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Buses in London

A symbol of London: the Routemaster bus (mainly retired)

The London Bus is one of London's principal icons, the archetypal red rear-entrance Routemaster being recognised worldwide. Although the Routemaster has now been largely phased out of service, with only two heritage routes still using the vehicles,[1] the majority of buses in London are still red and therefore the red double-decker bus remains a widely recognised symbol of the city.


  • History 1
    • Organisation 1.1
      • LPTB to LRT 1.1.1
      • Privatisation 1.1.2
    • Vehicles 1.2
    • New Routemaster and bendy bus withdrawal 1.3
  • Operation 2
    • Local buses 2.1
    • Night buses 2.2
    • Heritage routes 2.3
    • Tour buses 2.4
    • Long distance coaches 2.5
    • Airport buses 2.6
  • Terrorist incidents 3
  • Media 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Management of London Transport 1933-2000
Dates Organisation Overseen by
1933-1947 London Passenger Transport Board London County Council
1948-1962 London Transport Executive British Transport Commission
1963-1969 London Transport Board Minister of Transport
1970-1984 London Transport Executive (Greater London only) Greater London Council
1970-1986 London Country Bus Services (Green Line only) National Bus Company
1984-2000 London Regional Transport Secretary of State for Transport
2000- Transport for London Mayor of London


Early days: London General omnibuses in 1927
The London Transport brand continued on buses until 1986
A post-privatisation London bus bearing private operator branding

Buses have been used on the streets of London since 1829, when Paddington to the city. In 1850 Thomas Tilling started horse bus services,[2] and in 1855 the London General Omnibus Company or LGOC was founded to amalgamate and regulate the horse-drawn omnibus services then operating in London.[3]

LGOC began using motor omnibuses in 1902, and manufactured them itself from 1909. In 1904 Thomas Tilling started its first motor bus service. The last LGOC horse-drawn bus ran on 25 October 1911, although independent operators used them until 1914.[4]

In 1909 Thomas Tilling and LGOC entered into an agreement to pool their resources. The agreement restricted the expansion of Thomas Tilling in London, and allowed the LGOC to lead an amalgamation of most of London's bus services. However, also in 1909 Thomas Clarkson started the National Steam Car Company to run steam buses in London in competition with the LGOC. In 1919 the National company reached agreement with the LGOC to withdraw from bus operation in London, and steam bus services ceased later that year.[5]


May 1912 London General Omnibus Company route map, showing the first 50 or so bus routes, many of which are broadly unchanged to the present day

In 1912 the Underground Group, which at that time owned most of the London Underground, bought the LGOC. In 1933 the LGOC, along with the rest of the Underground Group, became part of the new London Passenger Transport Board. The name London General was replaced by London Transport, which became synonymous with the red London bus.[6]

Bus numbers were first used in 1906. When the independent firms started in 1922, they used General route numbers, along with suffixes from the alphabet to denote branch routes. In 1924, under the London Traffic Act, the Metropolitan Police was given the authority of allocating route numbers, which all buses had to carry. This ultimately led to chaos and in the London Passenger Transport Act of 1933 the powers of allocating route numbers was taken away from the police and handed once again to professional busmen.[7] Suffixes were gradually abolished over the decades, the last such route in London being the 77A, which became the 87 in June 2006.

The LPTB, under Lord Ashfield, assumed responsibility for all bus services in the London Passenger Transport Area, an area with a radius of about 30 miles of central London. This included the London General country buses (later to be London Transport's green buses), Green Line Coaches and the services of several Tilling Group and independent companies.

London buses continued to operate under the London Transport name from 1933 to 2000, although the political management of transport services changed several times. The LPTB oversaw transport from 1933 to 1947 until it was re-organised into the London Transport Executive (1948 to 1962). Responsibility for London Transport was subsequently taken over to the London Transport Board (1963 to 1969), the Greater London Council (1970 to 1984) and London Regional Transport (1984 to 2000).

However, in 1969 legislation was passed to transfer the green country services, outside the area of the Greater London Council, to the recently formed National Bus Company. Trading under the name London Country the green buses and Green Line Coaches became the responsibility of a new NBC subsidiary, London Country Bus Services, on 1 January 1970.

A former network of express buses operated by London Transport in central London was the Red Arrows. The routes, all numbered in the 500s, ran from main line stations to various locations in the West End and City. They were introduced in 1966 and expanded in 1968, but in the 1990s they were gradually phased out and only two former routes, the 507 and 521, remain.[8]

In 1979 the operation of London's buses under the GLC was divided among eight areas or districts, as described in the table below:

District Area Logo (positioned above LT roundel)
Abbey West central Coronet
Cardinal West and Southwest Bust of Thomas Wolsey
Forest East and Northeast (after Epping Forest) Squirrel
Leaside North (after River Lea) Swan
Selkent Southeast Hops
Tower East central White Tower
Wandle South (after River Wandle) Water wheel
Watling Northwest Bust of Roman soldier[9]

The districts were later reorganised and reduced to six (with the abolition of Tower and Watling), and, following the Transport Act of 1985, were done away with in 1989 with privatisation imminent.


