On Monday morning, Brighton said a final fond farewell to the bendy buses that for twelve years have ferried students—and other residents—between Palmeira Square and the universities. The retirement of the fleet after its long service was marked by a special memorial journey; the last before the buses were finally shuttled off to the big depot in the sky and replaced on all routes with more-conventional double-deckers.
Around two dozen bendy bus aficionados gathered around Portslade Station bus stop at 10am. It was drizzly, windy, and altogether not the best conditions to be waiting out in the rain. We were determined, however, to see the bendy bus off in style, as it prepared for its final journey up to the universities before heading to the Old Steine for a last goodbye.
In true 25 and 25X fashion, we see the concertina chariot coming round the corner at 10:07. By the time we're all aboard and heading off, it's 10:20. Seagull passes the time talking to fellow lovers of articulated buses (to give them their proper name) like Heather Johnston, a 23-year-old student of American Studies.
Are you going to miss the buses?
I really am, I'm so sad. It’s not going to be the same. It’s not a bus, it’s a people’s carriage.
What is it you like about them?
They’re so iconic and they’ve been banned in so many places, like Malta—they're classed as fire hazards there. I’m so sad that they’re gone.
Do you have a favourite seat on the bus? We're partial to the ones facing backwards, just before the bend.
I love standing in the bend just to feel something.
We also spoke to Xavier Voigt-Hill, a 25-year-old cricket analyst.
What do you like about the bendy bus?
It's just a novelty bit of transportation. It's a little bit of joy. Any time you’re going between Old Steine and the universities, or up to Palmeira Square.
What’s your best memory from a bendy bus?
I used to get on them in London as a child, and they were always very exciting.
Do you think there’s a chance that you rode one in London that you also rode in Brighton?
It is entirely possible, especially if the rumours are true and they were all sent here because of excessive fires that occurred in London and Malta.
What bus will you get on now?
I haven’t had to use these much in recent times since I changed jobs. I guess I’ll stay on the normal boring buses.
How will that make you feel?
It will make me feel like I’m not able to charge 12 devices at once as easily.
Articulated buses, having first been introduced to London by mayor Ken Livingstone in 2002, were scrapped in the city after Boris Johnson was voted in with a manifesto pledging to get rid of them in favour of a revamped double-decker Routemaster. They were first trialled in Brighton in 2009 and officially launched on our streets serving the 25 bus route on Tuesday 27th April 2010. At the peak of their tenure, there were 15 buses an hour that travelled up and down Lewes Road—with the ability to shuttle 2,160 people every hour, passengers could expect to see a 25 roughly every three to four minutes.
As we crawled through Portslade and Hove, through the city centre and Old Steine before climbing up Lewes Road and around the campuses, we reminisced. Everyone had a favourite seat, a beloved memory of a time the bus had been there for them—be it getting to an early morning lecture on the 25, or being ferried home on the N25 (the only one of the 25 routes to see its passenger numbers increase post-Covid). As the rain had put several people off from taking the last journey, we stopped to pick up some passengers just going about their days, possibly unaware that they were on the bendy buses for the last time.
The 18-metre-long Mercedes-Benz Citaro G buses are a dream when compared with traditional double deckers. They can hold 144 passengers, more than 50 more than a conventional carriage due to the increase in standing room, and from an accessibility point of view are far superior: the floors are low, the aisles are wide, there are no stairs.
They also offer options for everyone in terms of seating, with multiple wheelchair spaces, solo seats, and seats facing in every direction (forwards, backwards and both sides). Never has a bus had so many charging options either, with one spot in the bend allowing 12 devices to be charged next to each other due to the sheer abundance of available USB ports.
So, you may be asking, why are Brighton & Hove Buses getting rid of the wiggle wagons? In part, because these Citaro buses aren't being made anymore—London retired its final units in 2011—so sourcing replacement parts is now very difficult. Fuel consumption is also an issue, with a sky-high return of around 4.5 miles per gallon meaning they don't meet ULEZ requirements in place from Old Steine to Palmeira Square. There's also falling passenger numbers across the routes, even though universities are now holding lectures and seminars in-person again.
From now on, the 25 line will be served with mid-life double deckers from London, and in doing so a little bit of whimsy will be lost from our city. Farewell, bendy buses. Accordion buses. Vestibules. "Vessels of pure evil". Banana buses. Maltese firestarters. So many names, such little time we had with you.