London’s new ‘tram-bus’ & Yayoi Kusama’s public art pumpkin ...The Standard podcast

The ie Tram bus will operate on route 358 in London later this summer (Go-Ahead/Mark Lyons)
The ie Tram bus will operate on route 358 in London later this summer (Go-Ahead/Mark Lyons)

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Hybrid vehicles of a different kind will soon be seen on London’s roads - behold the era of the ‘tram-bus’.

Officially called ieTrams, they will ply one of the capital’s longest routes, the 15-mile 358 line from Crystal Palace to Orpington.

The striking new vehicles might look like a rounded single-decker with covered wheels, but the hardware includes a pantograph overhead fast-charging system used in electric trams

It is said the 20 new buses, built by Spanish manufacturer Irizar, will be able to recharge in less than ten minutes.

TfL claim the cost per tram-bus is “significantly lower” than the model’s reported price of nearly £700,000.

Mark Blunden speaks to Evening Standard transport editor Ross Lydall about this new age for the capital’s public transport.

Plus, in part two, we look at public art in store for London this year - as a giant polka-dotted pumpkin by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is installed in Kensington Palace - and we’re joined the Royal College of Art’s head of programme for MA sculpture, Sarah Staton.

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Here’s a fully automated transcript of today’s episode:

From London, this is The Standard podcast, and I'm Mark Blunden.

Coming up…

It's a very large piece, six metres tall, and it creates a great impression set on this lawn close to the round pond.

And I'd encourage anybody to go and have a look at it this summer.

The giant spotty pumpkin has appeared in Kensington Gardens.


But first, hybrid vehicles of a different kind will soon be seen on London's roads.

Behold, the era of the tram bus, officially called IeTrams.

They will ply one of the capital's longest routes, the 15 mile 358 line from Crystal Palace to Orpington.

The striking new vehicles might look like a rounded single-decker with covered wheels, but the hardware includes a pantograph, overhead fast charging system used in electric trams.

It's claimed the 20 new buses built by Spanish manufacturer Irizar will be able to recharge in less than 10 minutes.

TfL claim the cost per tram bus is significantly lower than the reported nearly £700,000 price per vehicle but have refused to divulge exactly how much.

To discover more, let's head out into the city, where I'm joined by Evening Standard Transport editor, Ross Lydall.

Ross, what can you tell us about the new, rather futuristic-looking tram bus?

Well, this is the 358-route bus.

This is due to come in at last later this summer.

Now, this has emerged in a written answer from the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, to one of the Tory London Assembly members.

Now, we've been waiting probably more than two years for this bus.

It's built in Spain.

It's essentially a single-decker.

And it doesn't quite look like a tram, but it doesn't quite look like a bus.

It's a bit in between.

It doesn't have a pantograph on top, but it will be charged via a pantograph when it gets to either end of the route.

It will run between Crystal Palace and Orpington.

And basically, what TfL is trying to do here is to make bus travel a bit sexier.

People are reluctant to get on buses these days.

For the past few years now, really since before the start of the pandemic, bus travel has been declining year on year.

I think it was back in sort of 2013-14 when bus travel peaked.

And since then, there's been a slow decline.

It has been increasing since the end of the pandemic, but it's still well below the level it was about a decade ago.

And the whole idea is to make these buses look better and also perform better.

So, this would be a cleaner bus as well because it would be entirely electric powered.

And the idea is charging at the end of the route will prevent the need for it to have to go back into the garage every second or third trip and recharge.

So, the idea is to keep this bus on the route all day by essentially giving it a boost at the end of the route.

It's a little bit like charging up your smartphone for an extra sort of 10 minutes.

It will keep you going for another three hours.

We spoke on the Superloop a little while ago, and this is obviously another bit of nice investment for these outer London bus routes as well.

Yeah, what's quite interesting is the outer London bus network is far busier than the bus network in inner and central London.

So, this is the key target area for Sadiq Khan and for transport for London.

It means it's here that you can make the biggest difference in terms of getting people out of their cars or to stop them using their cars.

Obviously, the North Circular and beyond is terribly congested, and it also has very poor tube links in many parts of the world.

Certainly, down in Crystal Palace, the tube doesn't go there at all.

So, the idea is if you can help people to get around on public transport rather than using the private vehicles, then it's better for the environment.

And this follows the demise of the Bendy bus, and there's also questions now over the future of the Boris bus.

What can you tell us about these falling out of favour essentially with transport for London?

Well, when Sadiq Khan became mayor in 2016, he made it clear that he did not like the Boris bus.

This was bought by Boris Johnson from, it was sort of purpose-built, and it was bought from a factory in Northern Ireland in Ballymena, the Wright Brothers.

I remember going over there to see it being designed.

It was designed by Thomas Heatherwick.

He of the Olympic Cauldron fame as well.

He designed the interior.

And the idea that Boris wanted to do was, of course, bring back conductors, which he did.

So, this was a new route master or a sort of new bus for London, as it was known.

The problem was it was not terribly environmentally friendly.

It had a diesel engine, a diesel hybrid engine, and it rather pumped out the fumes.

