The Famed Icon

Is there any symbol of city life more iconic than the world renowned London bus? The stark, bold red of this emblematic vehicle has been drawing visitors in for decades now and has become as well known as the black cab or the yellow taxi of New York. As baffling as it may be for those who were born and raised in the city, catching one of these buses is an attraction that many tourists find utterly irresistible and social media is littered with hundreds of thousands of selfies taken on these metal behemoths. It’s just something that has to be done.

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The bus in question is a Routemaster; the exact model may vary but the manufacturer is always the same. Appearing frequently on the city’s promotional material and in pretty much every pop culture reference to the English capital, this humble public transport vessel has become something of a style icon. As unlikely as it seems, it’s captivated the interest of artists and designers world wide, with many impressed by its boldness and simplicity. It’s powerful, without being imposing, a trait many define as quintessentially British and one compares favourably to the sheer muscularity and brashness of the equivalent American vehicles. At one point, a leading fashion house even had an entire collection inspired by this iconic design!

Underrated but Excellent

The tube is the most used form of London transport, but when it comes to travelling through the inner city it’s also incredibly expensive. A two way trip in zone 1, often taking no more than a quarter of an hour, will set you back close to £5, a fee that quickly adds up. By comparison, the same journey will often cost a mere £2 when a bus is used instead. The huge saving is there for the taking, so why don’t more people use it?

The answer is relatively simple, and can usually be traced back to one of three main causes. The first is the previous notions that many have about buses. Some coaches and similar such vehicles are a little rough, particularly in provincial locations where the cost of upgrading and maintaining vehicles is high compared to their usage. In the city however, this becomes less of a problem. Each and every bus in London is cleaned and serviced on a very regular basis, and is built to ensure maximum comfort for any passenger. Air conditioning is now a common feature, as is heating in the winter.

The second cause is that people simply don’t know. The service isn’t promoted particularly well, and even many city dwellers don’t realise the sheer difference in price between the two primary modes of transport in the capital. If they did, they might be a lot more eager to try something new and catch a London bus.

The third is convenience. All bus fares must be prepaid: a feature that has its pros and cons. On the upside, it minimises the time spent waiting for fares to be exchanged. On the negative side, it means that anyone wanting to ride a bus must first find a place to top up or purchase an oyster card. With the Oyster program becoming widespread however, it’s incredibly rare for there not to be a station or shop nearby that sells top ups, so this concern is mainly a relic of the past that many have not realised is antiquated.

Tips and Tricks

. Don’t forget to top up your oyster before trying to board! Many will not admit those who have not preloaded their cards with credit.
. Contactless debit and credit cards can now be used to pay for fares on many buses; a useful hint for those who have forgotten to prepay.
. £1 buys you up to an hour’s journey on any given bus, meaning that its often a cheaper alternative for mid range trips around the city.
. If possible, choose the route that starts the closest to your location to avoid seating issues.
. Don’t hesitate to ask staff at a local tube station about any transport related issues, including buses.
. A 7 day bus pass is just £20, the cost of 4 zone round trips on the tube.
. All those under 16 can travel on the buses for free, if they apply for a special pass from the government.
. Buses will often run throughout the night, long after the tubes have shut.
. There are few locations in the whole of the greater capital that cannot be reached by bus.
. The old routemaster buses are generally not used any more, however some modern reimaginings aim to capture their spirit, including the step on entrance at the rear of the vehicle.