My explorations on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls were enlivened by the opportunity to travel by London Transport Routemaster bus: http://www.doubledecktours.com.
The outside temperature in late July was pushing 100°F (37.8°C) and the nearest a Routemaster goes to air-conditioning is to open the top-deck quarter-drop windows and the rear emergency-exit window and hope for a through-draught.
There’s no better way to survey the passing scene than the top deck of a bus, and Niagara-based Double Deck Tours has a sizeable fleet of around twenty Routemasters: http://www.old-bus-photos.co.uk/wp-content/themes/Old-Bus-Photos/galleries/double_deck_toures/double_deck_tours.php.
The red double-deck London bus qualifies for the over-used expression “icon”. Alongside the San Francisco cable-car and the trams of Melbourne and Hong Kong, it’s instantly recognisable and – unlike rail-borne icons – easily exportable.
London still has heritage Routemasters running tourists across the West End, though they were removed from ordinary services in 2005.
It’s possible to ride on genuine London buses in many parts of the world: my introduction to Christchurch, New Zealand, a few days before the 2011 earthquake, was on a Routemaster that took the steep and sharply curved Mount Pleasant Road without complaint: http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=1228.
Apart from their nostalgia appeal, the Routemaster has the advantage of being an extremely robust, well-designed vehicle with extraordinary longevity, attributable to the maintenance programme which amounted to a full rebuild every five years at the London Transport works at Aldenham.
The Routemaster was an improvement on its predecessor, the RT. It’s regrettable that when the traditional two-man-operated, open-platform Routemaster was superseded by off-the-shelf vehicles from commercial manufacturers, none of them have lasted so well.
Like the High Speed Train, the Routemaster stands as unbeatable British design that wasn’t directly followed up.
Nearly half of the 2,876 Routemasters built between 1954 and 1968 are still in existence, and there’s no difficulty in obtaining spares. Indeed, Routemaster owners have an association to call on for assistance and rallies can attract over a hundred vehicles from far and wide: http://routemaster.org.uk/pages/diamondjubilee.