Double-Deckers: The Red Icon

Londra è senza dubbio l’unica capitale mondiale che riconosciamo subito per via dei suoi autobus a due piani dal colore rosso intenso, un simbolo identificabile che sta per compiere cent’anni di storia.

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Daniel Francis

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Double Deckers

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London’s lipstick-red double-decker buses are famous around the world. England’s capital has almost a thousand bus routes, making the red icon a familiar sight to millions of people every day.

Powerful symbol of London’s identity, the double-decker has kept the city going through wars, economic depressions, and pandemics. When terrorists tried to intimidate Londoners in July 2005, they attacked the heart of the city’s daily life, exploding a bomb on a double-decker in Tavistock Square. Thirteen passengers died, but city life continued. 

London’s first engine-powered double-decker appeared in 1923. Within a year, there were two hundred independent buses on the capital’s streets, all looking for customers. Among them were double-deckers run by the London General Omnibus Company, which seventeen years earlier had decided to paint its buses red to make them stand out from the competition.

Routemaster Arrives

London’s double-deckers became extremely popular with the arrival in 1956 of the Routemaster model, designed by the public transport authority, London Transport. Incredibly adaptable, the bus, and subsequent models, continued to operate in London for almost fifty years. There were many reasons for the Routemaster’s popularity. Much of the design was cutting edge, inspired by World War Two technology. The interior was more luxurious than the average family car of the 1950s, with padded seats and good ventilation. The famous open rear entrance, with its platform and iconic white ‘safety pole’, allowed people to jump on and off between stops. The public and tourists alike also had wonderful views of London’s famous sights.


In 2004-2005, the Routemaster in London was replaced by a more modern, safer bus. Over the decades, numerous people had died or suffered serious accidents jumping on and off the rear platform when the bus was moving. London’s double-deckers still carry two billion passengers every year, but they now all operate with traditional doors. 

Those who want to take a historical bus trip into the past should not despair. There is still one Routemaster circulating on a special Heritage Route in London. Real fanatics can even find buses for sale on ebay —at just twenty thousand euros a deck!

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