London on the move

19/09/2017 15:01

From double-decker buses to the Tube to famous black cabs, public transport has long been synonymous with London.

The history of public transport in London started in 1829 when large double-storied horse carts, called omnibuses, rolled out to help meet the demands of the growing city.

Nearly a century later, in 1923, the first engine-powered double decker bus hit the streets. At the time London was severely short on public buses, and companies vied for dominance in this nascent market. In 1924 there were up to 200 independent bus companies that operated across all routes in the city; to compete for the growing crowd of rivals on these routes, the largest bus company at the time, London General Omnibus, marketed eye-catching red buses to allure more passengers. Since then, double decker buses of this color have become a unique symbol of London.

That the symbol was almost swept into obscurity in 2005 when the authorities of London decided to halt operations of all Routemaster double decker buses for safety reasons and inefficient operational costs. Fortunately, three years later, new mayor of London Boris Johnson orchestrated a comeback of Routemaster buses with remarkable renovations. Nowadays, visitors can only experience the genuine Routemaster buses on Route 15(H) that crosses between the Tower Hill and Trafalgar Square.

Beyond only transportation, double decker buses are perfect for leisure travel in London. One of the best sightseeing routes is Route 24 from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath. From here visitors are carried past Westminster Abbey, Big Ben and No. 10 Downing Street to reach one of the most famous places in London, Trafalgar Square. Next, Route 24 carries you to Camden Town, a famous outdoor market known for its vintage items from fashion, books, antiques and souvenirs to street foods. The route ends at Hampstead Heath, where visitors are free to walk uphill nearby and embrace the breathtaking sunset of London at the end of their trip.

Following the inauguration of “omnibus”, London was given another means of public transport: its famous metro, known as the Tube. The London metro system was the first underground steam-engine railway system in the world. Based on the fact that traffic in London was a nightmare of endless jams and accidents, in 1845, Charles Pearson, a lawyer and parliamentary member, hatched the idea of building an underground railway system that connected downtown to the suburbs of London in order to meet transport demands of millions of people and promptly extend the city limits of London.

On January 10, 1863, the world’s first metro system was put in operation in London, carrying 30,000 passengers/day. Today, over 150 years later, the Tube has extended to 11 lines on a network spreading 402km all over the city, which connect 270 stations and transport over 1.3 billion passengers a year. Numerous stations that have been featured as filming locations, such as Aldwych Depot as the setting for the films Atonement and V for Vendetta, or platform 93/4  at King’s Cross depot, which is known for the Harry Potter series as the place he catches the train to Hogwarts School.

Beside buses and metro, another popular means of transport in London are its traditional black taxis, also known as Black Cabs. A bit nostalgic, Black Cabs are one of the liveliest and most genuine symbols of London in its old-meets-new environment. A particular feature that drivers are proud of is how proficient in London’s traffic network they are. It takes each Black Cab driver two to four years to learn by heart some 320 routes in London, an equivalent to 25,000 street names and 20,000 offices and building names. They are required to sit for a test called The Knowledge in order to be granted a taxi driver’s license.

Over the course of nearly 200 years of development, the public transport system of London is proudly ingrained in the daily life of British people. But it hasn’t stopped growing:  visitors can now join other exciting public transport means in London, including water buses along the Thames, cable cars or rental bikes. London in the eyes of travelers worldwide is even more fascinating and special thanks to its signature means of public transport.
Le Huy

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