TfL 15H Routemaster service unlikely to return post-COVID

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James H

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TfL has responded to an FOI request about the 15H


5. Is route 15H service completely withdrawn?

We discontinued with the 15H for reasons including falling ridership on
the Central London network and because it is the only part of the fleet
that does not provide step-free access. The buses have a high step up to
the rear platform and cannot be accessed by wheelchair users and with a
difficulty by those with mobility issues. The heritage service on route
15H is not required for capacity purposes and does not provide any unique
links.

6. Do TfL plan to withdraw Heritage Routemasters from route 15 by not renewing the contract?

See answer to question 5.

7. Do TfL plan to reintroduce Heritage AEC Routemasters on route 15 this year?

See answer to question 5.
Not a great surprise given the financial context, but a shame nonetheless.
 
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Journeyman

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TfL have far bigger things to worry about right now. This is the only decision they can reasonably make.
 

Mikey C

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Answer 5 is a massive cop out though. It's not as if they've suddenly discovered that the RMs are high floor and inaccessible to wheelchairs.

If they can't afford to run such additional services, then say so
 

Journeyman

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Answer 5 is a massive cop out though. It's not as if they've suddenly discovered that the RMs are high floor and inaccessible to wheelchairs.

If they can't afford to run such additional services, then say so
They've kind of said it, but yeah, the accessibility issue is a red herring.

It's pretty obvious that a service aimed entirely at tourists is an unaffordable luxury for TfL right now.
 

MotCO

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Wasn't there a company that was going to run 15H commercially using Routemasters? I'm sure there is a tourist potential for an 'original London bus' route.
 

Journeyman

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Wasn't there a company that was going to run 15H commercially using Routemasters? I'm sure there is a tourist potential for an 'original London bus' route.
I'm really not that convinced it's much of a money-spinner. A full sightseeing tour might be, but is an ordinary bus route worth doing?
 

Flange Squeal

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Wasn't there a company that was going to run 15H commercially using Routemasters? I'm sure there is a tourist potential for an 'original London bus' route.
Brentford-based Routemaster hire and rail replacement operator Red Routemaster had begun publishing publicity for a new weekday 'Service H' along the route, with the London Service Permit (LSP) application being made in 2019. The LSP can be found at https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/lsp/94a95a26/, which includes a link to the proposed timetable. All seems to have gone quiet since, though. I believe the permit did get granted though, with an expiry date of 31/12/2024 (see page 11 of this document, below the same operator's HOT1 tour permit).
 

carlberry

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Brentford-based Routemaster hire and rail replacement operator Red Routemaster had begun publishing publicity for a new weekday 'Service H' along the route, with the London Service Permit (LSP) application being made in 2019. The LSP can be found at https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/lsp/94a95a26/, which includes a link to the proposed timetable. All seems to have gone quiet since, though. I believe the permit did get granted though, with an expiry date of 31/12/2024 (see page 11 of this document, below the same operator's HOT1 tour permit).
Does the LSP mean that they have to accept things like oyster and TfL contactless or does it allow the operator to set and retain the fare. I cant imagine the first case ever being viable whereas the second might at a low frequency.
 

galwhv69

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Does the LSP mean that they have to accept things like oyster and TfL contactless or does it allow the operator to set and retain the fare. I cant imagine the first case ever being viable whereas the second might at a low frequency.
Only the LLSA (which no longer exists) required TfL passes to be accepted
 

Flange Squeal

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Does the LSP mean that they have to accept things like oyster and TfL contactless or does it allow the operator to set and retain the fare. I cant imagine the first case ever being viable whereas the second might at a low frequency.
I believe a London Service Permit is just a requirement for scheduled services that pick up/set down within TfL's kingdom, using their bus stops. Non-TfL contracted routes such as Reading Buses and First Berkshire to Heathrow, and Falcon/Stagecoach to Kingston, among many others, have them and they certainly don't accept Oyster.
 

Journeyman

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I'm slightly surprised the major tour bus companies haven't done it to be honest. I don't think it's TfL's role, really.
It certainly isn't in a post-COVID world. I question whether Routemasters are actually that much of an attraction these days anyway.
 

Titfield

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It certainly isn't in a post-COVID world. I question whether Routemasters are actually that much of an attraction these days anyway.

Have to agree with Journeyman. Routemasters are not the attraction they once were and quite frankly on a revenue versus cost (and aggro) basis, it seems to me to be extremely unlikely worth doing.

