diamond geezer

 Monday, July 21, 2014

At the end of this week, half the Routemaster bus services in London are being terminated. It's no use complaining. TfL ran a consultation six months ago to explain their reasons and to ask people what they thought. The outcome was that 84% of respondents disagreed, but that didn't matter, so the scrapping takes place this Friday as planned. And it's no use saying "hang on, there are still Routemaster bus services in London?!?" because it's general ignorance of their existence that's contributed to their removal. [5 photos]

After Routemasters were removed from regular service in 2005, two heritage routes were devised to keep the old stalwarts on the road. One ran on part of route 15 between Trafalgar Square and the Tower, while the other ran on route 9 from Aldwych to the Royal Albert Hall. It's the latter which is being stopped this week, leaving the 15 to fly the flag alone for the much-loved 60-year-old bus.

Route 9H, as it's endearingly abbreviated, runs every 20 minutes between about half nine in the morning and seven at night. It runs alongside normal services on Route 9 but only along the central portion, enhancing frequency and offering an attractive means of transport for tourists. The route's endpoints have been tweaked since the early days, at the eastern end from Aldwych to Trafalgar Square, and at the western end as far as Kensington High Street. This extension was at the behest of the local council, who hoped that visitors would alight by the shops and spend some money, rather than getting off alongside the Albert Memorial and merely enjoying the park instead. And even the council's support hasn't been enough to retain the 9H service, so early on Friday evening it stops for good.

The rationale for the withdrawal is twofold - usage on the service is limited, and it's relatively expensive to operate. Why spend a million pounds a year on this, goes the argument, when this money could be better spent on [insert name of pet project here]. As for why few people use the 9H, there are many reasons. It mirrors the normal number 9 route but doesn't go as far, hence anyone wanting a more distant destination isn't going to board. The vehicles aren't wheelchair accessible, which was the main reason for Routemaster removal in the first place. And a lot of potential passengers won't even recognise these as real TfL buses, they look like private hire vehicles, so won't realise that they can hop on board for precisely the same Oyster fare as any other bus.

And then there's the old/new Routemaster issue, which head of TfL Surface Transport Leon Daniels was keen to point out when the latest consultation was announced. With 'New Routemasters' introduced on the remainder of route 9, apparently "nowadays those travelling for leisure purposes tend to choose the new buses." This may be because they like the sleek design of the new bus more than the old, or it may be because they run three times more frequently, it's hard to be sure. Also, according to Leon, withdrawal "eliminates the conflicting arrangement whereby the conductors on traditional Routemasters serve you at your seat and take cash, whereas the second crew member on the New Routemaster does neither." He wrote this in January when cash on buses was still an option, but what he really appears to be admitting is that conductors on proper Routemasters earn their keep, whereas passenger assistants on the New Routemaster are little more than health and safety window dressing.

They're still out there at the moment, the veteran 9Hs, plying their trade through the West End. They muster in Northumberland Avenue, at the same bus stand as the 15H, giving drivers on the two heritage services a chance to chat ("This your last day, then? They keeping you on?"). Number 9 Routemasters then roll round Trafalgar Square to the first stop in Cockspur Street. It's an exceptionally touristy spot, with umbrella-wielding guides leading crocodiles of visitors along the pavement and a bloke from The Big Bus Tour Company handing out leaflets to encourage folk onto the open top service. Rides on his bus cost ten times as much as the humble 9H, although for that you get a commentary, a complimentary River Bus ticket and a poncho for when it rains. I noticed with some disappointment that TfL have already put up the new number 9 timetable, which officially starts next Saturday, hence no evidence now exists at the stop that a special heritage service might come along instead.

The old buses are still looking good for their age, each well scrubbed and mostly ad-free inside. Mine had a musty smell on the top deck, although the New Routemasters aren't exactly known for their fine fragrance either, and at least on the 9H the top windows open. I had the misfortune of riding a New Routemaster home during peak heatwave on Friday, and I can confirm that the air cooling system fails utterly at high temperatures. The thermometer I took with me read six degrees higher on board than off, and alighting after an hour in the upstairs sauna came as blessed relief. Whereas the top deck of a proper Routemaster, with opening windows ensuring circulation, proved a perfectly acceptable proposition. TfL correctly claim that their new vehicle is indeed "one of the most technologically advanced buses in the world", but this week they're scrapping an expensive bus that works in hot weather in favour of an expensive bus that doesn't.

I enjoyed my last-weekend sightseeing ride along the 9H route. The route takes in Pall Mall and Piccadilly, plus a twirl round the memorials at Hyde Park Corner. Most tourists ignored our passing, but several others recognised an icon and paused to take a digital portrait. We sailed through Knightsbridge without many passengers seeking to board, because most folk round these parts aren't the sort to take the bus, then edged along the foot of Hyde Park more as a local service than a tourist draw. I wondered how far up Kensington High Street we'd go, the answer being right to the end past all the shops (and the flats now springing up to hide the Commonwealth Institute). The final stop was outside an Iranian supermarket with bowls of fruit laid out in front, the last place most visitors to London would need, but the ideal place to turn the buses around and park up.

Five days remain to ride the old Routemasters on route 9. The best of the vehicles will then be used to augment the fleet on route 15, ensuring that hard-to-come-by spare parts are available and the old girls soldier on. With continued support, and maintenance, and funding, the 15H Routemasters should then survive for a few more years into the future. They do actually shift useful numbers of tourists to the Tower and back, at least for some of the day, and TfL have no plans to overshadow them by introducing their more modern namesake on the same route. Indeed after Ken erased 99% of Routemasters from our city and with Boris now removing 50% of what's left, it'd be a brave politician who made the entire species extinct.

