Tag Archives: London transport

The bus that defined London

In 1947, as I lay in my cot ruminating upon what this life malarkey was all about, engineers in Chiswick were chewing their pencils over a new project.

During the war, Associated Equipment Company (AEC) had been given over to the manufacturer of parts for the Hadley Page Halifax Bomber and now this expertise was to be put to use. They copied the riveted aluminium fuselage of the wartime plane to create a bus that was considerably lighter than its predecessors, thus increasing its passenger capacity and economising on fuel. It could be assembled and taken apart with ease, much like Lego. The open platform enabled passengers to hop on and off the vehicle whenever it was stationary. Provision had been made for large pieces of luggage in a cubby hole beneath the stairs, and the conductor (there always was one) could stand in front of this recess away from alighting passengers. An innovation in mass transit vehicles was a heating system, the wheels had independent suspension, much needed with the post-war roads, and there was a fully automatic gearbox.

These vehicles along with the black cab defined London amongst the drab greys of the 1950s.

It was some time before the bus took to the roads, but by its launch in 1956 the years of research, design and planning was borne out and the iconic Routemaster was a great success.

Between 1954 and 1968 they built 2,875, so many vacancies were created to crew them London Transport actively recruited drivers and conductors from the West Indies, thus playing a part in immigration that was to transform and diversify London.

By the turn of the century, hundreds of Routemasters were still to be found on the streets of London, but their eventual demise can be traced back to a decision by the government in the 1960s, to pour money into British Leyland, in the hope of keeping the doomed business alive. The result, as AEC had been swallowed up by British Leyland, who now manufactured the successor to the Routemaster was a bus – as Boris Johnson as Mayor of London put it – having lorry engines and lorry gearboxes, more suited to carry 32 tons of gravel than a complement of passengers.

The Routemaster was the last bus on London’s streets to be built by Londoners, for Londoners, in London, and with specific regard to the needs of London passengers.

As I write this, Transport for London has announced that, due to a fall in demand, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the 15H Heritage Route with the last 10-strong Routemasters running between Tower of Hill and Trafalgar Square will be withdrawn.

Featured image: 1959 AEC Routemaster bus – RM140 © London Bus Museum

Ten cheap alternatives to Uber

Today Uber is seen as one of the hippest forms of transport in London, and is building a reputation for being cutting edge and a cheaper alternative to taxis. But are people actually forgetting many of the already existing forms of transportation around the capital that are actually cheaper than Uber? Here we take a look at some of the obvious ones that you may be nonetheless overlooking, as well as some that you might not expect or have heard of.

[W]alking – Doctors are always saying we need more exercise, and they also say that walking is the best form of exercise. What more reason do you need to put on some comfortable shoes and follow your nose (and quite possibly your trusty GPS-enabled smartphone) to your destination? Walking is of course also absolutely free, and gives you a chance to see more of London.

[C]ycling – With a growing network of cycle paths and cycle highways, London is becoming an ever more bike-friendly city. With so much traffic in London you’ll also find that you’re often able to zip through stationary traffic while your four-wheeled brethren are left cursing. This is London though, so just remember the lock and the helmet.

[B]us – OK you may have to put up with sitting next to someone smelly or passively absorb the tinny soundwaves coming out of someone else’s headphones once in a while, but at £1.45 for a journey anywhere in London and at anytime you can’t really get any cheaper. Night buses are relatively easy to catch if you’re heading back from a night out, and if you run out of money on your oyster you can get an emergency fare.

[U]nderground – The faster, more expensive sibling of the bus is still considerably cheaper than Uber most of the time, particularly if you have an Oyster card. If you’re doing a lot of travel to different locations over the course of the day, you’ll also benefit from daily fare capping. True the Tube doesn’t currently operate throughout the night, but a 24-hour ‘Night Tube’ service is to be launched at weekends in September of next year.

[R]ide sharing with a friend – Uber likes to refer to its services as ‘your friend with a car’, but the fact is you probably have an actual friend with a car who would be happy to share journeys for a bit of petrol money.

