|Big Red London Buses
What is the best-known symbol of London? Big Ben? St Paul's Cathedral? Or could it be something much less artistic than that? Could it be the big red London double-decker bus?
It certainly could. Big London red buses are recognised — and even found —" all over the world. They can be seen driving round Europe or taking tourists to the Niagara Falls, They don't need to have the words 'London Transport'on the side of them: they are immediately recognised by millions of people!
On October 25th 1911, the London General Omnibus Company ran their last horse-drawn omnibus through the streets of the capital. Since then the big red motor bus has been London's 'king of the road'.
Every day, thousands of Londoners use the big red buses to move — often slowly — around town; and lots of tourists know that a one-day London bus pass, valid on all regular bus routes, offers a wonderful way to see the sights of Britain's capital city.
The idea of the 'double decker' is actually much older than the motor bus; it is simply a continuation of the system that was used for public transport in the age of horse-drawn vehicles, when some of the passengers sat inside, and the rest travelled on the roof. Too bad if it was raining! Of course, passengers could take a sort of oil-cloth cover out of the back of the seat in front of them, and pull it over them; but they still got pretty wet.
If you were a kid hanging around London in the 1880s, you could have earned a penny or two by sweeping horse muck off the streets. In those days, horse-drawn vehicles produced 1,000 tons of muck a day!
It wasn't until the 1930s that all new buses became equipped with roofs over the upper deck! More powerful engines meant that buses could be bigger and heavier; like trams, they could now have roofs.
Today the only open-topped buses are the special tourist buses.
The most famous London buses, however, are not those that filled the capital's streets in the 1930s, but the powerful 'Routemasters' which date from the 1950s and 60s. These are the buses that have been taken all over the world, the buses that you can see in the tourist brochures, and the ones which have been sold, in miniature, to millions of visitors and souvenir hunters.
The Routemaster is a legend in itself! With its open platform at the back end, the Routemaster is still the most popular bus in London, because passengers can climb on and off when they want, even if the bus is moving (though this is not recommended!).
These buses were designed specially for London, by people who knew what London needed, and they have served their purpose well! What other city operates hundreds of buses that are not only popular, practical, and well-built, but also over forty years old in many cases?
Things started to go wrong for the London bus in the late 1960s. That was when the Ministry of Transport decided that it would only give financial assistance to bus companies that bought new buses with doors! They had to choose other models instead. Today, European Union rules also stipulate that new buses for public transport must have doors.
London, however, has resisted the bureaucrats! Determined to keep the buses that Londoners (and tourist) want, London Transport has decided to keep the old Routemasters going as long as possible. Five hundred of the popular old buses have been renovated, and are now back on the road as good as new, if not better!
The black London taxi cab is another traditional symbol of London. It looks old-fashioned and clumsy, but in fact it's comfortable and speedy. Besides, London taxi drivers know the city very well. They spend up to two years studying and memorizing 25,000 streets, as well as the locations of hospitals, hotels, theatres, clubs, museums, etc. Then they have to pass a very difficult test called 'The Knowledge'. So when you climb into the famous black cab you can be absolutely sure that it'll get you wherever you want and by the quickest possible route.
Speak Out 1 / 2004