LONDON – The bus was late, but it won’t happen again.
People thronged London’s streets Friday and jostled for seats aboard a double-decker Routemaster bus making its last run, 40 minutes late in reaching the end of Route 159 at a bus garage in Brixton, south London.
“I’m glad to have come along to see it go,” local resident Dalya Moss said as she stood on the sidewalk with hundreds of others. “It’s a beautiful old bus.”
The old-style red Routemasters – unique among London’s bus fleet for their curved lines, conductors and hop-on, hop-off open platforms – were making their last regular trips after half a century of service.
London transport authorities say the venerable vehicles cannot accommodate disabled people and must be replaced by more user-friendly buses – either boxy modern double-deckers or articulated single-decker “bendy buses.”
Neither replacement has generated the public affection won by the Routemaster. Thousands came out Friday for a last look at the old bus that has served the capital since the 1950s.
Alan Boyd brought his 1-year-old son, Alexander, to witness what he called “one of the last cultural emblems of London.”
“I just wanted to bring my boy here; he’ll never be on one,” Boyd said.
Earlier along the route, which wound down the busy Oxford Street shopping district, past the Big Ben clock tower and across the River Thames, one man held a wreath saying “RIP Routemaster.”
As the last bus pulled into Brixton garage, the tightly packed crowd cheered and shouted “hip, hip, hooray.”
Although a handful of Routemasters will continue on two “heritage” routes aimed at tourists, its withdrawal from regular service has prompted a flood of tributes, including an orchestral requiem, books and photographs.
But there were a few dissenters who turned out Friday, including disability rights protesters who held placards saying: “Routemaster good riddance.”
Many of those who had worked on the Routemasters had mixed feelings.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Stuart Colley, who worked for 8 1/2 years as a conductor, driver and supervisor on Route 159. “But tell that to people who’ve been kicked off a bus in the pouring rain because it’s broken down and we don’t have the spare parts to repair it.
“Nostalgia is no way to run a modern transport system. Fifty-one years is a good long run.”