London Routemaster last day

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English: Friday, 9 December 2005, marked the last day that the iconic Routemaster bus operated an ordinary public transport bus service in London.H Routemasters had operated on London streets since 1956 when Routemaster prototype RM1 entered service for testing. The last Routemaster operated routes had started to be withdrawn from 29th August 2003, and over the next two years 19 routes were converted. By 28 October 2005 the only route left using it was the 159, operated by Arriva London South. The modern one man operated buses of the VLA class that were to replace the route 159 Routemasters started to enter service about 10am. The last day was marked by heavy mist across London, which remained for most of the morning. The final Routemaster operated service was provided by three Routemasters drawn from Arriva's special purposes fleet - RM2217 worked the official last journey, with RM5 and RM6 operating as duplicates. RM2217 terminated at Brixton garage at around 2pm, making it the last Routemaster in service.L To mark the occasion, a number of preserved buses also drove along parts of the route during the day, as private vehicles (i.e. not in passenger service). The day before the last day also saw private buses running, as well as many preserved buses operating in passenger service as special extras.

H - See #Heritage Routemaster routes 9 & 15 below
L - See #Last Routemaster in service - RM54? below


As of the last Routemaster day, the 159 route ran from Marble Arch on the western edge of central London, through central London, and on into south London.

From Marble Arch, the route encompasses the central London landmarks of Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall, Westminster Palace and Westminster Bridge. Having crossed the bridge, the route then proceeds in a straight line south along the A23 road, passing through the districts of Kennington and Brixton, before terminating in Streatham.

The northern terminus is Marble Arch tube station, with the first/last stops in Oxford Street:

  • Stop O, Marble Arch Station,, for terminating northbound journeys
  • Stop L, for new journeys southbound

The northern bus stand is the southern portion of Cumberland Gate, with buses using the A40 roundabout around the Marble Arch itself, as a turning circle.

The southern terminus is at Streatham railway station, with the first/last stops to the south of the tracks on the A23 (Streatham High Road):

  • Stop SJ, Streatham Station, for new journeys northbound
  • Stop SC, Streatham Station, for terminating southbound journeys

The southern bus stand/turning circle is inside the south east corner of the former Streatham bus garage (code AK) on Streatham High Road, just south of the stops, on the west side of the road. Closed in 1996, most of the bus garage was occupied by other businesses, leaving just this forecourt for bus use. Turning buses access it through an entrance in Natal Road; they then exit it directly onto Streatham High Road.

The Routemasters that operated route 159 (and the VLA class that was to replace them) were all based out of Brixton bus garage (code BN), a 1953 depot built on a former tram depot. Officially known as Brixton bus garage, it is actually located on the A23 (Streatham Hill), opposite Telford Avenue, which is about a mile south of Brixton itself. It is sometimes known as Streatham Hill garage, to differentiate it from the former Streatham garage which now serves as the southern turning circle. At the Brixton garage site, the A23 is a four lane dual carriageway. The garage is on the east side of the road, with a separate entrance and exit gate (entrance being the northern gate). The Brixton garage was where some of the final day's ordinary Routemasters, and the final trio of RM2217, RM5 and RM6, terminated their final service (see below).

A short distance north of the main Brixton garage is a satellite depot used for extra bus storage; having been sold and used for non-bus purposes it was bought back and reactivated in 2003. A former tram depot built in 1923 as Brixton Hill Depot, it still retains the tram lines in the floor. This was used after the final run (see below).

Changeover to VLA class[edit]

In contrast to the Routemaster route changeovers that took place over the previous two years, where some new buses were placed into service in the days before as they became available, with only some Routemasters left by their final day on that route, it was decided by Arriva that the 159 would remain wholly operated by Routemasters until the final day. For their final week of operation, most of the Brixton Routemasters received exterior posters telling people that they could still "enjoy a ride on a Routemaster" on the heritage routes 9 & 15 (see #Heritage Routemaster routes 9 & 15 below). They also received interior posters detailing the Routemaster's service in London, titled "Our Heritage in Service".

Reflecting various changes over the years, the final allocation at Brixton for route 159 was a mixture of types (the original RM class and the longer RML), with a variety of engines. They included long standing Brixton vehicles, some having been there since the late 1980s, as well as some that had only recently been transferred there, having been passed around various operators and garages, as the last routes were converted. The RMs were in good condition, being mostly of the batches that had originally left London service, only to be bought back and refurbished by London Buses (some becoming the buses that were then then passed around, as leased vehicles). This programme began in 2002, although some such as RM713 and RM1312, had been refurbished barely two years before the final day. The RMLs however looked decidedly run down, mostly being the long serving examples that not been repainted or refurbished in the knowledge that the type was being phased out. Some buses even wore graffiti after an attack on 5 buses in the garage on the night of December 6th.

30 of the Brixton based route 159 Routemasters were in operation on the last day, as listed below.

On police advice, the Brixton Routemasters didn't complete their full day's timetable on the final day of operation, instead being scheduled to finish their last journeys in the middle of the day. The changeover was arranged as two separate driving shifts, with one VLA replacing one Routemaster's slot in the timetable at a time. Two separate shifts allowed the replacements to be one man operated from the start, and meant that the VLA buses didn't need to wait for the crews of Routemasters delayed by the anticipated heavy passenger loadings on the Routemasters.

