The other day someone pointed at the open platform of RM1353 and asked me: did you take the doors off this bus? “No, it was built that way.” She looked amazed, and pleased.
The Routemaster was the last in a long line of open platform buses built in the UK, and became easily the best known. Many would argue it is still the best loved, helped by half a century of regular service in London from 1956 to 2005. So it outlived all other doorless buses not just by a few years but by decades! In the process, it became the epitome of its type.
These days the surviving models, several hundred out of an original 2,700 or so, are scattered far and wide around the world, often with a key modification: entrance doors have been added.
What is it about the open platform bus that makes it so special? I reckon it boils down to two things, one pragmatic and the other more poetic.
When you're standing on or near the platform you feel in and out of the vehicle at the same time. As the bus crawls – or if you’re lucky cruises – along, you are close to the street in a unique way. You see, hear and smell the world outside more directly. It is so different from the usual modern experience of being sealed inside a giant shoebox on wheels until you reach your stop.
Those of us old enough to remember running along and grabbing the pole as the bus pulled away – while the conductor turned a blind eye or even helped us on – will always be fans of the open platform. It was a cheap, everyday thrill. Ditto jumping off before the bus had properly come to a halt. Or when it was caught in traffic or at the lights.
Easy come, easy go
On the practical side, the open platform meant fast and easy boarding so that no time was wasted queuing for tickets. The conductor did his or her rounds after everyone was on board. (Granted, the lack of wheelchair access was a major drawback and symptomatic of the era, even if the conductor was on hand to help many passengers in other ways.)
When Routemasters were replaced from the mid 1980s, this feature was what we missed most. It felt like a big backwards step, with only one motive: saving money by getting rid of conductors.
You can’t turn the clock back but you can keep the doors off. So The Red Bus runs the only Routemasters in Edinburgh that still have their full, authentic design intact. Wedding couples prefer them that way – it's their favourite place for vintage photos. So do corporate passengers and, of course, kids.
Long live the open platform!
© The Red Bus