The AEC Routemaster is a model of double-decker bus that was unveiled in 1954. It was introduced in London on 8 February 1956 and withdrawn from regular service on 9 December 2005.
Production examples, at first to the 27'6" length then permitted, were placed in service from 1959 to replace trolleybuses, this process being completed in May 1962. Subsequent Routemasters, the last 500 of which were 30'-long RML types, began the process of replacing the previous generation of RT-type AEC Regent buses (commemorated by Flanders & Swann's A Transport Of Delight) and their similar Leyland Titan RTL and RTW counterparts. The last Routemaster, RML 2760, was put into service in March 1968.
The design has proved very popular with Londoners and tourists alike. Its two main advantages are the open platform at the rear, and the presence of a conductor to collect fares, required by the isolated driver's cab. The platform allows large volumes of passengers to alight and board quickly at stops, and indeed at traffic lights and slow speeds. The conductor collects fares when the bus is travelling, which considerably reduces waiting time at stops.
Many of London's bus routes switched to modern "one-person operation" (OPO) in the 1970s, out of a desire to reduce operating costs and address staff shortages. However, it has been found that the increased boarding time while each passenger pays the driver slows down busy routes, and leads to "bunching" of buses and poor service. In an attempt to solve this, in central London bus tickets are now bought from street-side machines before boarding. The Oyster card has also made an impact in this regard.
Withdrawal of Routemasters commenced in 1982 but was largely halted by 1988, with comparatively few withdrawn between then and 1992, when a programme was instituted to refurbish 500 of the RML type for ten years' further service. This work, which included updating the interior to modern tastes and re-engining, was carried out by Mainline, TBP and Leaside Buses, and was completed in 1994, in time for the privatisation of London Buses Limited's subsidiaries. This saw the Routemaster fleet divided between nine new companies.
In spite of an earlier public promise to retain the Routemaster, Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, later announced the phasing out of the type in order to provide a bus service in the Capital fully accessible to wheelchair users. Government legislation requires full accessibility by 2017 under the Disability Discrimination Act. The Routemaster was finally withdrawn from service on 9 December 2005.
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