Having been stored in the Brixton Hill tram shed, VLA buses began to start their journeys from around 10am (receiving final checks at the main Brixton garage). VLA157 was the first into service, running from Brixton to Streatham out of service, before starting a northbound journey in service. The Routemasters they were replacing finished their services either at the southern terminus in Streatham (ie with the destination blind set to Streatham Station), or short of that at Brixton garage (blinds set to Streatham Hill, Telford Avenue). Such were the crowds and traffic, the last hour's worth of buses were delayed, and despite the separate shifts, the service level of the VLAs was also ultimately affected into the afternoon.

Brixton Routemasters that had completed their last run then proceeded out of service to Norwood garage, where they would be stored awaiting their final respective fates.

Last journey - RM2217 with RM5, RM6[edit]

Instead of an ordinary Brixton Routemaster, three notable Routemasters from Arriva's special fleet were chosen to be final Routemasters operating route 159. RM2217 (the last of the RM class) was chosen to be the last in service, shadowed by two duplicates in the form of RM5 & RM6 (the first and second production examples of the RM class to enter service). RM2217 was crewed by driver Winston Briscoe and conductor Lloyd Licorish, who had both worked on the buses for over 35 years.

The driving duty BN143 was drafted as the final Routemaster operated run, timetabled as a journey which left Streatham at 10.57 bound for Marble Arch, then returning at 12.10.

The trio of RM5, RM6 & RM2217 weren't going to perform this whole duty - only the southbound leg, and only as far as Brixton garage. As such they all wore destination blinds set to Streatham Hill, Telford Avenue. RM85 performed the last northbound journey, to be replaced at Marble Arch by RM2217, which had arrived running out of service from Brixton garage earlier in the day. The trio were to leave Marble Arch in a staggered procession, starting with RM5 at 11.54, RM6 a little later, and then RM2217 as the last southbound Routemaster, at the timetabled 12.10. It was due to arrive at Brixton at around 13.30.

To maximise seats available, members of the media trailed RM2217 in an open top bus from Arriva's The Original Tour London Sighsteeing fleet (No. VLY605, reg. LX05 HRO, an Ayats-bodied Volvo B7L).

RM85, accompanied by police escort, duly operated the northbound leg, arriving at Marble Arch 10 minutes late. RM2217 then left the bus stand in Marble Arch, to pick up its first passengers in Oxford Street. By this time the journey was already 20 minutes overdue. It took a further 25 minutes to load the passengers waiting for the final trip. It was in Whitehall by 13.13.

As the trio approached Brixton garage, due to the crowds that had assembled, police shut the road briefly (between the junction with Christchurch Road to the north, and south of Telford Avenue) as each arrived, with people then using all available space to get one last photograph, with the buses moving into the middle of the road to facilitate this.

RM6 finished the trip first arriving around 13.30, having overtaken RM5, which came in second, leaving RM2217 to arrive as the final bus as planned. By the time it reached Brixton, the media bus had pulled in front of RM2217.

RM2217 arrived at the last bus stop at 14.03, and by 14.06pm the last passengers had got off and it had been driven into the garage, marking the end.

Having terminated at Brixton garage, a short time later (14.19) the trio of RM2217, RM5 & RM6 were then driven the short distance to the satellite depot, the Brixton Hill tram shed, to be posed together for some more media coverage and speeches.

Peter Hendy, the then Managing Director of Surface Transport for Transport for London, was the driver of RM2217 for the transfer into Brixton Hill tram depot. He also drove it back to its base at Norwood garage later.

Last Routemaster in service - RM54?[edit]

While RM2217 was the scheduled to be the Routemaster in service, it's claimed that this honour actually goes to RM54. Running south on its final journey, it had been due to terminate at Streatham at 12.57. Due to the traffic chaos caused by the event however, it was running late by more than an hour, meaning it was only 10 to 15 minutes ahead of ahead of RM2217 as it headed south from Marble Arch. It was in Whitehall at 12.59 and didn't pass Brixton garage until 1.56pm, by which time it had in fact been overtaken by RM6 (but was still ahead of RM5 and RM2217). Because RM54 had to still get to Streatham, it is claimed that it was the last Routemaster in service, as it didn't reach there until 14.07.

Private buses[edit]

The privately operated (non-passenger carrying) preserved buses also present on the final day were as follows:

Routemaster types
Non-Routemaster type
  • RF Type
    • RF486

To commemorate the last day, some of the private buses wore special commemorative destination blinds. RML2278 also wore commemorative exterior posters, while RML2613 wore black bands and RML2755 wore wreaths. Prior to the last journey arriving in Brixton, the private buses were parked up a short distance away up Streatham Hill.

Heritage routes 9 & 15[edit]

Although route 159 was the last route to use solely Routemasters in London, public transport Routemaster operation did continue in London with the heritage routes - route 9 and route 15 - launched just under 4 weeks previously, on 14 November 2005. These accept fares and passes and are operated as public transport routes, but unlike the 159 they are operated as short worked low frequency duplicates of the modern buses running on the standard routes 9 and 15.

Both heritage routes intersect route 159 at Trafalgar Square (with route 9 also sharing Cockspur Street), so images of the last Routemaster day often include the Routemasters on these heritage routes too: