Colin Curtis, who worked on the Routemaster project, described the bus as “probably the greatest step forward in bus design, not only in London Transport’s history, but for the bus world in general”. That’s a bit strong, but it was certainly the high point of in-house London Transport design.
The D9 is such a maverick, it’s hard to know where to start. Integral construction, rubber suspension, masses of GRP – all cloaked in a body that looked like it was spoiling for a fight.
And the most successful of the trio in terms of sales, the Lodekka. Solving the lowbridge problem, it proved that a stepless entrance and low-floor line were possible in a tough, reliable package.
My winner on technology has to be the D9 – a bravely unconventional machine that (apart from its dodgy brakes) proved to be well up to the job it was designed for.
No surprise that my winner for aesthetics is the Routemaster – the original is a true classic of British design and a far more coherent entity than any of its British contemporaries. The London Transport ethos of good design and the work of Douglas Scott clearly show through.
As for the people aspects category my winner is also the Routemaster– lots of attention was paid to creating a pleasant place to work and ride, and the sub-frame concept simplified work for maintenance crews. And many passengers saw the open rear platform as a benefit, being able to hop on and off a slow-moving bus between stops.
The legacy category is a tough one, because these buses marked the end of an era – the era of the front-engined half-cab bus. But the one with the strongest legacy in my view is the Lodekka. It proved that it was possible to produce a low height double-deck bus with a true low floor, and do that without especially complex technology.
Overall though, it’s the Routemaster that takes my crown. It’s the obvious, predictable choice, yes. It’s the only bus most people could name. And it is tediously rolled out as being an ‘iconic British design’.
But on close examination against its peers, it really does stand out. Clever technology, harmonious design, and care for the people who would use it are its distinctive features. If it didn’t have much of a legacy, in truth neither did the D9 or the Lodekka. As I say, it was the end of an era.
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