And it was very heavy as well.

So therefore, it wasn't the greenest bus.

Sadiq, son of a bus driver, as he always likes to tell us, was much more keen to green the fleet of buses.

And one of the first things he did as mayor was get rid of the conductors, because obviously that was extra money in terms of the cost of running these buses.

So, the back doors were closed.

And the other reality is that buses normally have a shelf life of no more than 14 years.

So, the newest of those buses would have come in in 2016.

They will all be gone by 2030.

So, you've probably got five or six years left if you want to ride in one of these buses.

They've had a rather checkered history.

During the summer, they're often known as ‘the Roastmaster’, rather than the Routemaster because they get so hot, the ventilation is very poor upstairs.

I think they do look the part.

They're an attractive looking bus, but they're probably not the best bus in terms of emissions.

The other big transport story today that you're reporting on, this dude with the Elizabeth Line, these extra rush hour trains that are being brought in.

This follows a few incidents of reliability problems as well recently.

What can you tell us?

So, about a month before the general election, one of the last things the Tory government did was sign off the permission to TfL to buy 10 more Elizabeth Line trains.

Now there are 70 trains just now running on the Elizabeth Line.

This will take it to 80.

The first of these new trains, which are going to be built in Derby by Alstom.

So, it's a great story for a sort of British factories and British manufacturing.

These will start to arrive by the summer of 2026.

The main reason that TfL is getting these new trains is to prepare for the opening of the HS2 station at Old Oak Common.

Because the issue here is that people will get off the HS2 train at Old Oak Common and have nowhere to go because the HS2 line won't run into Euston for at least another decade until about 2040.

So, to solve that problem, passengers on the HS2 will then have to transfer onto the Elizabeth Line to come into Paddington or further into central London.

However, if they did it with the current number of Elizabeth Line trains, which are already hugely busy, especially at peak time, it would be mass overcrowding.

It'd be worse than, say, the Victoria Line between Oxford Circus and Green Park at rush hour.

So, these new trains are coming, which is good.

The Elizabeth Line, as we know and have said many times, is now the most popular line in the country.

People love it.

However, it has had reliability problems, both particularly west of Paddington because of track failures and signal failures and also the rolling stock itself has had its glitches because it's essentially, it's super smart trains but they're not always as smart as they want to be.

They have to go through three different signalling systems and that makes the technology on board sometimes get rather overexcited and cause problems for passengers.

Let's go to the ads.

Coming up, we'll look at what public arts in store for London this year as a giant polka dot covered pumpkin by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama is installed in Kensington Gardens 24 years after the Serpentine Gallery gave Kusama her first British retrospective show.

Why not hit follow on this podcast in the meantime to give us a rating?

Welcome back.

Now, this summer heralds some fantastic public art in London, not least of which is a giant polka dot covered pumpkin in bronze by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.

Now, we're joined by an expert on the subject, the Royal College of Arts Head of Programme for MA Sculpture, Sarah Staton, who explains what to look out for.

Well, this sculpture is a pumpkin or a kabucha, a great big vegetable in Kensington Gardens.

It's a striking yellow colour with black dots and it's a very large piece, six metres tall, and it creates a great impression, set on this lawn close to the round pond.

And I'd encourage anybody to go and have a look at it this summer.

I think we're really lucky in London to have so much green space centrally, perhaps more on the west than in the east, but this is a huge expanse of parkland that's open to everybody and when we get some sun, it's a gorgeous place to be.

And what else do we have in terms of public arts popping up in London this year?

Traditionally, public sculpture in London is very focused in the centre, so Westminster has more than 400 public sculptures, but Merton, for example, has around four in total.

But this year is going to be very different because the Tideway commissions are all coming online and this is a line of sculptural commissions that run from Acton to Beckton following the route of the new super sewer.

What can we expect to see over ground along the super sewers east to west Thames route?

Well, they're really different and each work has been kind of created with an idea that is set in relation to the specifics of its site, the contemporary use of the site or the history of the site.

And I've been extremely lucky to have three commissions on this Tideway tunnel and they're all in west London.

And tomorrow I'm actually going to the site close to Wandsworth Bridge to oversee the installation of two bronze herons which are going to hang on a new kiosk in a brand new piece of public realm which is adjacent to the river and gives access to the riverside where there's been no access for many years.

Can you give us a clue about any other pieces to expect on the Tideway map?

Sitting just below the Royal Hospital Chelsea, first to the south, is a commission by the contemporary artist Florian Rothmaier and it's a new kind of beach with multi-coloured bricks and I'm very, very excited to see that particular commission.

What's your tip for a great walking route taking in London's public arts?

To the east, there's the line, which is running around Stratford and there's a number of commissions on that.

That's a very exciting one.

Annually, there's sculpture in the city, but I think the new one that's coming online, the Tideway Commissions, following that route, maybe in a number of walks rather than the whole way in one go, that's going to be a really exciting new set of commissions and very worthwhile the time once they're opened and out there in the public.

There's much more on these stories in the Evening Standard newspaper and online at

We're back on Wednesday at 4pm.