Buses are bought as a means of transport for the public and a workplace – both for the crew, but also for the operator’s staff who have to maintain and repair them. So we must consider that aspect – easily forgotten if we just focus on appearance and componentry.
London Transport canvassed the views of passengers when it was designing its new bus, asking them what they would like to see. Given all the other things they might care about, it seems that the biggest plea was for plenty of destination information. And of course there were complaints that when Routemasters arrived they had less acreage of route advice that the RT, but still copious amounts compared with most provincial operators.
Thanks to Frank Pick, London passengers were a bit spoiled. The standard of appointments and finish of the Routemaster was very high, and the interior provided a clubbable atmosphere. Part of Douglas Scott’s brief was to emphasise the horizontality of the Routemaster. He achieved this in part by making the windows noticeably shallower than on the RT, so the view out was not as generous as it could have been.
A good deal of thought went into the design of the driver’s cab. By the standards of its day, the Routemaster was a very good bus to drive, with a commanding driving position and controls that were laid out on ergonomic principles.
It handled well in traffic, and it was certainly easier to keep up with traffic than when driving an RT. And less fatiguing too, with power steering, decent brakes and finger-tip control of the transmission.
For the conductor the wider gangways were a bonus. Douglas Scott suggested a clever alcove beneath the stairs, shaped so that the conductor could stand out of the way as passengers mounted or left the rear platform, making their job a little easier.
The Routemaster was also a good machine to work on as a mechanic. Even though it was designed to fit in with the highly automated set-up at Aldenham, when that works closed the RM adapted well to being looked after in smaller garages. Indeed, the maintenance staff noted how easy it was to remove or repair parts of the bus compared with more modern rear-engined buses like the Londoner and the Metrobus.
My rating for Routemaster people aspects: 8 out of 10.
Whilst platform doors were seen on a minority of rear-entrance Routemasters and Lodekkas, all of the D9 fleet was fitted with them. The four piece bi-fold doors helped keep draughts out of the interior and retain some warmth during the winter.
The efforts to save weight did let down the passenger experience on the upper deck. It was common in the 1950s and 1960s to fit GRP front and rear domes that were single-skin. The D9 took this a big step further by extending the single skin over the entire roof. This did make the upper deck seem rather utilitarian, especially when car interiors were becoming better equipped.
The D9 was very popular with drivers. The spacious cab was often nicknamed ‘the office’. Like the Routemaster the power steering and finger-tip gear control took a lot of the physical effort out of the job.
However, the D9 did get a questionable reputation over its brakes. The hydraulic system depended on the engine running fast enough to maintain sufficient pressure for brake applications. There were no accumulators, so in slow moving traffic with a slow-revving engine, repeated brake applications caused pressure to drop.
Slowing and stopping the bus in this common situation called for considerable expertise and good nerves. Indeed, some drivers held on to the handbrake, just in case!
Although it was a complex bus in many ways, the D9 followed a lot of contemporary BMMO practice. Whereas other fleets would have found looking after the rubber suspension a challenge for instance, Midland Red mechanics regarded it as business as usual.
And with a relatively small operating area, if real problems arose the engineering department at Central Works was never too far away.
My rating for D9 people aspects: 7 out of 10.
The first big attraction for passengers of the Lodekka was the elimination of the awful lowbridge arrangement. At last riders on hundreds of busy routes up and down Great Britain could discover that sitting upstairs could be a pleasure, with plenty of headroom and seats conveniently arranged in two plus two formation.
The second was being able to get into the lower saloon without having to mount a step. This sped up passenger movement and made the bus much more accessible to many people with mobility problems. The floor height above the road was a bit higher than on today’s low floor buses, but it was a real benefit.
Other than that the ride experience on a Lodekka was not anything extraordinary. The interiors were functional and finished in the dark colours favoured by the Tilling Group. Different companies in the group specified minor differences, such as opting for leatherette or moquette as the seat material, and different types of window ventilator, but nothing radical.
Achieving step-free access to the lower deck did mean some compromises to the interior layout. Not everyone liked the rear-facing seat at the front of the lower saloon of the Lodekka. This was necessary to cover the gearbox housing, and meant strangers had to sit knee to knee in the prim 1950s and sixties.
The lower height of the upper deck floor compared with a highbridge design meant that the ceiling of the driver’s cab was comparatively low. The floor level was reduced a bit but the overall effect was to hamper visibility. All but the shortest drivers found their forward view line barely below the windscreen wiper motor.
Only later FLFs had semi-automatic transmission. Most Lodekka drivers had to master constant mesh manual gearboxes, with all the clutch effort and delicate handling that required. The steering wheel was raked back to make it more comfortable to use with the lower floor and ceiling. Overall, the cab was more cramped and stark that those of the Routemaster or D9.
From a maintenance point of view the Lodekka was not an especially complicated prospect. The most complex components were in the final drive. Sticking with a manual gearbox and leaf springs meant that most work could be done in the small garages that many customer companies owned.
My rating for Lodekka people aspects: 6 out of 10.
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