Every major city has its icons. The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Brooklyn Bridge in New York and the Tower of Pisa in... where else? These are all well known and help people relate to the city. Some icons are more contemporary and not so grand in scale, but they still evoke a genuine feeling of recognition in people. In London, one of the symbols is the Double Decker Buses. These red giants have long been a staple in London iconography and when people think of the city, this is one of the first things that comes to mind.
The first red Routemaster Double Decker Bus was unveiled on February 8, 1956. The buses were designed to replace the existing electrical trolleybuses. The double-decker buses were a collaborative effort between London Transport designer Douglas Scott, AEC and Park Royal engineers.
One of the advantages of the double decker bus is the two-tiered design, which accommodated twice as many passengers as the bulkier, single level buses. Another unique feature is the main body of the bus, which is made entirely of aluminum. Aluminum has the advantage of being lighter than its steel predecessors, and it resists rust. The bus has power steering and automatic gears, both cutting edge technology in the 1950s. From a passenger's perspective, the advanced suspension system makes for a much more comfortable ride.
Double-decker buses offered a hop on/hop off system, meaning people could get on and off the bus wherever and whenever they wanted. The buses would travel at a slower speed that would allow a passenger to safely board the vehicle between stops, while it was in motion. Another service unique to double-deckers is the conductor experience. Conductors collected fares, sold tickets and directed people to available seats. They moved freely about the bus making conversation with the passengers and providing a sense of community.
Besides having to maintain a slower speed to allow on and off privileges, the major concern with double-decker buses was safety. Despite few accidents, concerns about people jumping on and off a moving bus arose. Another problem is that by 2017, all buses will be required to be wheelchair accessible. Remodeling the existing design to accommodate would be extremely difficult and expensive.
The Routemaster was the last bus to be fully designed by London Transport. In December 2005, the Routemaster double-decker bus ran its last service as a public transit automobile. Today, the buses are still seen around the city but they are mostly used by tour operators as sightseeing vehicles or rented out for special occasions. Although this icon no longer serves its original purpose, it remains a big part of London society and will continue to represent the city in the minds of people everywhere.