In which we present a regular round-up of news from the world of Grown-up Travel
London’s iconic buses are back
London’s iconic double-decker buses have gotten an update that looks uncannily like the past.
Seven buses with an open hop-on hop-off platform at the rear hit downtown streets on 20 February, running on route 38, between Victoria Station and Hackney, an east London neighbourhood.
Between the 1950s and 2000s, royal red double deckers sported distinctive open platforms in the rear. But in 2005, authorities took that Routemaster model out of service, replacing it with versions that only have an entrance at the front.
The city also added so-called “bendy”, or articulated, buses, because they could carry more passengers, thanks to hinged midsections. But locals loathed the replacement vehicles. A common complaint was that the extended length of the buses snarled traffic on many narrow, twisting streets. So the city pulled that design off the streets in 2011, leaving regular double-decker buses in service and shipping the bendys off to other cities in the United Kingdom that have more spacious streets. Officials then ran a design competition to see if a better bus could be invented. The design that won, by Thomas Heatherwick and Wrightbus, restored the open rear platform.
The revived Routemaster design adds a second staircase to speed up passenger movement. It also claims to get a low 12 miles to gallon thanks to energy efficient engines and interior-heating systems. That efficiency means it produces 40% fewer emissions than the current double deckers, which run on diesel.
Card charges and booking ‘tricks’ revealed by consumer study
Hundreds of travel companies are still using expensive card charges, premium rate telephone lines and automatic opt-ins to “trick” their customers into paying extra for their services, despite impending EU legislation to ban the practices.
A study of nearly 200 tour operators, hotels, airlines and car hire firms, conducted by Which? Travel, has revealed that one fifth of firms use automatic opt-ins, where customers must untick pre-selected boxes to avoid paying for unwanted services such as insurance and airport lounge access.
The report found that nearly 30 per cent of companies were using the two most expensive premium rate telephone lines, starting 0871 or 090, while 44 per cent were adding unavoidable bookings fees to card payments.
These issues are among those to be targeted by the European Consumer Rights Directive, which comes into force next year.
Which? Travel highlights a number of notable examples unearthed by the study.
When booking an “Amazon Explorer” cruise with Travelsphere, an ESTA permit – a requirement for British visitors to the United States – was automatically selected, at £27 per person. But the permits can be obtained for just £9 online through the US Customs and Border Agency.
Extra legroom, early boarding and lounge access was automatically selected on a flight to Washington – for an additional £95 – while insurance was automatically added to bookings with Cottages4you, National Express, Saga and Travelodge.
Low-cost giant Ryanair was found to have the most expensive telephone number – at £1 a minute from a landline – followed closely by Wizz Air (77p), BMIbaby (65p), Jet2.com and Air Malta (both 60p).
Where to stay for the London 2012 Olympics – alternatives to rip-off hotels
You can still find accommodation for the London 2012 Olympics, and it needn’t cost a fortune. Here’s our pick of campsites, glampsites, apartments and packages.
If you’re thinking of booking a budget hotel for the Olympics, assuming (as you would) that you’ll get a reasonable rate, you’re in for a shock. Some of London’s budget hotel chains are hiking up their prices to budget-busting levels during the Olympics. According to a Which? Travel report published today visitors could end up paying £274.50 more a night at popular chain hotels. It found a room at the Holiday Inn Express at Swiss Cottage, 10 miles from the main Olympic site (available to book in January when it conducted the research), would cost £359.50 on 27 July, compared with £85 on 18 August after the Games.
Travelodge’s new Stratford hotel will cost £206.98 on 26 July, a pretty steep hike from the 21 July price of £52.95.
Not prepared to pay inflated prices for a chain hotel? We’ve found 10 alternative accommodation options available during the Olympics, from a £10 a night camspite to stylish apartments in chichi parts of town.
Camping and glamping
Don’t rule out camping, just because you’re in a large city – pop-up campsites are going to mushroom across the capital. The Camping and Caravanning Club will be running a serviced, temporary site in Lee Valley, a 10-minute walk from the Olympic park, and five others just outside London in Romford, Gravesham and Windsor Great Park in July and August (To book call 0845 130 7633). Prices range from £30 to £45 a night for the Lee Valley site. Facilities will include onsite catering, organised activities and entertainment, big screens – you can even order your daily newspaper.
Rio seeks relief from revellers relieving themselves
An oil-led economic boom, hosting of the 2014 soccer World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, and a plunge in violent crime are making Rio de Janeiro, called Cidade Maravilhosa, feel like the “Marvellous City” for the first time in decades.
With a growing record of solving or easing Rio’s urban problems, authorities want to fix something else once considered unfixable – the chaotic, and increasingly popular, Carnival street parades, known as blocos, attended by millions.
Singing, drinking, dancing and revelry are all fine, says Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes. Urinating in the streets is not.
Since the pre-Lenten samba festival season officially began on Jan. 20, more than 800 men and women have been arrested for public urination, an offense that has been rarely enforced before. For many Cariocas, as the residents of Rio are known, the crackdown seems unrealistic.
“Nobody likes the mess, but I don’t know how you can punish someone for doing something they must do,” said Joao Pimentel, author of the 2002 book “Blocos,” about Rio’s street Carnival.
In 2011, a judge threw out a public urination charge saying a person’s biological needs trumped Rio’s public-order campaign.
For Pimentel, it’s not just about manners, it’s impractical.
The Bola Preta (Blackball Parade), on Saturday attracted 2.2 million people. Many were packed shoulder-to-shoulder in 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) heat 80 across on narrow, downtown streets.
There were only 400 chemical toilets scattered over dozens of blocks. Meanwhile, vendors with cold, 3-real ($1.75) beers were rarely more than a step or two away.
“There’s too much beer, too many people and never enough toilets even if you could get to one in time,” Pimentel said.