11 Routes: Fulham Broadway - Liverpool Street Location: London southwest, inner Length of journey: 7 miles, 11 buses
I rode the entire length of route 11 without ever travelling on a number 11 bus. Instead I took 11 different buses which just happened to follow the same route. Just to be different. And just to get a snapshot of the variety of different vehicles being used to transport people around the capital.
That's seven double deckers, one articulated bendy bus, one single decker and two Routemasters (courtesy of TfL's new heritageroutes), all ridden in the space of less than two hours. I was expecting to be able to compare and contrast eleven rather different types of vehicle, but the cross section of London's bus fleet I observed turned out to be rather more homogeneous than I had anticipated.
Conclusion 1) London's buses are all very new: Look at those years in my table. Every single bus I travelled on was of 21st century vintage, except for the Routemasters which were a full 40 years older and still going strong. Once the RMs disappear there'll be nothing even slightly old remaining, no heritage and, most importantly, absolutely no character.
Conclusion 2) London's buses increasingly have standing room only: More space for pushchairs and wheelchairs means fewer places to sit. The lower decks of the new double deckers could seat only about 20 people, while the single decker catered for about 30 (but without a top deck to take surplus passengers). But the evil bendy bus was by far the worst, proportionally speaking, with less than half of its crush capacity accounted for by its 48 seats. If you want to sit down, take a Routemaster.
Conclusion 3) London's modern double decker buses are all incredibly same-y: By the end of my 11-route journey it became apparent that London has a double decker design masterplan. On each of the modern vehicles there was always a rear set of nine seats, four of which faced backwards. In front there were always a few more seats facing forward, then an accessible area for pushchairs and wheelchairs opposite the exit doors. Next to the entrance doors was a luggage space, and then behind the driver's seat was the foot of the stairs, leading up to an identikit top deck. Every deck had little hemispherical cameras plastered across the ceiling, and dustbinlid mirrors above the exit doors, and plastic grab poles liberally sprinkled with 'let me off at the next stop' buttons. Each bus's character, if indeed it had any, came from minor tweaks and subtle differences in decor: a) Different coloured seat covers: The 28's seats were sort of purple and turquoise, the 22 more speckled blue, the 49 dotty and green, and the 24 mauve with red stripes. In most cases the designs were so eye-watering that a previous passenger could have been sick all over the upholstery and nobody would have noticed. b) Different seat cushion thickness: There's not much fabric to support you on a 28, whereas the 24's cushion thickness could be measured in inches. And I was lucky on my journey - several other new buses provide nothing more than a nasty plastic seat, rather like you'd find in a school dining room. c) Different coloured floors: The 49's all-weather floor surface was light blue, the 22 was a darker shade of navy, the 219 was definitely grey, while the 23 and 28 boasted a faint purple. All also had speckly splattery bits in a variety of colours, like the gravel at the bottom of a fishtank or an accident in a glitter factory. d) Different coloured plastic poles: Most buses had vertical grab poles in custard yellow, but those on the 23 and 28 were distinctly aquamarine. Sorry, maybe I'd better stop there.
Conclusion 4) Bendy buses smell: You just don't get that artificial stink on any of the other vehicles, do you?
Route 11: anorak-level route information
Route 11: timetable
Route 11: last day of Routemaster service (October 2003)