....... or the joys of driving a Routemaster

On a fine summers day what better place is there to be than in the drivers seat of a Routemaster?  Cab door open and locked back, a cooling breeze, and a commanding view all around, looking down on the occupants of open sports cars and cabriolets!

It’s the summer of 1993, a few days before the August bank holiday, and there’s a buzz in the streets of Bournemouth.  Perhaps it’s the fine weather, perhaps it’s the dozens of language students from all over the world, perhaps it’s the hundreds of holidaymakers – or perhaps it’s the green and cream Routemasters which arrived in town just three months ago!

We sign on at the depot in Southcote Road, in the room where trolleybus conductors used to pay in their cash until the end of the trolleys in 1969 (the trolleybus depot is now the base for the town’s street cleansing department).  My mate collects his ticket machine and box and we stroll up to the Derby Road stop and flag down a passing 607 for a lift to Bournemouth Square and the start of our shift.

The town is busy with traffic and shoppers.  There’s our first steed waiting, fleet number 291, car working 4 on the 604’s.  Once upon a time she was resplendent in red as London Transport  RM219, now in green and cream she waits to set off on the 1.38 to Kinson and West Howe.  Blinds correctly set for our destination Cunningham Crescent.  We separate, my mate Mick to the back, whilst I climb up into the cab, conscious of the envious gaze of the younger passengers.  Didn’t we all want to be bus drivers when we were little?

Push the starter, first time lucky, ticking over nicely, wait for two bells and off we go.  Pull across The Square to the busy stop outside Smiths, pick up a dozen or so, a mix of shoppers and their bags and children and students.   Up to the lights, changing to green, accelerate round the corner by Beales, stop again at the Burlington Arcade, half a dozen more on board.  We’ve already built up a loyal following of people who pass up other buses to wait for a “real bus”, a Routemaster with a conductor to help you with your shopping and call out the names of the stops and advise the many holidaymakers where to get on and off.

Stop at the Lansdowne, a couple more get on, then through the new transport interchange at the rail station.  Keep a sharp lookout here as the shelters hide the people waiting for the bus, and there are lots of different routes that pass through here.  Just two more today, an inbound 604 lets me out across the road, then under the bridge under the by-pass, turn right into Lansdowne Road, up to the traffic lights at Cemetery Junction, right flasher on, right hand lane, red light.  A minutes wait and then right into Charminster Road.  A hot summers day but the breeze through the open sliding door of the cab keeps me cool.  Down through the shops, dropping off three or four students in this the heart of language school territory.  Stop at the Richmond, up to the lights, left flasher, left lane, tight turn left into Alma Road, half a mile, right flasher, turn into Wimborne Road and up to the very busy stop at Winton Banks, named after the bank on each of the corners of the crossroads.

A few off, a dozen on, more shopping bags and a pushchair, two bells, stopping now at practically every stop, one on here, two off there.  Through Ensbury Park, along Leybourne Avenue, wave to the driver of another inbound 604 as we come up to the shops at Kinson.  Turn left into Poole Lane and a few more stops and we are at our terminus at Cunningham Crescent in the vast West Howe housing development.  A good steady source of passengers.  Three minutes here for Mick to enter up his waybill and change the blinds, then it’s 2.15 and start off back to town.  And so on through the busy afternoon traffic, sometimes in front of the competition’s buses and sometimes behind, but always looking for the opportunity to overtake whilst a competitor is on a stop.  We complete two round trips on the 604 before coming off for a break in The Square at  4.10 - an hour and a quarter if our relieving crew are there on time!  Yes today they are, so Mick and I walk up the road to the café in the indoor market, cheap and cheerful but a good brew and a satisfying and filling bacon buttie.

Stroll back down to The Square stops again and this time we’re looking for car working 11 on the 607’s.  It’s my lucky day, it’s my favourite mount 286 waiting for us on the stand in Gervis Place, alongside the gardens.  Why is 286 my favourite?  Well for one thing I find her the easiest of all to drive, and on top of that she was the very first Routemaster on the first run on the first day of the Bournemouth operation.  But no time to dwell on this, check the blinds, Fisherman Walk showing, into the cab and away at 5.30 with a good load of workers and shoppers.  And holidaymakers too because we go past many hotels and guest houses on this route – there’s twenty or so waiting for us at the Pier stop.  Quick glance across towards the sea, still lots of people on the beach on this glorious summer day.  Almost a full load now, Mick will have to work quickly to get all the fares in, it’s only seventeen minutes end to end on the 607.  Bit of a slog up Bath Road hill, 286 is showing her age, she’s not as young as she used to be.  Round the Lansdowne roundabout, along the main road and down the hill to Boscombe Gardens, drop off a dozen, up the hill to Boscombe Crescent, another dozen off, holidaymakers back to their hotels for dinner. 

Through the shops, swing left into Palmerston Road, round the back of the shopping centre, into Ashley Road, wave to a 607 going into town, pick up a few more, and then accelerate down to Pokesdown station, past the site of the old trolleybus depot, right at the lights, nearly there, a few more to drop off, a bit tight in Seabourne Road if there’s one coming the other way.  No, alright today, so swing left, right and right again and on to the stand at Fishermans Walk terminus.   Wave to our friend Ursula as she locks up the travel agency for the night, change the blinds and away at 5.52, it will be quieter going back into town but lots of traffic on the roads still.   Into The Square and back out again, not so many coming out this time, but starting to get busy taking people back into the town centre for an evening out as we leave Fishermans Walk again at 6.37.  This is young Mick’s favourite run, a chance for him to make a date for his day off tomorrow perhaps, aided by a chance to spin a yarn and practice his chat-up lines as we have a 40 minute layover when we get into town, to accommodate the drop-back from the fifteen minute daytime service to the twenty minute evening frequency.

For me a chance to read the local evening paper and do the crossword, Mick strolls back with a big smile on his face, only just in time for the 7.40 away, I’ll have to wait till later to ask him why he’s so happy.  On through the pleasant summers evening, back and forth to Fishermans Walk, my favourite time of day as the hours slip by and the lights start to come on.  The loadings into town lessen as the evening goes by, but it’s still warm enough to keep the cab door open all the time.

286 waits for an evening departure from Fishermans Walk - as the opposition overtakes
Fishermans Walk, evening shot, Routemaster waiting

And then in the same way as the tide comes in and goes out, as it gets darker we start to take people back home again.  All too soon we arrive in town at 10.55 and load up for the last 607 of the day, 11.00 away from The Square.  A good load climb aboard.  I check with Mick that everything is quiet and peaceful - sometimes last runs can become lively, especially at weekends.  All is well tonight, a happy and relaxed crowd of passengers, but quite a lively buzz of conversation as they relive the day’s events.  We deliberately leave two minutes late in case of any stragglers, then it’s up into the cab, two bells given, round to the Pier, a few more on, and then on eastwards dropping off along the way through Boscombe and Pokesdown.  Turning right at the lights, only a few left on now.  Not long to go – the horses have smelt the stables!   Quickly round the loop at Fishermans Walk, set the blind one more time, but now showing “Garage only”.  Not very often we pick up anyone on this trip, ten minutes later into the yard, park in the queue waiting for the fuel pump, a cheery goodnight from Mick as he goes to pay in his money and tickets, another day done, every minute in the cab was a pleasure – and to think that people are paying me to do this …….....…