Sad but I think there have been lots of attempts to run heritage vehicles in regular service where experience has proven that there is insufficient demand for it to be viable.
 

Bletchleyite

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Have to agree with Journeyman. Routemasters are not the attraction they once were and quite frankly on a revenue versus cost (and aggro) basis, it seems to me to be extremely unlikely worth doing.

Sad but I think there have been lots of attempts to run heritage vehicles in regular service where experience has proven that there is insufficient demand for it to be viable.

Add to that they aren't actual proper RMs with tungsten lighting (could use LED bulbs these days) and the guttural old engine and gearbox, but rather bodykitted Dennis Darts with "modern" interiors. The wheeze of a modern engine isn't at all attractive.

The lack of contactless acceptance rounds it off to a not very desirable package.
 

duncanp

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Add to that they aren't actual proper RMs with tungsten lighting (could use LED bulbs these days) and the guttural old engine and gearbox, but rather bodykitted Dennis Darts with "modern" interiors. The wheeze of a modern engine isn't at all attractive.

The lack of contactless acceptance rounds it off to a not very desirable package.

When I last rode on the heritage routemaster service, several people wanted to get on, but were unable to because it didn't take cash or contactless payment.

Publicity at the bus stops was next to non existent.

It seems TfL were doing everything they could to discourage people from using the service, so that they could then use "low usage" as a reason for withdrawing it.
 

Journeyman

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Add to that they aren't actual proper RMs with tungsten lighting (could use LED bulbs these days) and the guttural old engine and gearbox, but rather bodykitted Dennis Darts with "modern" interiors. The wheeze of a modern engine isn't at all attractive.

The lack of contactless acceptance rounds it off to a not very desirable package.
Absolutely. The modernised ones weren't a bad refurb to extend their use in everyday service, but they're nothing like the RMs I remember as a kid, and as such, I really wasn't tempted to ever go on them.

There's enough preserved RMs with original interiors and engines around to make it fairly easy to ride on one if you want.
 

Mikey C

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To me the RMs weren't just to ride on, they were also to look at, in the same way that traditional phone boxes have been preserved in many locations, rather than replaced with modern ones or ripped out.

Maybe TfL should run an RM twice a day across Westminster Bridge so that tourists can get the perfect London photo :D
 

Andyh82

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It was barely ever advertised and the only reason any tourists ever used it was if they just happened to be in the right place at the right time when one appeared, and even then it wasn’t clear what the fares were and that it was actually just a normal service.

If one of the tourist operators took it on, or if it went passed some of the tourist hot spots, or there was actually a leaflet with fares or it was included as an attraction in the London tourist guides, I’m confident it’d do well.
 

Journeyman

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It was barely ever advertised and the only reason any tourists ever used it was if they just happened to be in the right place at the right time when one appeared, and even then it wasn’t clear what the fares were and that it was actually just a normal service.

If one of the tourist operators took it on, or if it went passed some of the tourist hot spots, or there was actually a leaflet with fares or it was included as an attraction in the London tourist guides, I’m confident it’d do well.
I think it's too much of a risk for an unsubsidised tourist operation. I honestly think the appeal of a trip on a Routemaster has dropped quite substantially these days, and post-COVID, it's really not viable.
 

MotCO

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If one of the tourist operators took it on, or if it went passed some of the tourist hot spots, or there was actually a leaflet with fares or it was included as an attraction in the London tourist guides, I’m confident it’d do well.

Visitors expect to see an open top bus and a Routemaster as much as they expect to see Big Ben. I would expect any properly publicised Routemaster route to do well.

As for the excuse that the 15H is not continuing since it is not accessible is absolute rubbish. The whole point of the route is that it supplements the main route 15 which does have accessible vehicles.
 

Ianno87

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I think it's too much of a risk for an unsubsidised tourist operation. I honestly think the appeal of a trip on a Routemaster has dropped quite substantially these days, and post-COVID, it's really not viable.

Presumably also a bit hypocritical of TfL in these days of the ULEZ etc to be running round ancient buses to appeal to a few tourists.
 

londonteacher

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Visitors expect to see an open top bus and a Routemaster as much as they expect to see Big Ben. I would expect any properly publicised Routemaster route to do well.

