The latest incarnation of the British capital's iconic double-decker buses will be crisscrossing the city's streets in time for the summer Olympics, London Mayor Boris Johnson promised Friday.
Johnson said the sleek new vehicles would be a fitting successor to London's much-loved red Routemasters, which were nearly all pulled off the streets in 2005. Their bigger, boxier replacements proved more practical in many ways, but haven't inspired the same kind of loyalty.
Johnson promised a redesign when he became mayor, and the he was on board Friday as a prototype pulled into Trafalgar Square.
"It is the latest, greatest masterpiece of British engineering and design," Johnson crowed.
Although some old-style Routemasters still ply the tourist route between St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London, the bus beloved by generations of Londoners was doomed by issues of accessibility and cost.
Passengers loved the buses' curved lines, their conductors and their open platforms at the back _ ideal for a harried commuter racing to make a connection.
But Routemasters weren't wheelchair-accessible and the aging fleet proved expensive to maintain. Even the handy hop-on, hop-off platforms were a problem: Passengers racing to catch their early morning ride or coming home from the pub sometimes fell off the bus, occasionally with fatal consequences.
Johnson's new bus revives the platforms (which can now be closed) and restores some of the original's asymmetry and rounded feel. The mayor's administration claims it will be the most environmentally friendly vehicle of its kind.
The mayor's opponents have raised concerns over the cost of the redesign, attacking it as a vanity project.
Opposition assembly member Val Shawcross said Londoners should be asking themselves "whether spending millions on redesigning buses when we're on the verge of another recession should really be a priority."
A New Bus for London: http://www.london.gov.uk/priorities/transport/new-bus-london