Two decks is a thing of the past. Let’s get bendy buses

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There’s little doubt that the frequently appearing JEP photograph of J9517, a 1947 Leyland PD1 ‘decker’ bearing the obligatory Mary Ann advert, parked alongside the railings of the once familiar Victoria gardens at the Weighbridge, will have evoked fond green and cream memories of being able to peer into gardens now secluded by curtains of ironically named fast-growing Leyland cypresses.

It was one of the impressive fleet of JMT veterans snapped up by enthusiasts when they were disposed of in 1971. Modern replacements won’t be anything like the classic design with open-back platform and cheery conductor to help you board with bags, buggies and helpful tips on destinations – unless, that is, TSS can track down some of the dispersed – but still highly reliable ex-London Transport ‘Routemasters’ still providing valiant service after their exile from the capital by Red Ken and Boris the bicycling boffin. It so happens that the last batch of double-deckers that ran on

Island roads were of a previous generation of second-hand London vehicles which proved extremely successful in the local environment, able to negotiate even the Mount Bingham hairpin with aplomb in the days before the Tunnel.

But before we get too excited, let’s think space. We’re pretty narrow in the

carriageway department. The last generation of double decks tottered along at a

regulation 7 foot 6 inches wide. When a batch of second-hand 8-foot wide buses were introduced for a short while in the early 1970s, serving the St Brelade’s area, they were forced to carry a broad chevron plate back and front to warn of their extra width and were routed along Victoria Avenue. You may also recall the controversy which greeted the arrival of our bespoke modern Connex fleet which were judged to be two and a half inches over-width at the wheel-nuts.

Anything bought ‘off the peg’ now would require considerable changes to current width regulation. Nobody builds double deckers narrower than 2.55 metres – 8-ft 4-in in old money. Imagine two of these slab-sided vehicles attempting to pass each other on any section of the Route 1 coast road.

A standard double-decker needs at least 14-ft 6-in height clearance, and given that trees have an annoying habit of growing, it requires a ‘Forth Bridge’ task to keep passage clear and prevent expensive damage.

Local parish roads inspectors will confirm that the branchage regulations state that trees can overhang pavements by eight feet, thirteen over the open road. So we’d be in for a substantial change in the local arboreal architecture along many country roads.

It used to be the responsibility of the JMT to cut the low-hanging branches, but since 1971 many trees have become well established and substantial. And trees apart, while the old double decks could squeeze under the road bridge at the entrance to Snow Hill station, imagine the prospect of having to raise the portal at the exit of our new state-of-the-art Liberation Station, if ever they are to use it.

Having to park outside would certainly be a bit of a climb down. A bit like designing a swanky new concert hall and being unable to get the grand piano through the door.

So that’s width and height. What about ride? Given curiosity, anyone who can actually negotiate stairs on a moving vehicle likes to travel upstairs, don’t they? And since the ban on smoking, the upper environment has decidedly improved. But we are not talking of wide flat city streets.

The higher up you sit, the more the pendulum sways – it’s an important factor in operating high-sided vehicles on narrow, cambered roadways or restricted spaces.

And the state of the roads plays a vital role in determining comfort and safety. Don’t be surprised if the heavier vehicles take their toll on surfaces which have not had to bear such repeated wear and tear as a bus route.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a devoted fan of double deck buses and spent 30 years travelling in London using buses by choice.

I’ve seen the technical developments over time. True, the later versions are arguably quieter and less cramped. But new doesn’t create a panacea. They’ve become lumbering, hot, traffic-jam creating leviathans – you can’t open windows for Health & Safety reasons, and they become very congested for short journeys.

A year or so ago, I found myself lamenting the lack of progress on the Integrated Transport Plan for the Island. I ventured to suggest an option fast being adopted in other areas where large passenger loadings are required but where height and width is limited.

I’m talking about bendy, or accordion buses, which double capacity, but don’t involve extra staff or tree-cutting – and yes, the back wheels do follow the front, so they are perfectly able to manoeuvre like their rigid counterparts.

They’re also free from the sort of nightmares experienced by UK double deck operators of items being dropped from upstairs windows or misbehaviour on the top deck which the driver can’t see.

And since entrance is from the front, as at present, there’s no particular problem with fare dodging.

It is refreshing that the Minister is looking at every option to move people efficiently and safely, though however many people you put in a travelling box, it’ll only go as fast as the traffic will permit.

The solution obviously requires a multi-levelled strategy. Perhaps the answer lies in the number and frequency of buses in service, rather than their individual size.

Whatever the solution – don’t expect it to be cheap.

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