Red Buses

The red double decker bus is probably one of the most recognisable images of London and with good cause, there are literally hundreds on London’s streets and they are still a great way to get around.  The British Prime Minister  William Gladstone observed, “the way to see London is from the top of a ‘bus”.

The first double-decker ‘omnibuses’ were horse drawn, introduced in the 1820’s and the first petrol driven buses arrived in 1908.

By far the most recognised red bus is the ‘Routemaster’; introduced in 1956 and in regular service until 2005.


The Routemaster was ground-breaking technology for its day, with automatic transmission and heaters. Its continued survival after over fifty years is testament to its engineering. There are still a few operating on ‘heritage routes’  – Route 9 (from the Royal Albert Hall through Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square to Aldwych) and Route 15 (from Trafalgar Square, through Fleet Street and the City of London to the Tower of London), but while London’s buses are still double decked and red, they’ve changed.

Modern double deckers are, for the most part, one man operated, and all now have closing doors, compared to the two man operation of Routemasters and their distinctive open rear platforms. Where in the past all buses were operated by London Transport, now some forty companies supply Transport For London with the buses that ply London’s routes. Payment is simplified as well with London’s ‘Oyster Card’ prepayment system being accepted on buses, speeding up the boarding process and removing the need for separate conductors.  


But while the new buses are more comfortable and fuel efficient than the Routemaster, that they remain in service on those two ‘heritage’ routes is a clear indication of the affection they’re held in.

In 2007 London’s Mayor, Boris Johnston announced a competition to design the successor to the Routmaster, the first of the new buses (christened ‘Boris Buses’) entered service in February 2012.

Boris Bus - the 'new Routemaster'

It will be interesting to see if the new ‘Routemasters’ win the hearts of Londoners.

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