Today is a sad day in London. My regular bus, the Route 38 Routemaster bus, has been retired. And except for a few token "heritage" tourist buses, the Routemaster bus will vanish from London as of December 9, 2005.
The Routemaster, the red, double-decker bus, has been part of London's street scene for over 50 years. The Routemaster is as much a part of London as Big Ben and red phone booths. The coolest features is the open rear platform that allows riders to jump on and jump off whereever and whenever they want. Unfortunately, that makes it all but impossible for handicapped folks to use the bus. So all the Routemasters are being replaced by accessible but hideously ugly "Bendy Buses," one-level articulated buses, or the modern shapeless double-decker bus. Critics argue that London should have build a modern but accessible version of the Routemaster that retains the same styling. After all, if they could make a new Mini Cooper and VW Beetle, why can't they make a modern Routemaster?
And the end of the Routemaster also means the end of the conductor. New buses have automated ticket machines so the only human employee is the driver. The conductors were helpful chaps at the back of the bus who took your ticket (or not), and also helped with directions, loading packages, passengers and provided pleasant conversation, like a good bartender. And best of all, they provided crowd-control. If the bus was full, they would not let anyone else on. The new buses have no such option, so they often crowd up until they are bursting at the seams. So not only are Routemasters retiring but hundreds of conductors are out of a job.
Only one Routemaster bus line remains in London: Route 159. Catch it while you can. Farewell, good friend!