New Bus for London: Your New Routemaster questions answered

The New Bus for London is almost ready to replace the Routemaster on London's streets. Read our Q&A to find out more about it.

Rory Reid
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It's 2012 and, providing the world doesn't end in a cataclysmic fireball, Britain's capital will soon be teeming with an updated, high-tech version of the Routemaster bus, known as the New Bus for London or NBfL.

It's a rubbish name, but an awesome piece of kit, we think you'll agree. But to many, it's shrouded in mystery. That's why we figured we'd take a break from stockpiling canned goods to answer some of the most pertinent questions about the NBfL.

Here, we'll fill you in on everything from its hybrid-style propulsion system to its fancy, twin staircase-toting interior. So, if you're sitting comfortably -- and you've had a look through the photo gallery above -- we'll begin. 

What is it and who created the thing?

The New Bus for London was conceived when, in September 2007, cartoon-haired then-mayoral candidate Boris Johnson told the world he wanted to scrap the hated bendy bus and introduce a modern-day Routemaster.

Boris' vision gained huge support from many corners, including Autocar. The publication commissioned bus designer Capoco to pen a hybrid re-imagining of the iconic vehicle and later presented that design to Johnson himself. Two months after winning the election in May 2008, Beej announced a competition that allowed companies and ordinary folk to brainstorm a New Bus for London.

The £25,000 prize for winning the main design competition was shared between two entries -- one from Capoco, and a joint submission from sports car maker Aston Martin and architects Foster and Partners. These submissions were passed to a host of bus manufacturers, who would negotiate for the contract to build the new bus. In December 2009, Northern Ireland-based Wrightbus was awarded the contract to build the thing.

Does it have much in common with the old Routemaster?

Well, it has circular headlamps, a curved back end and an open platform at the rear you can use to hop on and off when the bus is at a standstill (or not, if you're feeling particularly brave) but that's about where the similarities end.

Inside, the new Routemaster resembles something from the future, thanks to extensive use of glass, soft LED interior lights and a high curved roof that doesn't require you to walk like a Neanderthal along the upper deck.

Twin staircases allow passengers to get on and off quickly, a step-free gangway provides easy access to those with push chairs and a large wheelchair bay directly opposite the ramped centre door provides access to those with impaired mobility.

How many passengers will I be sharing it with?

It'll convey 87 souls in total -- 40 seated upstairs, 22 downstairs and 25 standing on the lower deck only.

Will it have a conductor?

Transport for London says the new Routemaster will operate with a conductor between 7am and 7pm -- from the beginning of the morning rush hour to the evening rush hour. They won't take fares as their counterparts on the original Routemaster did.

Instead, they'll help passengers get on and off using the doors at the front, middle and rear of the bus. You'll have to pay your own fare by touching your Oyster Card against readers located throughout the bus.

Does this mean I can be sneaky and ride for free?

Unlikely. During peak hours, the conductors will make sure you've tapped in. During off-peak hours, it's likely the NBfL's rear doors will be closed, meaning passengers will have to use the front entrance and tap in with the driver.

It's a hybrid, right?

Sort of. It's actually a range-extended vehicle -- a bit like the Chevy Volt or Vauxhall Ampera. It uses a 4.5-litre diesel generator to power an air compressor that drives the brakes and steering. The diesel lump also provides power to a 75kWh battery and an electric motor, supplied by Siemens, which drives the rear axle.

Like all range-extended vehicles, the generator doesn't need to be active in order for the New Bus for London to run. Providing its battery pack has sufficient charge, it'll pull away in near silence. Realistically, however, the generator is likely to run pretty consistently at around 1,300rpm to keep the battery topped up, though it will also use a regenerative braking system to slide extra juice to the battery whenever the driver slows down.

Here's the obligatory time-lapse video of the bus being built:

Is it as green as it sounds?

As buses go, it isn't half bad. TfL reckon it'll return 11.6mpg and pump carbon dioxide at a rate of 640g/km. That's monstrous compared to your Prius (72.4mpg and 89g/km) but a typical hybrid double-decker bus usually returns just 8.6mpg and 864g/km. A diesel bus is even filthier, returning 5.8mpg and 1,295g/km. 

Hybrids are usually expensive. It's expensive, isn't it?

Yes -- each one will cost £330,000. An ordinary Gemini2 hybrid bus costs £300,000, while the Mercedes-Benz Citaro G bendy bus cost an estimated £200,000. An old Routemaster, if you were to buy one now, would cost you in the region of £20,000. But if Wrightbus manages to sell the New Bus for London design to other cities and countries, TfL will bag a percentage of the cash.

When and where will the buses be used?

Prototypes will enter service from 20 February 2012. By May 2012, eight will be in service. The first vehicles will operate on route 38 between Victoria and Hackney.

I want to see one now!

Easy, tiger. You can flick through our photo gallery above to see it in all its glory. If you're really keen, you can go and see it in person in early January at select locations across London. Check TfL's website for details.

So what do you think? Excited about this futuristic conveyance? Or are you the one person who likes bendy buses? Ride the comments section below, or hop on our Facebook page.

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