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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lee

History of the Routemaster Bus Part 4 - The Last Stop.

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

When our vintage buses are out on Wedding and private hire work we are regularly asked about the history of the Routemaster bus, so we asked conductor Mike to write a decade-by-decade report about the history of the iconic buses we now offer for private hire across Cheshire, North Wales and the North West...

And so we arrive at the final stop on our historical Routemaster journey – the 2010s, the decade that brought us Lady Gaga, the 2012 London Olympics, the New Bus for London, Instagram, Snapchat and the sudden and premature deaths of British and US rock and pop music icons such as David Bowie, George Michael, Aretha Franklin, Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead and Rick Parfitt from Status Quo. To bring the story of the Routemaster bus up-to-date I thought I would write a conclusion to the earlier blogs I wrote about the Routemaster bus from its introduction in 1954 through the Swinging ‘60s, the Schlocky ‘70s, the Electronic ‘80s and the Nouveau-Riche ‘90s up to its withdrawal from the streets of London in December 2005. No other bus in Britain has survived so long in service; the RT clocked up only 40 years of service on London’s streets from 1939 to 1979 and even today the Routemaster is still earning its keep not only in London but in various parts of the UK as well as much further afield; you could literally say that the Routemaster is a bus that simply refuses to die and just keeps on re-inventing itself to face new prospects and challenges. Interesting to think that when the last batch of RMLs were introduced in the spring of 1968 they carried a set of posters on the front and rear of the bus promoting the classic sci-fi film ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ – where ironically in the year 2001 those very same RMLs were still very much in front-line service in London!

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LT 118 in The City, April 2014 © Mike McDermott

May 2008 saw the Conservative Party’s mayoral candidate Boris Johnson successfully replace the Labour Party’s Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London and one of Boris Johnson’s key pledges as Mayor during his term in office was to bring about a 21st century equivalent of the Routemaster to London’s streets with a low-floor layout but with a return to the hop on/hop off principle with a person supervising the platform of the bus – not a conductor collecting the fares in the traditional method of London Transport days but a ‘Customer Assistant’ (or CA for short) who would keep a watchful eye on the platform of the bus when the rear platform door was open as well as assisting passengers whilst on the bus. The public were allowed to send in their own unique designs of this 21st century Routemaster-type vehicle for consideration with some designs paying a modern tribute to the Routemaster of old and with some other designs bordering on complete fantasy and the insanely absurd! However the various designs were carefully scrutinised and discussed between Boris Johnson and Transport for London at the Greater London Assembly’s headquarters at City Hall and finally in February 2012 the ‘New Bus for London’ designed by Heatherwick Studios was introduced to the public at large, with five prototype vehicles being introduced on route 38 running between Victoria and Hackney with the aid of a Customer Assistant on the platform on each of the five buses during the daytime and with the buses being operated as OPO buses in the evenings. Although the model name for this vehicle was the ‘New Bus for London’, this fleet of what eventually totalled 1000 vehicles built between 2012 and 2018 were to become classed as the LT class as a gentle nod to the days when London Transport designed and built their own vehicles from 1933 up until 1968. The New Bus for London has since been officially called the New Routemaster (or NRM) but I will never call it that because in all honesty these vehicles look absolutely nothing like the familiar Routemaster bus which we know so well.

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Routemaster line-up at RM60 in July 2014 © Mike McDermott

Following the success of the RM50 Routemaster rally which was held in Finsbury Park in July 2004, during July 2014 a follow-up weekend rally was held in Finsbury Park with this event naturally being called RM60. This gathering of Routemasters was to be bigger and better than the previous RM50 weekend rally in 2004 as for the RM60 rally a total of 140 serving and preserved Routemasters attended the event, making RM60 one of the largest bus rallies of recent years where just one common type of bus was on display. Once again the RM60 weekend was dominated by lots of superb summer sunshine.

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RM 1627 on the last day of route 9H in July 2014 © Mike McDermott

After the end of regular Routemaster operation in London on 9th December 2005 the Routemaster survived in normal passenger service on two TfL ‘Heritage’ Routemaster routes principally aimed at the tourist market, namely Heritage Route 9 which ran from Trafalgar Square to Kensington High Street and Heritage Route 15 which runs from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill for the Tower of London. At the end of July 2014 Heritage Route 9 said farewell to its Routemasters due to low passenger loadings, this being as a result of the introduction of the New Bus for London vehicles which run on the parallel route 9 which runs between Aldwych and Hammersmith. As a result this just leaves Heritage Route 15 as the only Routemaster-operated bus route still in normal service in central London, with some other Routemasters in service in London earning their keep as sightseeing buses. One enterprising London sightseeing tour company has offered a whole new take on the London sightseeing market where you can travel onboard a genuine 1960s Routemaster bus around central London whilst you eat a selection of cakes and enjoy a classic cup of genuine British tea along the journey around the famous sights! And of course Routemasters can still be seen in the London area operating on wedding hires, school proms or on TV and filming work, such is the global affection for this humble yet iconic means of passenger transport in such an iconic world city. And a good few other Routemasters have since been converted for use as mobile beer bars for that feel-good bit of retro British 1960s nostalgia.

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RML 2568 in use as a mobile bar during 2017 © Mike McDermott

The Routemaster is one of the only few buses that the everyday public knows by its model name; the only other bus that has become known by its model name being the Bristol Lodekka, which like the Routemaster was also built between 1954 and 1968 and the Bristol Lodekka, albeit two feet lower in height than the RM also broke new ground in terms of bus design and engineering during the mid-20th century. The 1950s and 1960s marked a turning point in bus travel for the better and the number of AEC Routemasters and Bristol Lodekkas surviving in preservation is living proof that in the 1950s the designers and mechanical engineers of these buses were very much ahead of their game. The accents and languages may be different but the effect of universal joy is the same for everyone who gets to travel on the Routemaster bus. Long may the mighty RM reign!

The End

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