In the 1980s the government of Margaret Thatcher decided to privatise the bus operating industry in the Great Britain. At the time, local bus transport was dominated by London Transport in London, and in other major cities by large municipally owned operators, as well as by the government-owned National Bus Company and Scottish Bus Group elsewhere. The Transport Act 1985 brought about bus deregulation throughout Great Britain which opened up local bus operation to private operators and required municipal companies to operate independently of local government on a commercial basis.[10]

In London a completely different model was used from the rest of the country; the Transport Act brought about the privatisation of London bus services, which required an arms-length subsidiary company of London Transport called London Buses to be set up with the remit to contract out the operation of services, but to determine service levels, routes, frequencies and fares within the public sector.[11]

This regime is still in place today, and bus operations in London must be put out to Transport for London (TfL).[11]


A 2005 Alexander ALX400 model overtakes a 1963 AEC Routemaster

From the early days of motor bus operation by the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) in the 1900s until the 1960s London went its own way, designing its own vehicles specially for London use rather than using the bus manufacturers' standard products used elsewhere. The Associated Equipment Company (AEC) was created as a subsidiary of the LGOC in 1912 to build buses and other equipment for its parent company, and continued in the ownership of LGOC and its successors until 1962. Many of London's local service buses over this period were built by AEC, although other manufacturers also built buses to London designs, or modified their own designs for use in London.[4]

The last bus specifically designed for London was the AEC Routemaster, built between 1956 and 1968. Since then, buses built for London's local services have all been variants of models built for general use elsewhere, although bus manufacturers would routinely offer a 'London specification' to meet specific London requirements. Some manufacturers even went so far as to build new models with London in mind, such as the DMS class Daimler Fleetline, and the T class Leyland Titan (B15).

London did see the introduction of several of the newly emerging minibus and midibus models in the 1980s and 1990s, in a bid to up the frequency on routes, although the use of these buses dropped off to the level of niche operation on routes not suitable for full size buses.

With the move to tendered contracts for TfL routes, the 'London specification' was further enforced as being part of tender proposals, invariably specifying new buses. The major difference for London is the usage of dual doors on central routes.

London was one of the earliest major users of low-floor buses. From 2000, the mainstay of fleet, double-decker buses, were augmented with a fleet of articulated buses, rising to a peak fleet size of 393 Mercedes-Benz O530 Citaros.[12] A small fleet of hybrid buses is also operated.[13]

New Routemaster and bendy bus withdrawal

A Go-Ahead London General Red Arrow articulated bus, withdrawn in 2009

In the 2008 London mayoral election campaign, prospective mayor Boris Johnson made several commitments to change the London Buses vehicle policy, namely to introduce a new Routemaster, and remove the bendy buses. Johnson was elected to office on 4 May 2008, and on 4 July 2008 Transport for London announced the New Bus for London Competition,[14] in which conceptual and detailed design proposals would be sought for a new hybrid Routemaster, with development of a design that could be put into production hoped for completion by 2012 (the expected date of the next mayoral election).[12]

In August 2008, the London Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy announced that the withdrawal of the bendy buses would take place, starting in 2009. So as to reduce additional costs to TfL, the buses would be withdrawn as their 5-year operating contracts came up for renewal, with the replacement types being decided by operators. Options for replacement would not preclude such measures as tri-axle buses. However, research has indicated that removing articulated vehicles may not be without cost; London Travel Watch undertook a study in September 2008 which found that to replace articulated vehicles on three bus routes, and maintain overall route capacity, would cost an additional £12.6m per annum, due to the additional vehicles necessitated.[15]

On 7 December 2008 Boris Johnson appeared as the "Star In a Reasonably Priced Car" on BBC2's Top Gear in which Jeremy Clarkson questioned him about his plans to withdraw bendy buses, which, as he pointed out, Johnson had announced he planned to do many months prior to this and asked when he actually planned to put this into practice, to which Johnson replied they would be off the road "by around 2010". A couple of episodes earlier fellow presenter Richard Hammond had overseen a drag race between different types of buses used in London. The single-decker bus won, but only because the double-decker fell on its side at the last corner.

The first buses to be withdrawn would be the Red Arrow fleet on route 507 and route 521 (although the latter route requires single deckers as it runs through the Strand Underpass), in May 2009, followed by the route 38 in July. All buses have been withdrawn on 9 December 2011.

