The introduction date of the very first commercial double decker bus (just like the first bus itself) seems to be open to some debate, as different versions of models and claims appear all over the internet. Generally what is agreed upon is that commercial buses were first widely introduced in the 1820′s, (with a few previous unsuccessful attempts briefly recorded in France as early as 1662) and as this is some time before the introduction of the combustion engine, they were horse drawn as you would expect.
These early buses were called ‘Omnibuses‘ and ran in France and England, and it wasn’t until 1847 when Adams & Co of Fairfield works, manufactured a vehicle with a clerestory roof with built in upper seats running the length of the bus. These were first operated by the Economic Conveyance Company of London, and to encourage people to use these the fare was half of the cost of sitting inside.
These open top double decker horse drawn buses were not initially popular, and it took nearly 10 yrs for the idea to catch on, when in 1852 John Greenwood introduced a much larger double decker with enough space for up to 42 passengers and needed pulling by 3 horses, with the top deck still accessed by a ladder.
These buses became more novel with innovations such as a staircase to make access to the top deck easier, along with forward facing garden seats rather than longitudinal bench seats, and this encouraged more ladies to ride them. Horse drawn buses faced stiff competition from cheaper trams and trains that became common in the later 1800′s, and with the introduction of the combustion engine and the 1st World War, the last ever horse drawn bus in London ceased operating on 4th August 1914, but continued in more rural areas in the UK until 1932.
The first motorised double decker was the NS Type (pictured above) which was introduced in 1923 and was the first to feature a full covered top deck. It built by the A.E.C. (Associated Equipment Company) was considered luxurious at the time with upholstered seats rather than the wooden benches, and the closed in top deck enabled buses to compete on level terms with the trams that had become popular as a cheaper alternative, and with lots of new urban development, the freedom of the bus to adapt to new routes unlike the tram or train meant it grew in popularity very rapidly. The NS Type stayed in production until it was withdrawn in1937.
The next major development was the introduction of the Routemaster London Bus, first built in 1954, and put into commercial service two years later. It’s key benefits were a unique construction whereas most buses used a separate ladder chassis onto which the panels and engine were bolted, the Routemaster had an alloy body shell, to which separate front and rear sub-frames were attached each end, the front carrying the engine, steering and front suspension, the rear carrying the axle and rear wheels. It also had several other features considered advanced at the time such as independent front suspension, power steering, automatic gearbox and power-hydraulic braking. The design of the routemaster made it lighter and more efficient than its rivals. The Routemaster, in bright red became one of the iconic sights to see in London and is well known worldwide.
The popularity of the Routemaster saw it survive many improvements and redesigns, but it survived the privatisation of the London Bus Service, and stayed in continuous service in London from 1956 until December 8th 2005, when the last service came to an end.
More modern double decker bus designs are now in service throughout the world produced by many different manufacturers – take a look in our Countries section to see whereabouts, or have a look in our Models section to see some of the hundreds of different designs now available.
Finally a big thank you to all those at the web development team at Orangewheels who supply newVW cars who helped put together this site.