately, their use has been misapplied previously, particularly in London which has had a disproportionate number of injuries and incidents related to he buses largely as a result of the extremely busy routes and tight road layouts the buses were employed on.

But what about the Isle of Man? With its windy country roads, comparatively shorter distances and housing estates, is the bendy bus a “good fit”? I would say that it would be, if in conjunction with reducing the number of double decker buses. The initial trials are intended to run from Douglas to the south of the island, particularly Ronaldsway Airport. This route is relatively straight forward, mainly 50mph and which is subject to users accessing the airport, with their associated baggage. A bendy bus with the standard wider aisles and larger luggage space would be well suited to this route. I’m not so sure about other “longer distance” routes, though. The Douglas to Ramsey route, particularly, requires traversing some narrow roads not helped by parked cars and the traditional Manx driving style of “me first” when the full width of the road isn’t available.

But the bendy bus does not answer my prime concern; that of the need for regular services at an increased frequency using more agile buses. I’ve blogged previously about the use of double deckers (and the bizarre decision to buy more) around small roads and traffic calming measures on estates, along with their unreliable and unpredictable timetables. If the bendy buses came along with shuttle buses, which ran every 30 minutes or so to help people zip around the various town estates, it would be ideal and would hopefully go some way in encouraging people to stop using their cars to drive 3 miles into town. Such buses work extremely well on the UK mainland, offer ample space for baggage, disabled accessibility and often free services. The 1,2,3 and 4 services in Manchester City Centre are excellent examples of such buses, which would be equally well employed on local town services where agility and frequency are important.

I for one would be more than happy to receive Boris’ bendy-buses, as long as he has some of our double deckers and we get some more suitable shuttle buses.