Many of the “Boris buses”, which cost £350,000 each and were intended to halve CO2 emissions, are running almost entirely on diesel, drivers have complained. The engines were supposed to only run when they needed to charge the battery.
Transport for London (TfL) confirmed the electric power supplies on up to 80 of the buses have had to be mended or replaced by the manufacturer.
“This bus has been a scandal from start to finish,” said Christian Wolmar, who is bidding to become Labour’s candidate for London mayor and uncovered driver concerns about the problem. “Now we find that the supposed environmental benefits are a con.”
The problems come after last week’s humiliation for Johnson when home secretary Theresa May ruled the Met Police could not use three secondhand water cannon the mayor ordered from Germany for £218,205. He has also been criticised for offering to invest £30m of taxpayers’ money in the proposed garden bridge across the Thames, designed by Thomas Heatherwick, who also designed the Boris bus, and his judgment has been questioned over his backing of a £60m cable car across the Thames after it emerged it is being used by no more than a couple of dozen regular commuters.
Sean O’Shea, chief operating officer of bus operator Metroline, confirmed most of its 55 new Routemaster buses have suffered from the battery problems and many are running on diesel mode more than they were intended to.
Mike Weston, TfL’s director of buses, said: “If the batteries stop working properly the engine runs for longer to generate the electrical power needed. The battery packs are being upgraded as soon as possible and within the warranty period, at no cost to TfL or the taxpayer.”
Drivers have complained to Wolmar that the battery problems mean they are driving buses with inconsistent and sometimes inadequate power, which they claims increases the risk of collisions.
According to Wolmar, drivers say a lack of power means they have problems pulling away from bus stops safely. Wolmar said one driver told him that all 10 of the Boris buses he drove one week had no battery charge.
Metroline and TfL denied there was any risk to passenger safety. A spokesman for TfL said: “New Routemaster buses are completely safe whether they operate in diesel mode or electric mode.”
O’Shea said: “An initial batch of these vehicles have a battery issue and our vehicles are in that batch. We would not allow any vehicle to go out in an unsafe condition. We will follow up on any issues brought to our attention.”