An extract from our monthly newsletter archive –

Wonderful Land

In recent times, I have begun to have large numbers of my 1960s photographs of London buses reprinted to sell on my stall. Many are shots whose original prints I sold a long time ago, some are shots I’ve never printed before!
Many of the shots were taken on the same occasions as my cine-films, now available on video. My first reaction upon looking at them all is that it’s hard to believe it’s all such a long time ago- best part of thirty years. To me, in many ways it seems only yesterday!
Looking at those old pictures in greater detail shows what a wonderful land it was back in the ‘sixties’! We had a fully integrated public transport system for London – all buses in the Central Area were RED, all in the Country Area were GREEN! To back their services up, London Transport had a standardised set of bus stops, timetables and maps so that passengers knew where they were – unlike today, with vehicles of all shapes and sizes and in a myriad of liveries – in many cases competing with one another.
Also looking at those old pictures, it immediately strikes me how clean and tidy everything was then – no graffiti, no litter, no air of neglect and uncaring that prevails in the 1990s.
What a Wonderful Land it used to be! Bus-wise, the blame for the “beginning of the end” in 1968, when production of Routemaster was halted and unsuitable, unreliable OPO vehicles foisted on London, as well as the split between Central and Country areas in 1970, must fall upon Harold Wilson’s Labour government, on transport minister Barbara Castle in particular. Ostensibly, OPO was brought in to reduce operating costs, both from the point of view of economising on staff, and of buying cheaper vehicles, bearing in mind that Routemasters were allegedly more expensive to construct that “off-the-peg” designs like the Atlantean. In retrospect, all this must be seen as false economy.
From the staffing point of view, making conductors redundant in the late 1960s was not that much of a problem for the conductors themselves. They could easily be redeployed to other parts of the LT system, for example as guards or station staff on the UndergrounD, if the high turnover of platform staff then didn’t allow them a transfer to a nearly garage anyway. But with the millions of unemployed in the 1990s, they would have no chance!
As regards vehicles, proof of the fallacious policies of thirty years ago is irrefutable – Routemasters built as long ago as 1959 remain in service, whilst virtually all of the RMLs, including all but one of the 1961 “pilot” batch, have been substantially refurbished to last into the next century!
But the MBs and SMs built between 1967 and 1972 to replace RTs and RMs are long gone. The DMSs which were to continue this process (and which replaced MBs and SMs too!) built from 1970 to 1978 are a memory too – some had even been scrapped BEFORE the last RT was withdrawn in 1979…! And the Titans and Metroboxes, the third generation of London “buses” since the last Routemaster have also commenced withdrawals, and some of the examples still in service look in a very sorry state (see those on routes 43 and 82…!).
Imagine what would have happened if Routemaster production had NOT stopped in 1968…At the time, over 3000 RTs remained in service, along with about 300 RTLs. I f all of these had been replaced by Routemasters, the class would have extended to aboutRML6000! If OPO had been insisted upon, it is obvious that the FRM would have been perpetuated, with perhaps 3000 of this configuration in addition to 3000-odd rear-entrance Routemasters…
And on the presumption that the surviving Routemasters have lasted thirty years and more, it follows that the entire class would have achieved such longevity and been capable of being refurbished ad infinitum! No MBs, SMs, DMs, Ms, Ts would ever need to have been built!
What a remarkable economy in vehicle purchase and maintenance costs there would have been! Finally, it is obvious that the loss in passenger patronage since the 1960s must be due to dissatisfaction with slow, unreliable and uncomfortable OPO vehicles. Clearly, such things have driven the passengers away, encouraging more private cars on the road to create a vicious circle in which cars clog the roads to further disrupt bus services, and to drive even more passengers away…