by Rachelle de Bretagne
Double decker buses are as common a sight in the United Kingdom, as the old red telephone boxes and black city cabs. Part of Great Britain's heritage, few realize that the evolution of the double decker bus or that the first versions of the bus were in fact brought out during the Industrial revolution of the late 19th century.
As far back as this, it was recognized that double decker buses which could carry more people to their destination at a time were proven as an economical method of transport. The first buses were horse driven, and although not of the same family as those seen today, were innovative and had seating areas on top of the main bus itself. London General, which would later become known among the British as London Transport brought out their first double decker buses for the 1851 Exhibition of London, converting a standard carriage into one which had secure seating on the roof.
This model paved the way to new thoughts on transport, and as far back as 1899, the first motorised double decker bus driven by steam took its place on the London streets, followed by the very first Daimler model which was petrol driven, and which used a 12 horse power engine. The old buses of the early part of the 20th Century were of completely different design to those seen in London in this day and age, and most required the upstairs passengers to climb up steps on the outside of the bus.
By the early fifties, the buses had been developed not only to be more economical, but to carry more passengers in comfort. The Routemasters came into use at this time, and are the standard design upon which modern day buses are built. The suspension was changed and the bus no longer relied upon the chassis being the main stress bearer. Little by little designs changed, and early buses of this kind had a separate entrance for the driver, at the front cab, and an entrance for the passengers at the back with an internal staircase which took them to the upper floor.
In seaside towns, the open topped double decker buses were popular with the tourist, and these are still used to take them around cities on tours, and in coastal regions, though now much different from the original Routemaster designs of older times.
In the early sixties, the length of the bus was extended to take 72 seats although this varies from model to model, and the old buses, while resembling those of the original fleets were adapted to have lighter bodywork, and sport the advertising panels which became their trademark
and began being used in 1964. 2005 marked the sad end of the Routemasters which were, by that time, sold privately, though the double decker buses which followed took on that same familiar look though were adapted for passengers with handicap. The Routemaster ramps were well known for their flaws of design and were never really a viable option.
Special edition Routemasters were used for ceremonies and celebrations, stepping away from the standard red to gold and silver. New buses took on a more streamline look allowing for adaptations to the times, and the introduction of the one man bus, where the driver and conductor were no longer needed and the driver took the money for tickets from the customers as they entered the front of the bus. The traditional method of having the engine at the front of the bus was replaced with placing it at the rear, making the front of the buses into available space for the customers to enter and to pay the driver their fare.
With the privatization of many companies all over England, many companies now use smaller buses, though the double decker bus has its place in large towns all over Britain, and while looking more sleek, still give the customer a comfortable ride to their destination, though with lightweight materials and more attention to overall cost.
It was a sad day when the Routemasters stopped running, as these had been the backbone of British transport since their early design days. The design was a solid design which was built to last, and even as late as 1995, the buses were refurbished, not because of anything other than the public expecting more comfort with new upholstery being added, to take the buses through the last ten years of their useful lives.
The bus conductor with his little ticket dispensing machine was as much a part of the British way of life as the Routemasters. Now, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has pioneered a contest to design a new London bus, offering a 25,000 prize for the winner, meaning that the future of London buses is still on the drawing board until October.
It will take imagination and ingenuity to come up with a design that last as well as the traditional Routemasters, which have become all too familiar symbols of everything British, though no doubt the future will hold innovative designs which take on the Routemaster designers in an attempt to change the face of transport in the United Kingdom and bring it up to date with other famous landmarks. Who knows, they may even take the black cabs of London and try and replace them with electric cars, though it will take a bit of persuading for the new double decker buses to be as accepted as the old Routemasters were, or to win the hearts of the British public.