What’s behind the bus obsession?

What is it about British buses that makes people all over the world become obsessive about owning one?  I ask having found the One Old Green Bus blog by chance and pointing it out to a couple of friends in who have been bitten by the bus bug.

They own a  – the iconic, double decker, red London bus, which proves very popular at motor industry events.  This is not an isolated peccadillo either, as I am aware of at least two other members who own a bus or a coach.

Indeed, the was established in 1988 reveals a widespread enthusiasm for owning and attending rallies.  The details a social history of the city’s public transport, and includes a quote from a eulogy by journalist that:

The Routemaster (RM) bus is not just the most efficient and best-looking double deck bus to have run anywhere in the world, [it is] a symbol of London, in short, a masterpiece.”

This bus was designed exclusively for London – but the last new one was produced in 1968.  Today the buses remain for the tourist , but after a long process of being phased out, the last regular service took place on 9 December 2005. 

So maybe the emotional connection to the London bus explains its appeal.  One place to buy, or even hire, a classic bus is in Essex – which claims to have sold 25,000 buses worldwide since 1972.  The company successfully bid for the de-fleeted double-deckers from London Transport. 

Beyond the Routemaster, are thousands of enthusiasts of vintage coaches and buses, attending rallies and visiting transport museums.  There are , websites, forums, Facebook groups and of course, videos on YouTube.  The enthusiasm is global – with recording lists and photographs online from the obscurest places. 

I’m still not sure why there is such an attraction to buses and coaches amongst automotive PR practitioners – but it seems a harmless pleasure, although I’m sure it isn’t a cheap one.

Social media is ideal for those with such enthusiasms.  The technology opens up the opportunity to share and converse with like minded zealots – even if the object of desire is specialist, even quirky.

What is also nice, is that such areas seem to lack organised marketing or public relations in the main.  Websites and other communications may look amateur, but that is their appeal. 

Professionally, there seems to be great opportunities here for companies who could build a connection with these enthusiasts.  But it would be a shame to possibly taint the authenticity that is apparent among such special interest groups.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

2 thoughts on “What’s behind the bus obsession?”

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with me… So maybe the emotional connection to the London bus explains its appeal.

    One of the things I have difficulty fathoming is how I can understand myself… and perhaps, as you stated, a handful of others (after all, doesn’t everyone and everything deserve a fan or two?) but the fact that my whole family “adopted” the bus as a object of affection… as have many of my friends.

    The only other thing I can think of is that the older “platform loading” buses, due to their being pulled off the road due to not being handicapped-friendly, represent something to some… a piece of antiquity being usurped by the modern in the name of (and sorry I have to use this, but…) convenience.

    The Routemasters, for the most part, were outfitted with new Scania engines in the late 1990’s making them very environmentally friendly and extending their long life… or so it was thought…

    …but when modern times and yes, a need to ensure that everyone could use public transit (which I do agree with,) these old buses that most people have a memory of and see as an “icon” of London were replaced with “bendy-buses”…

    Phil Wilson who is part of the Routemaster Owners and Operators Association said it best when waxing poetic about the old bus… when it comes to the classic lines and style of the old buses,

    “This is something that does not exist with modern vehicles which tend to be just square boxes closely based on the very desirable shape of a brick.”

    Y’know, I wish I could put a finger on what sent me over the edge and made me “out” myself… and be currently trying to get a bus myself…

    …all I can tell you is… I… and my family… are going to keep trying.

    Thanks for the article!

  2. Hug a Routemaster!

    As part-owner of the said Routemaster, the first question almost everyone asks on learning about my ‘acquisition’ is: “Er….why….?” in that kind of der-brain tone of voice.

    My co-owner is more dismissive than me, and retorts with a simple “Well if you don’t ‘geddit’ then I’m not going to tell you”, in a similar way that Rolls-Royce salesmen of yore alledgedly answered if you deigned to ask the price of their quality motor cars.

    But I have tried to come up with a succinct and witty answer, not only to give enquirers an amusing reply to what seems like a daft idea, but also to answer the question I ask of myself. Thus far this has alluded me; why? Because there simply isn’t one answer.

    But it does encompass some of the following:

    1. The Routemaster is a design icon. Designed and built specifically for London – not like the German ‘bendy-bus’ which is an off-the-shelf solution (although many would argue with ‘solution’!) – the RM was produced to meet the transport needs and fit the roads of our capital city.

    2. The design perfectly blended ‘form and function’. It looks great – even today, and it met the brief. It can move 75 people at up to 45mph and 10mpg, and if you got stuck in traffic, you could simply hop-on or off. It was intended to last 17 years, and went on for well over 40. Now that’s a really cost-effective solution.

    3. It became a visual emblem of London/England/Britain, and a sub-brand of what ‘English-ness’ is. Alongside the black cab, red telephone kiosk and a Bobby’s helmet, it symbolised what this country stood for. And there’s another clue – nostalgia

    4. Nostalgia – for those of a certain age who want to ‘remember when’ or ‘what things used to be like’. Hey, it’s a ‘big deal’ and a big market, don’t knock it.

    5. As a child living in the home counties in the 1950s & ’60s, my Dad took the car to work and my Mum didn’t drive, so to get anywhere during the week, we went by bus. Either green RT double deckers, or single deck buses that connected the villages, or the really smart and fast ‘GreenLines’ that started their journeys in exciting-sounding far off places like Windsor. So like every kid my age, I always wanted to be a bus driver. And now, 40-something years later, I can be!

    6. The Routemaster delivers amazing ‘smile-age’. The ‘smiles per mile’ are truly astonishing. People come and talk to you when filling-up at a service station; hoot amd wave as they overtake on the motorway, and even get out their cameras. We recently took it to Castle Combe for a charity event, and at the end of the day the circuit manager came up to me and said: “You know, we get £200,000 supercars here and no one bats an eyelid, but you turn up in your bus, and it’s all anyone is talking about!”

    7. Good for business. On discovering I had a Routemaster, one client said “well if you’ll let me have a drive of your bus you can have a go in my Aston Martin.” Happy client – done deal!

    8. Easy to drive. Fully automatic, power steering, point and go – all on a car licence – as long as you have no more eight passengers on board. Just remember it’s a bit wider than a car – oh, and 14ft 6 ins high, so no low-bridges and watch out for over hanging branches

    9. Big boys toy? Well certainly it’s big, and, okay, a bit of a toy, but by no means just for boys. There are several young female owners, one of whom bought hers as a 16 year old and before passing her driving test, and even the Press and Publicity Officer of the Routemaster Association is a geerl – OMG!

    10. A living timecapsule. Just think of the things our bus has witnessed. England beating Germany at Wembley in 1966 – those really were the days! The rise and fall of governments; the deaths of the good and the great. All those people sitting on our bus when they heard or read the news. “I remember where I was when I heard about the Berlin Wall, 9/11, Lockerbie, Zebrugge, the assasination of…..”

    Need I say more….?

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