Motorized double-decker buses were first introduced in London after World War I (the city already had horse-drawn double-decker buses) and their production ramped up after World War II. But it was the red Routemaster bus, built by the Associated Equipment Company between 1956 and 1968, which became a symbol of the city. Some of these original Routemasters were in regular use in London as recently as 2005. Now they only operate on special "heritage routes."
But the Routemaster is coming back. One of Mayor Boris Johnson’s campaign pledges was to introduce an updated version of the bus. In 2008, a competition to design the new bus was won by a formidable team composed of Aston Martin designers and Sir Norman Foster’s architecture firm. The contract for building the bus was awarded to a company called Wrightbus (the Associated Equipment Company went under in 1979) and Heatherwick Studio helped with the final styling.
In addition to its futuristic, Zaha Hadidian look, the new bus has a diesel hybrid engine. Transport for London claims that the new Routemaster "produces less than half the CO2 and half the NOx emissions of conventional diesel buses and is twice as fuel efficient."
So how will that affect the city’s overall carbon emissions levels? According to this 2006 report, transportation accounts for about 20 percent of London’s carbon emissions and buses account for 5 percent of that. So a fleet consisting solely of these hybrid Routemasters could reduce the city’s overall emissions by about half a percent.
But an all-hybrid fleet is still a long way off. The first new Routemasters are due to enter service on February 20, 2012 and the city is promising that eight of them will be in use in time for the London Olympics. But that’s a pittance: There are 7,500 buses in the city. As part of its winning bid, Wrightbus demonstrated that it could produce 600 buses over three years. At that rate it would take decades to replace London’s entire fleet.
But it’s still a worthy project, of course. Buses are way more efficient than cars (and leave more room on the street for bikes). And a more efficient bus is better still.