[K]abbee – Kabbee is a smart-phone taxi app like Uber, but instead of hooking you up with private taxi drivers it enables you to compare prices and other factors for minicab services in London. According to the manufacturers, the app can provides taxi journeys for up to 70 per cent cheaper than black cabs. Editor’s note Oh! Really.

[E]mirates Airline – No, not the actual airline, the pseudonymous cable car that crosses the Thames, linking Greenwich to the Royal Docks. Get on at either end as needed, and if you’ve got and Oyster card it will cost you just £3.30 per journey. True the journey options are somewhat limited, but you’ll be treated to some fantastic birds-eye views of the capital. And not a traffic jam in sight.

[M]aaxi – Maaxi is a recently launched app which enables you to share your black cab ride – and the associated fare – with a number of strangers who are heading in the same direction. Unlike Uber, it only uses black cabs, and has unsurprisingly gained the support of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association.

[H]ailo – With minimum fare costs of between £8 and £15, hailing a black cab through the Hailo app is unlikely to be cheaper than Uber if you’re travelling just a short distance. But if you’re doing a trip to the airport or out to the suburbs it may just work out cheaper, particularly at times when Uber applies its mysterious ‘surge charge). Because the app is automatically hails a taxi close to your location it’s also often much quicker.

[R]oller-skating/blading – Okay, it’s not for everyone, but roller-skating certainly is a fun way of getting around the city. It’s also free, once you’ve got the skates.

Guest Post from Marc Loud a partner at Park Insurance, for over 30 years of experience who cover a range of specialist sectors including taxi insurance.

Horses for courses

With Boris cabs are now becoming Public Enemy Number One and with ever more traffic flow restrictions, and councils trying to turn London’s roads back to Victorian times, an average speed of 8 mph is now still no higher than they were a century ago when we used Shank’s Pony. Nevertheless it is a mistake to imagine that London’s streets would have been more pleasant with four legged horsepower.

[B]y the end of the 19th century 300,000 horses were working in the capital, each producing four tons of dung a year, amounting to a total of one million tons a year which was good for roses, typhoid and dysentery, but little else. Horses were also involved in an average of 175 fatal accidents a year in addition to the deaths caused by transmitted diseases from the dung.

growlerHorse power lasted well into the last century: Old Kent Road’s horse-drawn tram was taken out of service in 1913; incredibly by 1935 five per cent of transport some 20,000 horse-drawn carts were still to be seen in the capital; as nowadays cabbies were reluctant to any change, the last horse drawn cab, a Growler, this plied the Victoria Station rank only retired on 3rd April 1947.

Camden Market, now a shopper’s paradise for the weird and wonderful was once a horse hospital for the 1,300 horses employed in the environs of King’s Cross, treating among other injuries those caused by animals slipping on wet cobblestones.

London’s equine past is commemorated in several street names. Horseferry Road led to one of the few crossings across the Thames, this one from the 16th century was used until 1750 and owned by the Bishops of Lambeth.

582px-Sculpture_Of_'Jacob'_A_Dray_Horse-Queen_Elizabeth_Street-LondonJacob the Circle Dray Horse, Queen Elizabeth Street: The famous courage dray horses were stabled on this site from the early nineteenth century and delivered beer around London, from the brewery on Horselydown Lane near Tower Bridge. In the sixteenth century this area was known as Horselydown which derives its name from Horse-Lie-Down, a thing that horses did here before crossing the river at London Bridge to enter the City of London.

molehill_thumbEquine statutes litter London’s landscape, but one in St. James’s Square illustrates just how dangerous riding horses can be: this statute of King William III was erected in 1806 and there is something strange about it. A small molehill lies at the feet of Sorrel, the King’s horse. What is the molehill for? The answer is that William is said to have died of pneumonia, a complication from a broken collarbone, resulting from a fall off his horse. Because his horse had stumbled into a mole’s burrow. William was the Protestant King brought to England from Holland to replace the last Catholic: King James. James’s supporters and all Jacobites then and now still toast “the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat”. The mole that killed a king. The saying “Dutch Courage” also comes from William III’s reign.