While I’ve been quite impressed by the new trolley buses in Wellington,
one gleaming in its paua-shell colour-scheme as it slides silently through the city, I still have a hankering for a double-decker, which are fairly common throughout England, and of which we seem to have one roaming solo in the streets of Wellington. It is of course a RouteMaster, the most famous of all the London Transport double-deckers, and well-deserved of its iconic status (iconic: that word again, but yes, on this occasion truly deserving).
Other double-deckers came before and after: none were as well-designed or as well-liked as the Route-Master, due to its speed, lightness, quietness, safety and comfort. They’re factors any modern bus designer could take note of: the speed was at getting passengers on and off the bus (double-width permanently-open rear entry, instead of squeezing past the driver at the front), but lacking in the savage acceleration of modern buses that end with you tumbling down the aisle; safety because there was a conductor on board, not just a cctv camera; lightness because the aluminium body and integrated chassis weighed a third less than later buses; quietness because the windows could not, would not rattle, opening on a careful ratchet, and not sliding in a loose metal track.
Personally I liked them because you could run after them and jump on the rear as they puttered down the road: unfortunately, because of idiots like me and the fears of the nanny state in Britain that people would fall from the rear, the last Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, banned them last year, and bought in the much-hated long thin “bendy-buses” that just clogged the streets of London and worsened already miserable traffic-jams by jack-knifing across the narrow London streets. Despite Ken seemingly being in a job for life, he was voted out last year and replaced by “Bonkers” Boris Johnson, arguably on the issue of buses alone: Boris campaigned on getting rid of the bendy-buses and bringing back the RouteMaster – and he got in. A Mayor who rides a bicycle and brings back buses: now there’s a thing for Wellington to consider.
Of course it is easier to say than to do, to bring back a bus that you’ve sold to another company: the RouteMasters aren’t coming back. Bang goes the ironic vision – sorry, iconic vision.
But hold on a minute, what’s this? It seems that a competition was held to design a NEW RouteMaster – or at least a modern version. I’m unsure if it was officially sanctioned or whether it will really go ahead: but the competition results have been announced, and for once I’m rather impressed by the result.
It seems that Aston Martin have teamed up with Foster and Partners, and come up with an answer for the city: a new icon. Aston Martin of course are specialists at hand-made vehicles with a luxurious retro-timbered interior, clad in a modern sinuous body of aluminium and steel, if not exactly known for their bargain-basement pricing. They’re also known for producing cars with a blistering speed, although who knows who or what chance the company has of survival, as the market for luxury cars has clearly hit the skids. What better company therefore to design a new sexy bus for Britain?
Norman Foster and his team of 600 shaven-headed young acolytes are normally better known for designing buildings than buses, but they have done it before: apparently back in the 90s the company designed a solar-powered electric bus for ferrying passengers around Kew gardens. I’ll leave you to look at the pictures in peace, and in the meantime ponder this: just imagine a vehicle like this, as a trolley-bus or light-rail vehicle snaking its way through Wellington.