It'd be nice if TfL gave their one remaining heritage route some publicity. While their press office falls over itself to plug New Routemasters and their beloved cablecar at every available opportunity, these tourist-friendly trips aboard a vintage bus raise barely a tweet. So come on down and ride a proper route 9 Routemaster before the end of the week, and remember to come back again in the years to come to prevent route 15 fading out with a whimper in the same way.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan21  Feb21  Mar21  Apr21  May21  Jun21  Jul21  Aug21  Sep21  Oct21
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20  Aug20  Sep20  Oct20  Nov20  Dec20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

» my flickr photostream

twenty blogs
ian visits
blue witch
the great wen
edith's streets
spitalfields life
in the aquarium
round the island
wanstead meteo
christopher fowler
bus and train user
ruth's coastal walk
the ladies who bus
round the rails we go
london reconnections
dirty modern scoundrel
from the murky depths

quick reference features
Things to do in Outer London
Things to do outside London
Inner London toilet map
The DG Tour of Britain

read the archive
Oct21  Sep21
Aug21  Jul21  Jun21  May21
Apr21  Mar21  Feb21  Jan21
Dec20  Nov20  Oct20  Sep20
Aug20  Jul20  Jun20  May20
Apr20  Mar20  Feb20  Jan20
Dec19  Nov19  Oct19  Sep19
Aug19  Jul19  Jun19  May19
Apr19  Mar19  Feb19  Jan19
Dec18  Nov18  Oct18  Sep18
Aug18  Jul18  Jun18  May18
Apr18  Mar18  Feb18  Jan18
Dec17  Nov17  Oct17  Sep17
Aug17  Jul17  Jun17  May17
Apr17  Mar17  Feb17  Jan17
Dec16  Nov16  Oct16  Sep16
Aug16  Jul16  Jun16  May16
Apr16  Mar16  Feb16  Jan16
Dec15  Nov15  Oct15  Sep15
Aug15  Jul15  Jun15  May15
Apr15  Mar15  Feb15  Jan15
Dec14  Nov14  Oct14  Sep14
Aug14  Jul14  Jun14  May14
Apr14  Mar14  Feb14  Jan14
Dec13  Nov13  Oct13  Sep13
Aug13  Jul13  Jun13  May13
Apr13  Mar13  Feb13  Jan13
Dec12  Nov12  Oct12  Sep12
Aug12  Jul12  Jun12  May12
Apr12  Mar12  Feb12  Jan12
Dec11  Nov11  Oct11  Sep11
Aug11  Jul11  Jun11  May11
Apr11  Mar11  Feb11  Jan11
Dec10  Nov10  Oct10  Sep10
Aug10  Jul10  Jun10  May10
Apr10  Mar10  Feb10  Jan10
Dec09  Nov09  Oct09  Sep09
Aug09  Jul09  Jun09  May09
Apr09  Mar09  Feb09  Jan09
Dec08  Nov08  Oct08  Sep08
Aug08  Jul08  Jun08  May08
Apr08  Mar08  Feb08  Jan08
Dec07  Nov07  Oct07  Sep07
Aug07  Jul07  Jun07  May07
Apr07  Mar07  Feb07  Jan07
Dec06  Nov06  Oct06  Sep06
Aug06  Jul06  Jun06  May06
Apr06  Mar06  Feb06  Jan06
Dec05  Nov05  Oct05  Sep05
Aug05  Jul05  Jun05  May05
Apr05  Mar05  Feb05  Jan05
Dec04  Nov04  Oct04  Sep04
Aug04  Jul04  Jun04  May04
Apr04  Mar04  Feb04  Jan04
Dec03  Nov03  Oct03  Sep03
Aug03  Jul03  Jun03  May03
Apr03  Mar03  Feb03  Jan03
Dec02  Nov02  Oct02  Sep02
back to main page

the diamond geezer index
2020 2019 2018 2017 2016
2015 2014 2013 2012 2011
2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
2005 2004 2003 2002

my special London features
a-z of london museums
E3 - local history month
greenwich meridian (N)
greenwich meridian (S)
the real eastenders
london's lost rivers
olympic park 2007
great british roads
oranges & lemons
random boroughs
bow road station
high street 2012
river westbourne
trafalgar square
capital numbers
east london line
lea valley walk
olympics 2005
regent's canal
square routes
silver jubilee
unlost rivers
cube routes
Herbert Dip
capital ring
river fleet

ten of my favourite posts
the seven ages of blog
my new Z470xi mobile
five equations of blog
the dome of doom
chemical attraction
quality & risk
london 2102
single life
april fool

ten sets of lovely photos
my "most interesting" photos
london 2012 olympic zone
harris and the hebrides
betjeman's metro-land
marking the meridian
tracing the river fleet
london's lost rivers
inside the gherkin
seven sisters

just surfed in?
here's where to find...
diamond geezers
flash mob #1  #2  #3  #4
ben schott's miscellany
london underground
watch with mother
cigarette warnings
digital time delay
wheelie suitcases
war of the worlds
transit of venus
top of the pops
old buckenham
ladybird books
acorn antiques
digital watches
outer hebrides
olympics 2012
school dinners
pet shop boys
west wycombe
bletchley park
george orwell
big breakfast
clapton pond
san francisco
children's tv
east enders
trunk roads
little britain
credit cards
jury service
big brother
jubilee line
number 1s
titan arum
doctor who
blue peter
peter pan
feng shui
leap year
bbc three
vision on
ID cards