London rolled out a new look for its iconic double-decker bus late last week. The prototype, a fuel-efficient hybrid by the studio of Brit-boy wonder Thomas Heatherwick, is cleverly designed to speed up passenger boarding and represents the first time that the city has commissioned a new bus in more than 50 years.
The big inspiration here was the '50s-era Routemaster, beloved for an exposed deck that let riders hop on and off quickly. The new bus reinstates that feature—which had been eliminated on all but a few routes in 2005—with a rear open platform. It additionally has three doors and two staircases to streamline the passenger-boarding process.
Lookswise, the New Bus for London is as slick and as futuristic as any bus is going to be. It has a curved profile (Mayor Boris Johnson likens it to a "bowler hat," among other embarrassingly stereotypical British things), lots of passenger windows, and an oddly asymmetrical front window. At first we mistook the latter for some sort of lame attempt at sexing up the bus with a racing stripe, but it turns out to serve a practical purpose: The angle gives drivers clear curbside views.
The first fleet of buses is expected to arrive on the streets early next year. If successful, hundreds more will go into circulation in coming years.