Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
Every vanity project has its day. And so it is that Rakewell must bid farewell to the ‘Boris bus’, the Thomas Heatherwick-designed revamp of the classic London Routemaster, which was triumphantly flaunted by former London mayor Boris Johnson in his 2008 election campaign.
Earlier this month, Boris Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, announced that production of the vehicle was to be discontinued on grounds of cost. The bus, which was introduced to London’s roads in 2012, cost around £354,000 per unit in the initial bulk consignment – a good £150,000 more than a standard London double decker.
Though the existing fleet of around 800 vehicles will be refitted with new low-emission technology and remain in service for the time being, it seems few Londoners will mourn the end of the ‘Borismaster’s’ proliferation (at least, if the comments here are anything to go by).
Almost as soon as it entered service, passengers were complaining that faulty air conditioning made for sauna-like conditions, and worse still, that the batteries on a large number of buses had failed. Its much-trumpeted green credentials came into doubt, with the extra weight of the design adding substantially to its fuel consumption. The faults and its apparent impracticality as a means of public transport led journalist Jonn Elledge to call it ‘a bus designed for people who don’t think of buses as a mode of transport at all’.
With even the chairman of the trust behind London’s proposed Garden Bridge – another Johnson grand projet – voicing doubt as to the financial viability of the scheme, the legacy of Boris and Heatherwick’s bromance are beginning to look more like pallid pachyderms than ‘design icons’.