Don Brown (@donbrownlondon) reviews ‘Bus Fare: Collected Writings on London’s Most Loved Means of Transport” by Travis Elborough and Joe Kerr, published by AA Publishing.
More than the tube, more than the car, more than the railways, or the bicycle, or the cab, it is the bus that moves London. Over 8,000 scheduled buses across 700 different routes lead to nearly 2 billion bus journeys being made every year.
And the red double-decker is an instantly recognised symbol of – in fact, a shorthand for – the capital, featuring on countless postcards and uncountable photographs.
We can thank George Shillibeer who, 190 years ago – 4 July 1829 – introduced the first service (based on the Paris ‘omnibus’) running from Paddington to Bank along the New Road (now called the Euston Road). The fare was one shilling – a reasonable sum, and beyond the pockets of the working class.
How this bit of inspired entrepreneurism from a Bloomsbury coach-builder grew to its current network is told in an excellent new book called Bus Fare, a collection of reportage, fiction, history, letters, biography, facts and figures, and other writings on and about buses and their cultural impact, edited by Travis Elborough (who has form, having previously published a book on the Routemaster) and Professor Joe Kerr, “an architectural historian and bus driver at Tottenham garage”.