The Routemaster

The Routemaster (90)

For many Londoners, the 9th of December 2005 is a date that is hard to forget. Because on this day one of the most recognisable and popular symbols that the city of London had had for many years disappeared from the streets: the Routemaster.

Perhaps you will understand better what we are talking about when I tell you that Routemaster is the name of the typical double-decker buses that carried Londoners from one side to the other for 50 years.

The first appeared in 1954, although the first of these buses did not run until 1956. Despite being very slow, noisy and pollutant, they soon won the hearts of the city’s inhabitants and, naturally, the tourists. In fact, although they have not circulated for some time now, the souvenir shops still sell all kinds of objects, from badges and pencil cases to toys, t-shirts and soft toys that have the Routemaster as the subject.

This means of transport was developed by the London Transport company as a replacement for the old trolley buses. Access to the upstairs floor was by a characteristic spiral staircase at the back of the bus, close to where the conductor stood. Given the lack of doors, the back part of the vehicle was also the place where the policy of “hop on, hop off” was allowed, so you could just get on and off as you liked. While with conventional buses the tyranny of the bus stop imposes itself, with the Routemaster any pause at a traffic light or a hold-up was perfect for getting off.

However, with the progressive toughening-up on safety regulations and the obvious need to adapt transport for the disabled, it was decided to take them out of circulation and to incorporate more modern and adapted buses. The mass reduction in service began in 2003, and the last Routemaster, on the 159 route, carried its 64 passengers in 2005. 

The good news is, however, that you still have time to get on one, because the Heritage Tours company bought several of the vehicles and runs traditional tours around the city. One goes from the Royal Albert Hall to Aldwych, while another goes from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill. Despite criticism of the two routes from some sectors for ignoring some of the more famous sights in the city, the most nostalgic among you will certainly have nothing to complain about.

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