In May 2010 Boris Johnson unveiled the design of the New Routemaster, the proposed replacement for the Routemaster as an iconic standard bus for exclusive use in London.[16] The buses, designed by Heatherwick Studio and built by Wrightbus[17] will feature two staircases, three doors and an open platform allowing passengers to hop on and off, and are due to start running in 2012.

In December 2011 the British car magazine Autocar road-tested the New Routemaster. It said it had "brilliant economy and an interior to die for. The best in public transport".[18] It rated it ahead of the Wright Gemini Hybrid 2, Mercedes-Benz Citaro G and AEC Routemaster.


Local buses

A representation of the standard London bus stop (although completely fictional in the place names, and route numbers)—yellow squares mean "buy tickets before boarding"; blue squares denote a night bus; the "S" at the top of the pole identifies a particular bus stand at a location with many stands

Most local buses within London form a network managed by London Buses, an arm of Transport for London, although most services are operated by private sector companies under contract to London Buses. With the introduction of the London congestion charge in central London and because at peak times the Underground is operating at maximum capacity, many bus service improvements have been undertaken, and central bus services are currently enjoying something of a resurgence.[11]

Although the rear-entrance double-deck Routemaster is the archetypal London bus, their numbers have dwindled quite quickly owing to their age (the oldest are now more than 50 years old), their inability to accept wheelchairs or pushchairs, and their requirement for a two-person crew. As described below, Routemasters are now restricted to one heritage route.[19]

All other local bus services are now operated by modern low-floor buses, which may be single-deck or double-deck. Most buses operating in London have two sets of doors, and passengers board the bus using the front door and alight using the rear door, whilst some buses on less busy routes have only one door. All these buses conform to the Disability Discrimination Act, and can accept passengers in wheelchairs and other mobility impaired passengers.

Some local bus routes in the outer areas of London cross the London boundary. London Buses services that cross the boundary have standard red buses, and charge London fares, at least within the boundary. Buses from outside London that cross into London are in their operators' own colour schemes, and may not accept the London fares even within the boundary.

A London United bus bearing the logo of Paris-based RATP

Because the operating contracts for local buses in London are subject to a system of competitive tender, a wide range of companies now operate bus routes across London. Many services have been contracted out to leading transport groups such as the Perth-based Stagecoach Group; until April 2013 the Aberdeen-based FirstGroup was also a major London operator until it sold its London operations to the Australian firm Transit Systems. Other London bus operators are owned by international operators including Arriva, a subsidiary of the German state-owned railway Deutsche Bahn, and London United which is part of RATP Group, the state-owned operator of the Paris public transport system.[20][21][22]

The largest operator of London bus routes is the Newcastle-based Go-Ahead Group, followed by Arriva.

Privately run bus services may also be operated independently of the regulated London bus network, but still require a permit from TfL. This permit applies to any service which has a stop in London and another within 15 miles of Greater London, such as commuter coaches, school buses or supermarket shuttle buses.[23]

Company Routes Service area Parent company
Abellio London London & Surrey Abellio/Nederlandse Spoorwegen
Abellio Surrey London & Surrey Abellio/Nederlandse Spoorwegen
Arriva London London Arriva/Deutsche Bahn
Arriva Shires & Essex Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire & London Arriva/Deutsche Bahn
Arriva Southern Counties London, Surrey, West Sussex, East Sussex, Kent & Essex Arriva/Deutsche Bahn
Carousel Buses Buckinghamshire Go-Ahead Group
CT Plus Greater London HCT Group
First Berkshire & The Thames Valley Berkshire FirstGroup
Go-Ahead London London Go-Ahead Group
Green Line Coaches Express services to Berkshire & Hertfordshire Arriva/Deutsche Bahn
London Sovereign North London RATP Group
London United West & Central London RATP Group
Metrobus South and South-east London, and parts of Surrey, Kent, West and East Sussex. Go-Ahead Group
Metroline North & West London ComfortDelGro
Quality Line South London & Surrey RATP Group
Stagecoach London South and East London Stagecoach Group
Sullivan Buses Hertfordshire & North London -
Tower Transit East, West & Central London Transit Systems
Uno Hertfordshire & North London University of Hertfordshire

Night buses

Night buses began running as early as 1913, and they form part of the London Buses network. Originally all the routes were distinguished by an N prefixed route number and had their own (premium) fare structure, in part because the routes are greatly extended from their daytime equivalents. For example, while the 9 travels from Aldwych to Hammersmith, the N9 continues on from Hammersmith to Heathrow Terminal 5.

