A Lady's Ruminations

"Jane was firm where she felt herself to be right." -Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Goodbye, Doubledeckers!

AP: London Bids Farewell to Routemaster Buses---

LONDON - After half a century, London's red Routemaster buses are rattling into retirement. Thousands of fans said farewell to the hop-on, hop-off buses Thursday, the last full day of regular service for the icon that has been the subject of thousands of tourists' photographs and postcards.

Transport authorities are withdrawing the blunt-nosed double-decker from its last route — the 159 from Marble Arch to Streatham Hill — on Friday. The final Routemaster was leaving central London just after noon, bound south of the river to a bus garage in Brixton.

"My experience of London is diminished by their passing," said Travis Elborough, author of the Routemaster book "The Bus We Loved."

Many Londoners agree. In a poll last month for the city's Evening Standard newspaper, 81 percent opposed scrapping the Routemaster.

But city transport bosses say the venerable vehicle cannot accommodate disabled people and must be replaced by more user-friendly buses. Some of the replacements are doubledecker, but don't allow people to get on or off while the bus is moving.

"We want to provide the most modern, fully accessible safest buses we can," Transport for London spokesman Stephen Webb said. "It's not romantic, but it works."

The bus is not disappearing completely. Sixteen Routemasters, restored to gleaming 1960s glory, will remain on two "heritage routes" that run through central London between 9:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.

But its demise as part of everyday London life has triggered an outpouring of nostalgia. The British Broadcasting Corp. is running an evening of TV programs Saturday celebrating the bus. Composer Tom Smail has created "Requiem for the Routemaster," an orchestral piece that evokes the throb of an engine, the tinkle of a bell and the zip of a conductor's ticket machine.

"It's actually more of an 'in memoriam,'" Smail told BBC radio. "So you have the sadness, and you have the joy of being on a bus."

The snub-nosed, open-backed Routemaster entered service in the mid-1950s as a replacement for electric trolley buses. It was the last bus to be designed specifically for London, by engineers who had worked on World War II bombers. Supporters say its light but durable aluminum frame, fuel efficiency and easy-to-repair components make it a classic piece of British design.