Yesterday I waited at a bus stop opposite London’s Royal Albert Hall with my trusty Bus Checker app telling me that a Number Nine would be there in two minutes. I was unbelieving, however, when I saw an ancient London Routemaster heaving into sight. Talk about a blast from the past. It looked tiny in comparison with modern mobile palaces and definitely much shorter than the ill-fated and much-hated bendy buses foisted on us by the last mayor.
The old Routemaster is a delight: small enough to trickle forward into narrow lanes of traffic, very lively and comfortable with it. Here were all the things I remembered from long ago, including the crowning glory, that open rear platform. It is ideal for congested cities. You can hop on and off at will, although no doubt you may not if Elfansafety have anything to do with it. If you’ve missed a bus and it is still stranded in traffic down the road ahead you can sprint forward and launch yourself onto the slowly moving platform. This is absolute bliss and pure efficiency.
Closer inspection showed no pandering to modern conveniences. No electric bells, just the communication cord running the length of the lower deck. And, joy of joys, a real live conductor complete with ticket machine. No filing in past the driver and swiping your Oyster card over the pad. Sometimes the old ways are the best.
Encouragingly, my Routemaster wasn’t alone. There were more coming in the opposite direction and I wondered where they have all been lurking during the years of banishment.
Mayor Boris Johnson is a true believer in the Routemaster, so much so that he is about to introduce a new, electronic version which will take to the streets next week. The new bus uses a small diesel engine to generate electricity as needed and is twice as economical as the old bendies. I shall be first in line for a pre-Christmas ride.