Red Bus – The British Icon

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Every country in the world is represented by its unique cultural symbols that harbor a sense of national identity in its citizens. The double-decker red bus is a British icon that serves functional and symbolic purposes on the capital’s roads as London’s busses presently receive a ridership of over 6 million individuals every day (TfL).

Despite succeeding several bus models, the 1956 double-decker Routemaster’s quintessential model became synonymous with the United Kingdom itself. The history of London’s busses portrays the sinuous past of the Routemaster model. However, constant technological innovation of this iconic design created the new Routemaster model- the perfect image of a successful balance between tradition and modernity that represents Britain.The red color of the AEC Routemaster dates back to 1907 when the London General Omnibus Company painted its busses red to differentiate itself from competitors. The color was adopted by London Transportation in 1933. The AEC Routemaster boasted an open rear-platform design that allowed easy entrance at unofficial stops. However, this airy rear-platform design became the reason for this model’s decline; the AEC Routemaster caused several accidents when people boarded and de-boarded at unauthorized stops while the bus was in motion; this led to the risk of serious litigations. Furthermore, this bus could not be conveniently used by the elderly and the handicapped, hereby violating the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995.

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Since the publicly-financed body of Transport for London was responsible for cutting costs while increasing safety and accessibility, the single-deck Articulated bus was commissioned in October 2001. The Articulated “bendy” bus had a higher passenger capacity and its multiple doors reduced passenger boarding time as compared to previous double-decker models, including the original Routemaster. This bus also had low access platforms along its length, hereby improving accessibility for wheelchairs, strollers, the elderly and the handicapped. However, this model has several operational problems as well, namely road blockages due to the vehicle’s length, increased fare evasion and serious cases of the bus catching fire en-route. After the election of Boris Johnson as Mayor of London in August 2012, it was decided that these busses will be withdrawn from service by 2013.

The rescission of the original Routemaster and the Articulated buses coincided with a tremendous rise in the number of daily bus passengers, hereby generating a requirement for a new bus model. Since Boris Johnson pledged to introduce a new Routemaster during his campaign, he commissioned an open design competition in 2008 which was won by Wrightbus. The first new Routemaster entered service on 27 February 2012. This red low-floor double-decker bus employs a hybrid diesel-electric fuel technology was popularly termed the Boris Bus or Borismaster. The new Routemaster, currently operating on 43 routes across London, was modeled after the original AEC Routemaster to feature the iconic rear platform but used several technological innovations in order to upgrade the bus to meet accessibility and environmental standards.

This design has three doors at the front, center and rear with contactless card readers at each entrance for ticket payments. The staircase to the upper deck is accessible from both front and rear boarding points. Furthermore, the new low-floor design increases accessibility using ramps. The diesel-electric technology used reduces noise and vibration levels compared to previous models. The lowered fuel usage directly minimizes tail pipe carbon emissions, resulting in reduced pollution levels and improved air quality. This model, however, was not without its failures: it received criticism for overheated interiors during the summer and emitting high pollution levels by operating solely in diesel mode due to hybrid battery failures. The Routemaster design was then upgraded to improve the battery design, hereby maintaining its environmentally-friendly status.

Additionally, the Mayor’s office commissioned a spending of 300 million pounds to retrofit thousands of buses in London’s bus fleet, including some AEC Routemasters, with technological innovations. This initiative, to be completed by 2018, is targeted at lowering carbon emissions while re-using old vehicles. However, the original Routemaster continues to operate on two “heritage” routes (route 9 and 15) to serve tourists and citizens who want a true flashback of the past. Presently, the Routemaster employs the latest technology by to increase safety & accessibility, make payment easier, reduce carbon emissions, and lastly, reduce operation costs by decreasing the fuel and labor costs. This British icon has maintained its iconicity over the decades despite its rise and decline by constantly re-inventing features of the original Routemaster. The new Routemaster embodies the delicate balance of tradition and modernity by presenting itself as both a symbol and a functional aspect of daily British life.

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