London’s Famous Double-Decker Gets a Green Makeover in 2012

If you were to visit the London Transport Museum in the city’s famous Covent Garden area, you would see some fine examples of British public transport, from taxis to trolleys to trains (and many made of wood!). But for many tourists, the best exhibits are the ones that feature London’s famous double-decker buses, which have long been a hallmark of the European city. And interesting enough, the buses that are on London streets today may soon find themselves gathering dust in the museum, nothing more than relics of a petroleum-fueled world. That’s because the well-known Routemaster buses (which are primarily used for sightseeing or private rental) have gotten a reboot for a greener era with a clean hybrid engine.

The bright red buses that were once ubiquitous in “The Big Smoke” (in fact, their diesel engines no doubt contributed to condition that earned London that nickname) were extremely popular from the time of their inception in 1958. But over the next twenty plus years, the noise and pollution caused by these behemoths (not to mention the cost of operating them) would lead the city to rethink their position on the merits of keeping the buses as a form of public transportation. And by the end of the ‘80s, the buses were pretty much relegated to tourist companies (thanks to their open-air upper decks, which allowed for better sightseeing).

But thanks to a complete overhaul by Ireland’s Wright Group, the newly redesigned Routemaster has the modern city-dweller in mind, and the amenities are both practical and eco-friendly. For starters, there is the hybrid engine to consider, and although it still relies partially on diesel, it’s not the foul petroleum product of yesteryear. The buses run on cleaner, more efficient diesel thanks to advances in the alternate fuel over the last several years. And half the time, they run on no fuel at all with the electric half of the engine. They are quiet and clean and they get double the mileage of their ancestors with half the emissions. The lightweight materials probably don’t hurt, either.

And if that’s not enough reason for Londoners and tourists alike to hop on, consider some of the upgrades that these buses will feature. The new model sports three, entrances, one of which is wheelchair accessible, and it also has a throwback to trolleys with an open rear portal that allows travelers to hop on and off the bus with ease (so that they can catch a ride even if they’re late and alight precisely at their stop instead of rolling past it). There are also two staircases (front and back) and seating for 87 passengers.

Of course, these buses won’t be widely available for a while, despite their obvious appeal. The test run of eight buses, which are set to hit the streets in early 2012, cost the city a whopping $17.7 million dollars (including development and construction). However, future models will come in at a far more modest half a million dollars each (give or take). And considering how much better they are for Londoners (and indeed, the planet), we could be seeing a lot more of these curvy, red beasts on the roadways in the coming years.

About the Author

Sarah Danielson is a contributing writer for where Suzuki engines are shipped nationwide every day.