diamond geezer

 Thursday, April 15, 2021

The same news in twelve different ways

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
London's beloved Routemaster bus will never again operate in passenger service. The rear-platformed workhorse had a good run but alas TfL have confirmed the heritage service will not be returning. The last surviving route was put on hold last year at the start of the pandemic and now it turns out this suspension is to be made permanent. It's just another victim of the financial cuts that have afflicted London's transport network during lockdown, only in this case we know it's definitely not coming back. Farewell sturdy workhorse of the streets.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
The Routemaster's nemesis Ken Livingstone removed them from everyday service in 2005, citing progress and the accessibility agenda, but TfL retained two special heritage routes to help silence the critics. One was route 9 between Strand and the Royal Albert Hall and the other was route 15 between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill. Fully accessible normal buses continued to operate alongside, maintaining full step-free access, so these were very much tourist-facing extras. But the service on route 9H was withdrawn in 2014 and although route 15H lingered until 2019 it won't be coming back.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
A TfL spokesperson has confirmed that services on route 15H have been discontinued. Reasons include "falling ridership on the Central London network", they said, and "because it is the only part of the fleet that does not provide step-free access." They also added that "the heritage service on route 15H is not required for capacity purposes and does not provide any unique links", so it wasn't just one single reason which scuppered the service. Running an infrequent shuttle for tourists who aren't here and may not be coming back simply wasn't an option.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
The first Routemaster in passenger service, codenamed RM1, made its inaugural journey between Golders Green and Crystal Palace on Wednesday 8th February 1956. The last Routemaster in passenger service, codenamed RM1933, made its final journey between Trafalgar Square and Tower Hill on Sunday 29th September 2019. That's 63 years of service on the streets of the capital which is a phenomenal record and unlikely ever to be beaten.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
Heritage Routemaster services on route 15 were gradually reduced over time to save money. Initially they operated daily from 9.30am to 6.30pm at 15 minute intervals, but in 2015 this was reduced to every 20 minutes between 10am and 6pm. This enabled the service to be operated with fewer vehicles given that fewer of the fleet were now roadworthy. In 2019 TfL reduced the days of operation to weekends and bank holidays only, and only between March and September. But after one summer season the buses went into hibernation on 29th September 2019 and the pandemic ensured they didn't emerge as planned on 28th March 2020... and never will again.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
The last full year of heritage Routemaster services cost TfL £1,293,270. In 2019 the cost was reduced to £808,258 when the contract was cut to six months, weekends only. Had route 15H operated last year it would have cost £808,258 but TfL saved that money, plus they've also now saved 2021's £825,243 and a lot more six-figure sums going forward. It's all a drop in the ocean compared to the shortfall created by fewer passengers, but it has "made the best use of resources" and helped TfL "make our core network services financially sustainable for the future".

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
Hey, TfL may have removed the last red Routemasters from our streets but that doesn't mean you'll never ride one again. Numerous afternoon tea merchants employ Routemasters to ship cupcakes and prosecco around the capital so you can always pay to ride one of those, or maybe next time you're off to a wedding the best man will have hired Routemasters all round. Several private tour companies also exist, even if they want you to spend £24 rather than the £1.50 it used to cost because that's lack of subsidies for you. So don't lose heart, the private sector has saved the day, ding ding.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
The fleet of Routemasters which used to operate heritage route 15 have been based at Stagecoach's West Ham Garage since 2009. If you stand on the bend in Stephenson Street you can see all ten buses lined up against the fence. Many show 15 Out Of Service on their blinds, one still thinks it's on route 8 and one displays the message Happy Retirement. The oldest of the ten is parked separately and looks like it's been cannibalised for spares to keep the rest on the road. It's not clear what the bus company will do with these vehicles, but they may now be available for special events and private hire.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
I looked through the fence and the ten redundant Routemasters are (from left to right) RM324 (WLT 324) [born 1960], RM2050 (ALM 50B) [born 1964], RM871 (WLT 871) [born 1962], RM652 (WLT 652) [born 1962], RM2060 (ALM 60B) [born 1964], RM2071 (ALM 71B) [born 1964], RM1933 (ALD 933B) [born 1964], RM2089 (ALM 89B) [born 1964], RM1941 (ALD 941B) [born 1964], RM1968 (ALD 968B) [born 1964]. Anyone with a spotters notebook could tick the whole lot off, but the fence is not good for photography so don't rush down with your camera.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
I announced that Routemasters had been discontinued last Thursday, but only because Twitter user @goldenarrw alerted me to it. Tim Dunn announced that Routemasters had been discontinued on Monday, but only because Cliff emailed him about it. The Guardian announced that Routemasters had been discontinued on Tuesday, but only because they'd seen Tim's tweet. The Evening Standard and Time Out announced the news yesterday and the BBC ran a two-part report on the local news last night, but like the rest of us only because they were nudged. The lapdog media haven't announced the news because they only regurgitate TfL's press releases and TfL have no intention of officially announcing this. The original confirmation in fact emerged on Wednesday last week as the result of an FoI request, otherwise we'd all be none the wiser, so many thanks to Larry for asking the question in the first place.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
To the list of things the pandemic has killed off we can now add the humble Routemaster. Like Debenhams they were nice to have but fundamentally unnecessary, so have been unceremoniously withdrawn earlier than they might have been. In normal times we'd have kicked up a fuss, maybe even sent a rude reply to a public consultation, but there was no consultation just a bald economic decision in the early days of lockdown that's turned out to be permanent. We've grown to accept the death of public services because we recognise finances are tight and hard decisions need to be made, but we need to be careful not to throw out everything that makes society special.

The last Routemasters have run in passenger service
London's classic red Routemaster bowed out eighteen months ago without anybody noticing because nobody knew a virus was going to kill it off. The enthusiasts taking videos on the day the buses went into winter hibernation unwittingly scored footage of a veteran leaving the stage for the very last time, not with a bang but with a whimper. It's sad if not entirely unexpected, as an icon of the road turns out to have vanished with inappropriately minimal fuss. So don't head to Tower Hill in the hope of hopping on a rear platform this weekend because all you'll find are normal buses that don't look quite so impressive on a postcard.

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