It is the embodiment of the point I often make, that investment in London boosts the rest of the UK economy, directly and indirectly. We have stimulated the very best of British technology, creating jobs in this country, and yes, we are now looking to potential export markets.
All these features make the bus remarkable; but there is one more thing about it – the best thing of all. This bus stands for freedom, and choice, and personal responsibility. It not only fulfils a promise often made to Londoners by bringing back conductors; it restores to the streets of London the open platform at the rear – and in so doing, it restores the concept of a reasonable risk.
We all remember the pleasure of the old Routemasters. It wasn’t anything to do with the way their flanks heaved and throbbed like wounded old warhorses. It wasn’t the boggler-boggler-boggler noise or the fumes of diesel. It was the way you could sit on those banquette seats at the back, high over the wheel arches, and watch the road passing you outside. And if the bus got stuck in traffic, or at the lights, you knew that you weren’t a prisoner. You were allowed to get on and off at will, provided the thing wasn’t moving, and now that freedom and benefit will be restored.
Of course, you will have to be careful. You should look around to make sure there aren’t any motorbikes or cycles approaching. But if the road is clear and the traffic is stationary, and you want to hop off and do some shopping – or if you have missed the bus at the stop, and you want to scoot down the street to catch it up – then the option is there. You can hop on and hop off, like the hop-on hop-off hoplites who were trained to leap from moving chariots and then back on again.
Yes, of course there is a risk; but that risk is manageable; and without it you have no opportunity to ascend or escape the bus if you want to. It is, as far as I know, one of the few recent examples of a public policy that actually gives back, to sentient and responsible adults, the chance to take an extra risk in return for a specific reward.
We need to develop this thought, because I worry that in the post-crisis world, we have become all too paranoid, too risk-averse. Yes, the banks made grotesque errors, largely because they could not understand the risks they were taking. But unless we allow businesses and banks to take reasonable risks, they will never hit the jackpot at all.
Why is it that Britain hasn’t produced a giant like Google, or Facebook, or Amazon? It is because such a business, in the UK, would not have been given access to the capital required. We are more hostile to risk, and, indeed, we are more hostile to reward. If you go to San Francisco, where so many of these tech giants were born, you can see the most bizarre tram I have ever set eyes on. People hang from it like gibbons as it swoops and clangs through the streets. It would never be allowed in Europe. But the San Francisco authorities evidently believe that Americans are more robust – more willing to be free, more willing to make their own assessment of a reasonable risk.
If you look at the state of the eurozone, and you compare it with the US economy, you can see the possible advantages of this approach. And that is the point of the hop-on hop-off platform. In restoring a culture of reasonable risk-taking, it is a platform for growth.