Heritage routes

A Routemaster on heritage route 9

The rear-entrance double-deck Routemaster has been withdrawn from all regular service routes, they are preserved on Heritage route 15. Route 9H was withdrawn on 26 July 2014.[1][19][24]

Routemaster buses are not accessible to passengers in wheelchairs and other mobility impaired passengers. Because of this, each heritage route is operated as a short-working of a regular service route bearing the same route number, thus ensuring that passengers unable to board the heritage buses are offered equivalent alternative transport arrangements.[1]

Tour buses

A partial open top tour bus

A common sight in central London are tour buses, the majority being open-top buses. These are double-decker buses with a fully or partially open upper deck, which provide tourist services with either live or recorded commentary. Most of these services allow passengers to embark and disembark at any of the company's stops, continuing their journey on a later bus.

There are several competing operators of such services which do not form part of the London Buses network and do not issue or accept London Buses tickets, although at least one paints its buses in the same red as London's local buses.

Other tours use coaches and generally need to be booked in advance through travel agents.

Long distance coaches

A typical National Express coach on a route serving London

Long-distance coaches link London with the rest of the United Kingdom and with other cities in Europe. Most of these services are run by National Express and their European affiliate Eurolines. National Express's predominantly white vehicles are common on the roads of central London, on their way to and from their terminus at Victoria Coach Station.

Recently competition for long distance traffic has been introduced by Megabus, a subsidiary of the large UK bus operating company Stagecoach. This company operates cheap services aimed at students and the like, which must be booked in advance on the Internet.

Other coach services link London to medium-distance destinations, and unlike National Express or Megabus provide walk-on fares. Good examples of this are the Green Line services to the Home Counties, mainly operated by Arriva, the service to the city of Oxford, where Stagecoach's frequent Oxford Tube service competes with Go-Ahead's similar Oxford Express service, and the many commuter services to medium-distance destinations operated by individual coach companies during peak times.

Airport buses

National Express is also the principal airport bus operator, serving Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted with its National Express Airport brand. Unlike their longer distance cousins, these are walk-on services, which serve stops throughout central London rather than running to Victoria Coach Station.

London City Airport used to provide express shuttle bus services to connect the airport to rail and underground stations at Canning Town, Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street. These operated at a premium fare (compared with the parallel but slower London Buses services) but did not survive the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to the airport in late 2005.

Terrorist incidents


Just like the London Cab, the London bus, particularly the Routemaster, has become an international icon to express a range of ideas.

Artist Brian Whelan (whose father was a bus conductor) uses the red bus in his cityscape paintings to depict street-level London. A revamped London bus has also been used to promote the work of British artist Sir Peter Blake. An anthropomorphic Routemaster named Topper Deckington III is a fictional character in the Disney Pixar movie Cars 2.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Heritage routes for Routemaster".  
  2. ^ Thomas Tilling by Peter Gould
  3. ^ "From omnibus to ecobus, 1829-1850".  
  4. ^ a b "From omnibus to ecobus, 1901-1913, 3rd page".  
  5. ^ The Steam Bus 1833-1923 by Peter Gould
  6. ^ "From omnibus to ecobus, 1919-1938, 3rd page".  
  7. ^ Marshall, Prince (1972). Wheels of London. The Sunday Times Magazine ISBN 0-7230-0068-9. pp. 55–56. 
  8. ^ Marshall, Prince (1972). Wheels of London. The Sunday Times Magazine ISBN 0-7230-0068-9. p. 114. 
  9. ^ "London Transport - Local Bus Maps". Retrieved 26 August 2013. 
  10. ^ Parker, David (2009). The official history of privatisation. London: Routledge. p. 232.  
  11. ^ a b c "History".  
  12. ^ a b Buses Magazine, August 2008 issue, page 5, Ian Allen Publishing
  13. ^ "Hybrid buses". Transport for London. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "Consultation on Articulated Bus Routes 38, 507 and 521 (sec. 4.8.1)".  
  16. ^ Return of the Routemaster: Boris Johnson unveils new version of classic double-decker bus that lets you hop on and off
  17. ^ £7.8m London bus contract for Ballymena firm
  18. ^ New Bus for London driven
  19. ^ a b "End of the road for an icon".  
  20. ^ "The French connection: What's a picture of the River Seine doing on our iconic London buses?". Daily Mail. 25 April 2011. Retrieved 11 April 2013. 
  21. ^ Brummer, Alex (2012). "7. the Export of Transport". Britain for Sale: British Companies in Foreign Hands. Random House.  
  22. ^ Macalister, Terry; Milmo,Dan (22 April 2010). "Arriva takeover bid revives foreign takeover row". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  23. ^ "London Service Permits". TfL. Retrieved 17 April 2013. 
  24. ^ "Travelling around London" (PDF).  
  25. ^ "1996: Bomb blast destroys London bus".  
  26. ^ "London Attacks - Tavistock Square".  
  27. ^ Bus bomb bid' CCTV shown to jury"'".  

External links

  • London Bus - Transport for London
  • - London Bus Photos
  • - London Travel Watch
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