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London's Big Red Double Decker Bus Reincarnated With Green Tech

Routemaster bus

It was one of the pledges of his electoral campaign, and now London Mayor Boris Johnson has made good on his promise to bring back the Routemaster, London's iconic red double-decker bus. However, this is not just a return of the diesel-chugging monster that contributed to London's smoggy reputation, but a cleaner, greener—and a damn sight dearer—model. And today, the new design, complete with new-generation hybrid engine, was unveiled to the general public.

"This iconic new part of our transport system is not only beautiful, but has a green heart beating beneath its stylish, swooshing exterior," said the mayor. "It will cut emissions and give Londoners a bus they can be proud of. I expect to eventually have hundreds of these on London's roads, and for cities around the globe to be beside themselves with envy for our stunning red emblem of 21st Century London.

Costing $420,000 each, Transport for London claims that the new Routemaster will be 15% more fuel efficient than existing hybrid buses, 40% more than the existing diesel double deckers. Thomas Heatherwick, the brains behind the U.K. Pavilion at Shanghai World Expo was one of the designers involved in the redesign, which includes three doors, two staircases, one of which has a window that follows the upward swoop of the stairs. "It suddenly becomes quite distinctive because, as a bus user, you'll suddenly be able to see out as you walk up the staircases," he said.

Routemaster bus

"We want it to be inspiring, we want it to be fun, we want this new bus to encompass everything that is great about traveling around London on an icon like the old Routemaster was," says Transport spokesman Kulveer Ranger. Unlike the old Routemaster, however, the open platform at the back can be closed off, should there be no second crew member on the bus—which makes one wonder whether public service cuts will ever allow for a conductor—traditionally, the chap or chapess with clicky ticket machine who'd give you a clip round the earhole were you young and annoying the old ladies.

Like the capital's telephone kiosks, beefeaters, and old queens, red double-decker buses are fabulously iconic. Designed in 1954, the original Routemaster had an open rear entrance that meant you really could run for the bus, rather than sit, picking your nose boredly, at a bus stop. To some people they were dangerous, to others, they were the easiest thing to use, meaning you could jump on one even when it was moving. Daredevil cyclists would even grasp the pole next to the exit and get the bus to pull them up the hill.

Routemaster bus

See? Fun.

In 2000, Ken Livingstone the first Mayor of London for, ooh, a good few years, axed them in favor of articulated, "bendy" buses. The point being, he claimed, you could get more people on them and that it negated the need for a conductor. Londoners, however, did not see it this way, and started getting about as vocal as it is possible for an Englishman not watching his football team can be. (Example: "Er, I don't wish to be difficult but, er, are you sure this is the right way to go, Kenneth?") Bendy buses were not popular with cyclists or, indeed, pedestrians, and thus began a campaign to get them off the capital's roads. And now Mayor Johnson has done it.

The final tweaks are being made at the Routemaster's manufacturers, Wrightbus, based in Northern Ireland, and the finished design will be ready next year, and on the city's streets by 2012—just in time for the Olympics.