Was up London last week. Victoria Station busy as usual. Outside, I looked to jump on a bus and identified a 38 at the stop. The 38 used to be an old RouteMaster but these were phased out a while back. However, young Boris had the splendid idea of creating a bus inspired by the Routemaster with a similar open back and the 38 is now a New Bus for London or “Borisbus” as the popular media has it. I climbed aboard.
The look of the front of the bus echoes the stairs with a black diagonal line and the headlights are modern LEDs. I admit to being impressed. No, more than that. I admit to loving it.
The upstairs has a wonderful feel about it. Perhaps it is the very wide windows or the two sets of stairs. The line of lights, faintly reminiscent of portals which run along the side and then diagonally down the stairs. The very square layout of the seats in a traditional patterned fabric. The slightly domed ceiling. I can’t quite put my finger on it but I think the word is Design. The New Bus for London was designed by Thomas Alexander Heatherwick, the same guy who designed the Olympic Cauldron.
Yes, yes, I know I have railed against this ephemeral quality ridiculing those who practice it as pony tailed prats but the ambiance (yes, I used the word) of the upper deck is created by an overarching design which is both modern and very London. It seemed to me slightly art deco. One could easily imagine a scene from the latest TV series of Sherlock based on the upper deck (and you read it here first, I’m sure it will be).
As a whole the new bus is very good but the original point of the Borisbus was the open back. Sadly, in this respect, the Borisbus is no match for the old Routemaster. No doubt due to safety concerns, the back door does not extend around the back and opens and closes with the other doors unless a conductor is present. On the 38 there was no conductor. The 24 has a conductor and the back door remains open while the machine is in motion but the conductor hogs the favorite position hanging on to the pole and thereby blocks the entrance. There is no chance to jump off the bus on that tight curve as one approaches one’s destination and nobody will rush to their stop as the bus pulls away and with briefcase in one hand, in one final heroic leap grab the pole and haul themselves aboard. The romance of the open back has been banished to the past for fear of broken bones and scarred faces.
In these days of cycle helmets and Teflon saucepans the rough edges of reality are smoothed away in the name of health and safety but, if we accept this, and consign the hop on / hop off bus to history along with the Black Death and asbestos then the new Borisbus is a splendid 21st century symbol of a dynamic London with a clear nod to tradition.