There have been many different types of bus in the United Kingdom since their creation many decades ago. Historically, the mainstay of the bus fleet in the UK is the full-size single-decker bus and its larger double-decker bus.
Since the middle of the 1990s, all UK buses have to provide easy access. This has meant that they have introduced low-floor technology. Nowadays, more than half of all UK buses have this technology in operation.
Let’s take a look at some of the more famous bus makes and models in the country.
The AEC Routemaster
The AEC Routemaster bus was designed by London Transport and was constructed by Park Royal Vehicles and the AEC (Associated Equipment Company). It is a double-decker bus with a front-engine. Its design and prototype date back to the 1950s. The last AEC Routemaster was delivered in the late 60s. This bus became an icon in London and to this day, still remains one. Its design was conventional when it came out: it had a front-engine, an open rear platform and half a cab. There was a coach version which had platform doors at the rear. They also produced vehicles with a forward entrance and platform doors with a rear engine.
London Transport’s first Routemasters came into use in early 1956 and it wasn’t until the end of 2005 that the last ones were withdrawn. There is still one route – a ‘heritage route’ – that is in operation in the centre of London.
Routemasters first began on Route 2 and there were 2,876 built in total. Of these, 1,280 still exist.
A design built to last
The AEC Routemaster was a design that outlasted many of its replacements and it even survived London Transport being privatised. Its features, being old-fashioned, were both criticised and praised. Many liked the open platform because it meant you could board or alight when there wasn’t an official bus stop. Having a bus conductor meant it didn’t take long for people to board the bus and it made the bus more secure. A downside was that you were exposed to the elements and it also cost more to run with a conductor on board.
The Routemaster was voted as one of the Top 10 design icons in Great Britain in 2006. Others in this list included the London Tube Map, the Mini, Concorde, The K2 telephone box and the World Wide Web.
Work began on a new Routemaster in the 2000s and the final design rolled out in February 2012.
The New Routemaster
The New Routemaster was originally called ‘the New Bus for London’ and is a double-decker bus that is a hybrid diesel and electric model. It was manufactured by Wrightbus and was designed by Heatherwick Studio.
Similar to its predecessor, it features the hop on/hop off open platform to the rear but it has been updated to be fully accessible too.
The New Routemaster Design
Obviously, it was inspired by the original Routemaster. It has two staircases and three doors. However, it has a full cab instead of the half cab of the AEC Routemaster. Also, the rear platform has a closing door too. There is also no need for a bus conductor to be onboard.
The rear and front doors both have staircases that lead to the top deck and there is also a central door. All doors have readers for Oyster cards. If you have a different type of ticket, you need to go to the driver. However, Transport for London announced in 2020 that all passengers boarding the bus must enter at the front. This is to avoid fare evasion as the new Routemaster had more than twice the number of evaded fares that other buses in the capital.
Bus Manufacturers throughout the UK
There are many makes and models of buses on routes in the UK but there are three British bus manufacturers in operation. These are Alexander Dennis, Wrightbus (who built the new Routemaster) and Optare.
Alexander Dennis is a Scottish bus manufacturing company that is based in Larbert in Scotland. It is the biggest manufacturer of buses and coaches in the United Kingdom and it also has partnerships and manufacturing plants in Europe, China, Canada, the United States, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand and South Africa.
At the beginning of the year 2016, Alexander Dennis produced 44% of the UK’s buses. The company was acquired in May 2019 by NFI Group, a former joint-venture partner and Canadian bus manufacturer.
Famous for its new Routemaster, Wrighbus is a bus manufacturer based in Northern Ireland. It pioneered buses with low floors. This company began in 1946 and was established by Robert Wright whose son William ran the company.
Recently, though, Wrightbus has entered into administration and 1,300 people have lost their jobs in the factory. A deal was eventually reached in October 2019 between the Wright family and Jo Bamford and in late October, the Bamford Bus Company concluded the takeover of Wrightbus.
Optare is a bus manufacturer that is based in the town of Sherburn-in-Elmet in North Yorkshire. This company is a subsidiary of Ashok Leyland, an Indian company that has its headquarters in Chennai in Indian. Ashok Leyland is owned by the Hinduja Group and is the second-largest manufacturer of commercial vehicles in the whole of India. It is also the 4th largest bus manufacturer in the world.
Foreign buses in use in the UK
The privatisation of buses in the UK had an effect on bus manufacturers too. Foreign manufacturers increased their presence in the UK after privatisation and among the first was Scania, followed by Mercedes-Benz.
The Scania company began in 1911 after two companies merged together. The head office has been located in Södertälje since 1912. Nowadays, the company has production facilities in France, India, the Netherlands, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Finland, Poland and Sweden. They also have assembly plants across 10 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa. As of 2012, the company employs over 42,000 people.
The Mercedes-Benz company has been manufacturing buses in Mannheim, Germany since 1895. Since the 1990s, the buses have been made under the EvoBus umbrella company. Mercedes-Benz buses are mainly used in Asia and Europe and the first bus model was made in 1895 by Karl Benz.