Buses have a long and interesting history in the capital. Today the Mayor of London is launching the year of the bus, celebrating an iconic symbol of our transport network which carries 6.5 million people a day. Below are eighteen facts covering a selection of historical, contemporary and weird nuggets of info about the world-famous transport system.
1.) Why are the buses red?
Before 1907, buses were painted in different colours to signify their route. Due to fierce competition between bus companies, London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) – which became the biggest bus operator in the capital – painted their fleet of buses red in order to stand out from the competition. After encouragement from the Metropolitan Police they also introduced numbers on the buses to signify different routes
2.) When was the first bus service?
On Saturday 4th July 1829 George Shillibeer began operating the city’s first omnibus service, running from Paddington along the New Road to Bank. He imported the idea from Paris where the service was already popular. The omnibuses could carry 22 people and were pulled by three horses. The service ran four return journeys every day.
3.) The Roundel logo
In 1912 LGOC became part of the Underground Group, uniting bus services and the underground railway. A roundel symbol which combined the LGOC’s ‘winged wheel’ and the Underground’s ‘bar and circle’ was introduced on maps and used as the company logo. This symbol was designed to help passengers distinguish travel information from commercial advertising.
4.) Buses and pigeons helped the war effort
In 1902 LGOC implemented so-called motorbuses in order to compete with the newly opened Central London Railway; now known as the Central Line. The most successful and reliable motorbus was the B-Type Bus. Nine hundred were used to transport troops in World War I, some of which were converted to house carrier pigeons – as seen in the image above.
5.) Two iconic Routemasters are still in use
The Routemaster bus is symbolic of London but this couldn’t save them from being withdrawn from service on 9th December 2005. They were replaced with easy access low-floor buses. However two Routemasters are still in use today on heritage routes. These are Route 9 from Kensington High Street to Aldwych and Route 15 from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill.
6.) The Knight Bus was commissioned in 1865
Well, at least that’s what J.K. Rowling would have you believe. The bus seen in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was constructed using three RT-Class AEC Regent III buses. It is summoned by sticking your wand in the air, as a muggle might hail a taxi. The service is generally used by wizards who are underage or infirm. Hot chocolate is available for the sum of thirteen sickles and there are many beds on which to rest a wizard’s head
7.) Three women have used almost every route
In March 2009 Linda, Mary and Jo began a monumental task: endeavouring to travel on every single bus route in London, in numerical order, using their Freedom Pass for those over 60 years old. As of 23rd January 2014 they only have two routes left. You can even follow their ventures though a regularly updated blog.
8.) In the 1920s ‘Pirate Buses’ became a problem
After WWI there was a shortage of buses in London. An enterprising man by the name of A.G. Partridge realised he could profit from operating an independent service on some of the more popular routes. Dozens of similar companies started appearing and by 1924 there were 200 independent buses in London. These buses didn’t stick to a single route, often taking shortcuts to avoid traffic. Races between LGOC buses and ‘pirates’ became a common sight on the streets of London.
9.) How much did the first bus journey cost?
The fare for George Shillibeer’s omnibus was one shilling from Paddington to Bank and sixpence for a halfway journey. This is equal to 5p and 2.5p respectively in today’s currency. The service wasn’t considered cheap but it cost less than a hackney carriage journey. Today a single journey costs £2.40 if paying by cash or £1.40 by Oyster.
9) London is haunted by a phantom double-decker
Last spotted in 1990, the phantom number seven bus appears in Cambridge Gardens (W10) at 1.15 am. People have reported the bus driving towards them in the middle of the road, with no lights and no one at the wheel. Convinced they are about to collide with the bus, drivers often swerve out of the way, only to look back and find the bus has vanished without a trace. The phantom bus has even claimed the lives of some, most notably in 1934 when a car burst into flames at the exact spot the bus is regularly sighted.