History of the Routemaster

The Routemaster was the last bus designed from scratch by London Transport, and the last open platform vehicle in service in London. It survived for so long in comparison to its contemporaries and those designs that came after, for a number of reasons.

Firstly the vehicle was painstakingly designed over a number of years, and from its first appearance at the Commercial Vehicle show in Birmingham in 1954, the Routemaster was extensively tested in service conditions, to find out, to correct, and re-design if necessary, all the components that would be subject to wear and tear in daily service on the streets of London.

This process took another 5 years before the first large scale introduction of the Routemaster onto the streets of London took place. Thus on November 11th 1959,  some 75 buses operating from Poplar and West Ham bus garages, started to replace Trolleybuses under stage 4 of London Transport’s Trolleybus replacement program.

Between 1959 and 1968, 2760 vehicles were produced by AEC / Park Royal Vehicles from their factories in West London for service in the Capital. A further 65 were purchased by BEA for connecting their West London Air Terminal in Gloucester road and Heathrow Airport. The only other original customer was Northern General, who bought 50 for service in the Northeast of England.

One of the other reasons Routemasters have lasted so long was their unique “chassisless” construction, and the extensive use of aluminium in the bodywork. This use of aluminium means that a double deck Routemaster with 64 seats can weigh less than a modern single deck bus with about half the seating capacity. It will also offer better fuel consumption, and will not corrode at anything like the rate of a modern bus’s steel body.

This longevity has meant that succeeding generations of Londoners and visitors to the Capital have grown up with these buses, and that is why they have taken this bus to their hearts like no bus before or since, and why it is rightly regarded as a London icon.