The photo you see in the post was made in London this July, as I was walking from the Strand to Trafalgar Square (I took the picture from the staircase that led to the Royal Society of Arts). In the morning I took a bus from Lancaster Gate to Euston, left my luggage to store, and then took my favourite walk from Euston Rd to Russell Sq and down Southampton Row. From there I got to the Strand, and from the Strand I walked to Trafalgar Sq. I was planning to visit Victoria and Albert Museum, but I didn’t want to take the tube, nor did I want to hop on and off the different buses. Eventually, I took the Heritage Route no.9 bus from Trafalgar Sq that circulates between Royal Albert Hall and Aldwych. But in the picture above you see the second of the two heritage routes, no. 15; it operates between Trafalgar Sq and Tower Hill.
Routemaster in Wikipedia
London Routemaster Heritage Route
And so, more on the subject of passion. The comments you can read on this photo’s page on Flickr sound as if they’d been left by a native Londoner. In fact, Jason Albright (aka austinmini1275) is the native of Hagerstown, MD (the U.S.), and has always been interested in transportation, and the London buses, in particular. He also pointed out to the fact that in the photo I managed to catch not one, but two London icons: the Routemaster and the FX4-type black cab. As the person who easily mistakes Ford Beetle for Lamborgini, I am completely in awe with Jason’s competence.
As some of you might know, Boris Johnson vowed during his campaign for the Mayor of London to bring the Routemasters back. In spite of mixed comments, Mr Johnson is keeping his word on this, and here is the New Bus for London competition. The competition closes on September 19th, 2008. To make things clearer, the new London bus design will be based on the AEC Routemaster, but the organisers, and Mr Johnson in particular, are aiming to go further. They want to hear from both professional designers who can submit the whole plan and regular commuters who can contribute their experience and ideas for improvement. The first prize is the hefty £25,000, with several smaller awards for “great ideas”.
Whether London buses will all be Routemaster-esque by 2012 or not, is the matter of time and money. This will certainly be a great feature to enhance the Olympics experience for the capital, but exactly how efficient it is, one will have to wait and see. The current biggest drawback of the Routemasters is that they don’t accommodate the needs of disabled passengers and don’t have sufficient space for prams and luggage.
I got to use the Routemaster in spring 2004 when I visited London for the first time ever. I was staying in a hostel in Fitzroy St and taking a bus from Tottenham Court Rd to Euston Rd, to visit the British Library. One day I took the Routemaster, and the experience of riding it later transcended into verse: in the 2004 poem called The Ship, which is in fact dedicated to the London Routemasters, I compared the experience of being of this bus with the experience of sailing in the open sea. The verbatim translation is below; the Russian original is in the form of a fourteen liner:
I am a random passenger on the ship.
I come aboard and say farewell to calm.
I leave the shore behind and sail
Forth, wherever the ship takes me.
A captain-conductor accepted me as an equal
And doesn’t mind sharing his stand with me,
And so I lose the sight of the shore,
While watching the waves, in excitement.
And at the very moment when the ship
Sails into the ocean, and from the distant lands
The seagulls come and bring to her their sorrow,
I feel: I behold the entire world.
And there, beneath, the road rolls like a wave,
And in the wind I sing the song of freedom.
English translation © Julia Shuvalova