London heritage route 15h withdrawn

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It looks unlikely that Routemasters will return to regular service
in London. NICK LARKIN

London’s famous Routemasters appear to have had their final curtain call with little fanfare, reports Nick Larkin

Transport for London (TfL) has confirmed that the 15h heritage route, using traditional open platform AEC Routemasters, has been permanently axed. The service from Trafalgar Square to Tower Hill was introduced in November 2005 prior to the end of Routemasters on normal service, and had not run since September 2019 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A further heritage route, the 9h, from the Royal Albert Hall to Aldwych ended in July 2014.

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The 15h was reduced in frequency from all year round, seven days per week operation to weekends and Bank Holidays only from March to September, with three buses per hour between 1000 and 1800hrs.

A spokesperson for TfL confirmed that the service would not run again: “Previously, the heritage journeys on route 15 only operated on summer weekends and were suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic in summer 2020. After reviewing the bus network to ensure it responds to customer demand, TfL concluded that the heritage buses on a section of route 15 are not needed for the current and predicted customer demand on the corridor.

“This, combined with concerns about the environmental and accessibility limitations (heritage Routemasters are not at ULEZ standards or step-free), means that their continued operation is no longer viable.”

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Larry Bryant, TfL suggested that where the buses had previously relied on an exemption certificate to operate in central London, ‘it may also not be technically feasible to upgrade them to Euro VI’ to comply with current regulations.

The decision has not gone down well with Routemaster fans across the world. Routemaster Association Chairman Andrew Morgan said: “We can understand that TfL has other priorities at the moment but we are disappointed that the heritage route is not returning next year. We felt there were major glitches with the lack of publicity for the 15h and the fact that contactless payment could not be made on the Routemasters.

“We’re sad the Routemaster had such a low key ending after all its service in London. People love these buses, not just in Britain but across the world.”

The first Routemasters entered service in 1956, featuring a number of technical innovations, and the design went on to become an icon. Of the 2,976 built, the overwhelming majority went to London Transport.

Meanwhile TfL has yet to make a decision on the future of the 13 Routemasters it owns, including the 10 which were allocated to Stagecoach for the 15h, four of which underwent a £50,000 refurbishment a couple of years ago.

Also in response to the Freedom of Information request, TfL revealed that Stagecoach would have been paid £825,243 had the 15h operated from March-September 2020. As the route didn’t operate there was no payment. In 2019, the cost was £808,258, and prior to the service becoming seasonal, the annual contract price was £1,293,270.

Andrew suggested: “Apart from the cost, the normal requirement to have a consultation for the discontinuation of a service seems to have been quietly forgotten.”