Having already seen most, if not all, of the icons of London, there is just one more that I have got a couple of chances to see the private versions of already, but not the opportunity to be on it. Aside from the usual Big Ben and Tower Bridge (also commonly mistaken as London Bridge), the bright red AEC Routemasters, also commonly known as “London Bus” in many parts of the world, also immediately brings to mind the roads of London, iconic to everyone, even to those who have not visited the capital before.
Since I can’t throw myself an instant self-wedding to charter one of those private Routemasters, one heritage bus route sits quietly, unknown to many visitors and locals alike, available for the public to board the AEC Routemaster as a weekend-only regular bus service with regular Oyster fares. With a budget of £1.50 (~S$2.59), that’s exactly what I’m going to spend it on today – on a cheap ride through Central London on the iconic AEC Routemaster “London Bus”.
I got on the Bakerloo Line from London Marylebone where my Chiltern Railways train from Oxford terminated.
The facade of Charing Cross Railway Station.
Just across the station, I see the AEC Routemaster on Route 15H (Heritage) already at Stop F, ready to depart.
A bunch of New Routemasters (NBfL) queuing behind the real Routemaster.
As that 15H was quite crowded and was departing already, I didn’t make a run for it but just waited for the next one.
To the non-transport-savvy tourist, don’t mix it up with the regular Service 15 plying on the same (longer) route, even though it looks red, is a double-decker bus and is in London as that is the New Routemaster, not the classic AEC Routemaster.
Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square (Stop F) is where the Route 15H departs from, towards Tower Hill.
The bus arrival timings as stated on the bus stop. The regular Service 15 is quite a frequent bus route.
Surprisingly, the arrival timing data for the 15H is also available at the bus stop. 15H is reflected as Service 15, but with Tower Hill as the destination rather than Blackwall.
Waiting at Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square (Stop F). Don’t mix the 15H up with the regular Go-Ahead Service 15.
The facade of Charing Cross Railway Station from Charing Cross/Trafalgar Square (Stop F).
The next outbound 15H was parked a few meters before the bus stop, so here’s some exterior shots of it first.
Routemaster RM1933 on duty for my bus ride to Tower Hill today.
The classic London Transport logo is still preserved on the bus.
The destination sign also changes for the 15H journey bound for Tower Hill.
ALD 933B, the registration plate number for Routemaster RM1933.
The service information of Service 15 at Stop F. The heritage service is not explicitly mentioned, merely as a small text box saying “*Additional journeys to Tower Hill run between 1000 and 1810.”, making it sound like a short-working trip of Go-Ahead 15 rather than tangible heritage that Stagecoach is running.
The service information also does not mention that 15H does NOT accept contactless. Quite an oversight there by TfL for the lost tourist.
Cash is not accepted on all London Buses.
More regular Go-Ahead Service 15 buses arriving and clearing the crowd.
And here comes the Stagecoach Heritage Bus Route 15H just after that regular Go-Ahead 15 pulled away.
Boarding is done exactly the same way as how Routemasters are traditionally run – with a conductor. Just board from the rear open platform, find a seat, and the conductor will come around for tickets later.
The interior of the lower deck of the AEC Routemaster with a mix of regular transverse bus seats towards the front and longitudinal seating near the open platform.
Everything seems to have been restored to its original look.
The interior of the upper deck of the AEC Routemaster with regular transverse bus seats throughout.
As the front seat was taken, I settled for a seat somewhere in the middle of the bus.
All the hopper windows were open as it was a pretty hot day in London.
The staircase of the AEC Routemaster is located at the back for easy access to the open platform.
The original AEC Routemaster bell button.
A new TfL-ish No Smoking sign found in the bus.
This CCTV was definitely not here in the 1950s.
Turning onto Aldwych.
The legroom on board the AEC Routemaster. I guess people were shorter 60 years ago?
A rather tight seat pitch for today’s standards. But kudos to Stagecoach for keeping the bus exactly as it is for real preservation of heritage.
Passing by Kingsway.
Caught up with the initial regular Service 15 at The Royal Courts of Justice (Stop L).
Passing by the Royal Courts of Justice.
The conductor then comes around to ask for tickets. As cash is not accepted on London Buses and contactless payment is not available on the conductor’s reader, you must have an Oyster card or Travelcard to use the 15H. The conductor asks if you have one before you board the bus. If you fail to present one during payment rounds, you’ll probably earn yourself a penalty fare.
Overtaking the initial regular Service 15 which is probably being regulated. Go-Ahead’s nonsense is everywhere.
Passing by Club Quarters Hotel, St Paul’s.
Passing by St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Heading on Queen Victoria Street.
A Big Bus Tours bus pulled up beside my AEC Routemaster, with the tour guide explaining to his passengers what my bus was. Glad I’m on this regular public bus instead.
Heading past Bank Station.
Passing by the 16th century Royal Exchange against the modern skyline of London.
This kid on his bicycle tried to foll around with the AEC Routemaster driver by pretending to intend to drive in the bus’ way.
Heading on Eastcheap.
Passing by another Heritage Route 15H towards Trafalgar Square.
Entering Tower Hamlets.
Approaching the Tower of London, where this bus terminates.
Terminating at Tower of London (Stop TB). All change.
The 4.8km ride from Trafalgar Square (Charing Cross station) to Tower Hill takes just 21 minutes. A little bit short, but it’s a heritage route and probably costs more than my £1.50 to maintain.
Heading down the AEC Routemaster’s staircase.
The AEC Routemaster’s builder plate and refurbishment plate.
Two dings on the bell from the conductor later, and the AEC Routemaster is off back to the depot.
Goodbye AEC Routemaster. Thanks for the heritage ride.
The New Routemasters just don’t look and feel as nice any more after riding on the real AEC Routemaster.
Tower of London (Stop TB), where the 15H terminates from Trafalgar Square.
Crossing over to Tower of London like a tourist.
As there was nothing much to see at Tower of London without buying a ticket, I decided to head to Tower Bridge instead to finish off the London icons experience.
Mandatory tourist shot towards Tower Bridge.
Hello Tower Bridge again.
The towering Tower Bridge bridge tower.
The skyline with Tower of London.
Tower Bridge’s high-level walkways.
Tower Bridge’s regular pedestrian walkways.
The bascules can be raised to allow ships to pass.
The skyline with City Hall and The Shard.
The middle point of Tower Bridge where both bascules meet.
Heading to Stop TA to hopefully catch the last 15H back to Trafalgar Square (Charing Cross).
Lots of regular Service 15s are seen, but unfortunately no sign of the last 15H that was supposed to show up.
The last 15H should depart at 5.55pm.
Stop TA is also a pick up and drop off point for Megasightseeing on certain days only.
The bus services making a stop at Tower of London (Stop TA).
A 15H coming in from Trafalgar Square terminating at Tower of London (Stop TA).
A Megasightseeing bus passing through Tower of London (Stop TA).
As it was already past 6pm with no sign of the last 15H showing up, I decided to continue on my journey from Tower of London instead.
Overall, a fantastic ride on board the well-preserved AEC Routemaster, a true recognisable icon of London which doesn’t look out of place even in 2019 with all the modern skyscrapers rising in London. Definitely a must-do when in London on a weekend or a public holiday. Great job TfL and Stagecoach for keeping this heritage bus service alive.