Capoco says that contract could hand Wrightbus a monopoly.

One of the winners of the original design competition for the New Bus for London has hit out at Transport for London’s management of the project.

In an extended critique that appeared on his company’s website last week, Alan Ponsford, the design director of automotive design agency Capoco, said that while Wrightbus, the manufacturer selected to design and prototype the vehicle, was an innovative manufacturer, the decision “to hand them a monopoly over London’s double deck fleet… is dubious”.
Capaco originally mooted a 21st Century successor to the Routemaster for Autocar magazine late 2007. The company was also one of the winners of the design competition for the New Bus for London in 2008.

Ponsford has revealed that following the design competition, there were actually three final bids for the manufacturing contract, with two tenders submitted by ADL against a single bid by Wrightbus. “One ADL design proposal was in collaboration with Capoco, the other with [architecture practice] Fosters and Aston Martin so encompassed both the TfL design competition winners,” he wrote.

At this stage Wrightbus was bidding alone and design agency Heatherwick Studio was only appointed after Wrightbus had been awarded the contract.

“Bizarrely they were appointed by TfL, not Wrightbus who had no previous knowledge of the outfit,” Ponsford continued. “It was therefore a surprising choice that continues to puzzle (and irritate!) us that after a few years of speculative design, competitions and tendering, the design contract was awarded to Heatherwick Studio, given they took no part in said process.”

Ponsford believes that ADL’s bids, based on an adapted version of its existing double deck Enviro 400H product and powered by a hybrid driveline produced by BAE Systems, were a more robust solution for the project.

He also feels that there is a risk that the UK bus market could be distorted by the contract. “How does one ensure that the luxurious R&D program funding from TfL is not leveraged into other commercial projects?” he asks.

For operators themselves he also asks whether the use of the vehicle will be optional for London contracts. “If the NB4L is mandatory, then TfL will have sponsored a commercial monopoly using public funds,” Ponsford adds. “Might this have certain EU competition hurdles to overcome? Or will the other commercial bidders into London also be offered a handy wedge to develop similar competitors?”

Ponsford also criticised some senior TfL management for denigrating “the efforts of the current commercial UK bus operating and manufacturing industry”.

However, he questions the need for a bespoke vehicle project managed by the public sector. “Even the military have moved to commercial off the shelf equipment,” he said. “This they learnt from numerous huge overspends when they tried to do bespoke programs. We are in Nimrod territory here. Listen, is that the sound of advancing diggers in the background?”

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