As for the excuse that the 15H is not continuing since it is not accessible is absolute rubbish. The whole point of the route is that it supplements the main route 15 which does have accessible vehicles.
I agree. However, there is nothing stopping Stagecoach running it as a commercial operation or even creating a new route. They could use it on the Megabussightseeing if it returns.
 

Robertj21a

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I agree. However, there is nothing stopping Stagecoach running it as a commercial operation or even creating a new route. They could use it on the Megabussightseeing if it returns.
I can't see TfL agreeing to a commercial service operating over their 15 route.
 

ANDREW_D_WEBB

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Routemasters look nice for tourists as a 'classic' London Bus, but most would be just as happy with a Bristol Lodekka or any other bus with a half cab as the average punter can't tell the difference. When it comes to riding on them it seems they are not fussed. Most tourists seem happy with the current open top offerings from RATP, Big Bus and Golden Tours. Each offer comprehensive tours of the key sights on a day (or more) ticket using higher capacity vehicles, the liveries of which are not even red! (RATP moved to their Union Jack livery in order to stand out from TfL's red buses). Premium Tours had a go at the open top market in 2019 using ERM class Routemasters bought from Lothian, but these tours soon fizzled out and the vehicles sold on. Routemaster operation on tours now seems limited to the 'niche' market, Ghost Bus Tours and BB Bakery use them with success, but even these do not need Routemasters to succeed. Golden Tours compete with BB Bakery on afternoon tea tours using a pair of ex Metroline Enviro 400s.
 

alex397

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TfL have bigger things to worry about, and a heritage operation is really for other companies.

However it was very poorly operated and could have been much more popular and maybe even been profitable. It was never advertised anywhere, apart from on adverts on the side of the last true Routemasters in service when they came to an end. Even at the bus stop there was nothing advertising them, apart from a very small footnote on the regular 15 timetable panel.
While some conductors were really friendly and chatty, others clearly did not want to be there. Their role should have been more tourist friendly, maybe getting out at popular stops to encourage tourists to jump on, such as at Tower Hill where there was often a crowd of tourists.
Some are saying that Routemasters are no longer as attractive, but I disagree. If marketed in the right way, it could be. Obviously many tourists are happy on any red double decker, but if marketed as an original London bus from the 1960s, it would be much more attractive.
And like others have said, not finding a way to accept contactless payment certainly didn't do it many favours.

It seems to work quite well in Berlin, where route 218 runs from Messe/ZOB to Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) through the Grunewald (Green Forest), with buses alternately a heritage vehicle or regular BVG vehicle. The heritage buses are run by a local heritage/ museum operator, and presumably this helps promote their organisation. This route isn't even in the touristy area of Berlin, and seems to be aimed at local tourists, but I've also seen it advertised in online articles.
 

Goldfish62

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I can't see TfL agreeing to a commercial service operating over their 15 route.
Route H which follows a similar route has had an LSP granted.

In order for the service to run commercially fares are going to have to be somewhat higher than TfL and being an LSP TfL fares and passes will not be valid (in theory the operator could choose to accept them, but would receive zero reimbursement from TfL) . All-in-all no threat to the core bus service along that corridor.
 

LeeLivery

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The publicity of it was dire. But I struggle to believe for a second it wouldn't draw loads of tourists if it was properly advertised. Just like red phone boxes, people want a picture for instagram - but if people don't realise they still exist, no one will come.
 

MotCO

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It seems to work quite well in Berlin, where route 218 runs from Messe/ZOB to Pfaueninsel (Peacock Island) through the Grunewald (Green Forest), with buses alternately a heritage vehicle or regular BVG vehicle. The heritage buses are run by a local heritage/ museum operator, and presumably this helps promote their organisation. This route isn't even in the touristy area of Berlin, and seems to be aimed at local tourists, but I've also seen it advertised in online articles.

And don't the San Francisco trams have a visitor appeal?

The other option would be for open top operators to run the Routemasters closed top during the colder start and end of seasons.
 

Bletchleyite

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And don't the San Francisco trams have a visitor appeal?

They do, but I'm not sure a bus route that isn't itself particularly interesting (though admittedly does pass the Tower) is the way to do it. If TfL wanted it could probably run a mini tourist network, but why not just leave that to the tour bus companies? Open top is probably more popular than classic, anyway; people are more into seeing RMs than travelling on them, as to be honest the travelling experience on one is pretty grim, they are cramped, have small windows and are roasting hot in summer and freezing cold in winter.
 
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