The AEC Routemaster is a double-decker bus designed by London Transport and built by the Associated Equipment Company (AEC) and Park Royal Vehicles. The layout of the vehicle was traditional for the time, with a half-cab, front-mounted engine, and open rear platform, although the coach version was fitted with rear platform doors. The first Routemasters entered service with London Transport in February 1956 and the last were withdrawn from regular service in December 2005, although one heritage route is still operated by Routemasters in central London. Despite the retirement of the original version, the Routemaster has retained iconic status, and is considered a British cultural icon.
The traditional red Routemaster has become one of the famous features of London, with tourist paraphernalia continuing to bear Routemaster imagery and with examples still in existence around the world. Despite its fame, the previous London bus classes the Routemaster replaced (the RT-type AEC Regent and Leyland Titan RTL and RTW counterparts) are often mistaken for Routemasters by the public and by the media.
Routemaster is a lightweight design and throughout its operational life has achieved good fuel consumption that were far greater than vehicles that replaced it. The design incorporated several features new on buses, such as a lightweight aluminium body, power-steering, an automatic gearbox and power-braking. The ‘hop on, hop off’ design allowed for rapid use of the bus outside designated stops and was a large factor in its enduring popularity.
The Routemaster was the last bus designed from scratch by London Transport, and the last open platform vehicle in service in London. It survived for so long in comparison to its contemporaries and those designs that came after, for several reasons. Firstly, the vehicle was painstakingly designed over a few years.
The Routemaster was extensively tested in service conditions, to find, correct, and re-design if necessary, all the components that would be subject to wear and tear in daily service on the streets of London. One of the other reasons Routemasters have lasted so long was their unique “chassisless” construction, and the extensive use of aluminium in the bodywork. This use of aluminium means that a double deck Routemaster with 64 seats can weigh less than a modern single deck bus with about half the seating capacity. It will also offer better fuel consumption and will not corrode at anything like the rate of a modern bus' steel body.
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