Last Friday, the last ever bendy bus ran its last ever route in London. Surprisingly, some people gave a shit. This is their story.
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has heralded the killing off of the bendy bus as the dawning of a new era in public transport. Desperate for a political victory, the professional buffoon claims that over seven million pounds worth of dodged fares will be clawed back for the ailing British economy and that wheelchair users will have less space and accessibility than ever before. The bendy will be replaced by a redesigned Routemaster which will probably say something about the Olympics on the side. Out with the old and in with the err, even older. I headed to White City in West London to catch the last ever bendy bus/ Boris bus/ free bus/ death trap/ cyclist harvester. Its final resting place? Hayes By-Pass.
VICE: Hi Glen. What brings you along to the bendy bus' last ride?
Glen: I'm just a bus enthusiast. I come down to London about four, five times a year for similar things, photographing buses. Is this pretty momentous, as bus moments go?
Oh yeah. It's a big one. What do you think of the end of the bendy?
Well, you need to encourage people to use public transport and in order to do that you need to upgrade the rolling stock. Keep them top of the line. OK, I see. Have you travelled far, then?
I live in Edinburgh.
Did you drive down?
This guy said he was called “Dave”, but I didn't believe him. He was really cagey with me all night and said I didn't want to know what he thought about the bendy bus because he had some “pretty extreme opinions about this piece of shit excuse for a bus. I haven't even been on a bus since the Routemaster, I just wanted to say farewell to it, the scrap of metal. I hope that twat Boris Johnson turns up and all, I could say goodbye to him.” I don't think this was a threat, but I can't be sure.
The real star of the show was always going to be the driver. The enthusiasts were soon pestering him for pictures and trying to talk to him about vehicle fleet numbers.
Here are the guys (no girls, strangely), ready to take a picture of the momentous occasion. Note the death stare “Dave” on the left is throwing my way, it felt like he was punching my soul.
As we waited I spoke to this man, who worked for First Connect.
VICE: Are you here in an official capacity?
First Connect: No, I'm not here to represent First Connect. I do work for them, obviously, I just wanted to catch the last one. What do you think of the end of bendy buses?
Well I think they should keep them, actually. The problem is the leases are higher on the newer vehicles, and the stock they're buying in are on much shorter leases, whilst these would have stayed cheaper for much longer… [he talked about this for a really long time. And I'm sure you want to read it just about as much as I want to transcribe it.] … but overall I think they would be better off just keeping them. Hmm, interesting. So, where do bendy buses go to die, other than Hayes By-Pass?
They can't go anywhere. They'll be leased out again, but they have to go to countries with left-hand drive. Most of them go to Malta. That's nice, a retirement to Malta.
They carry on their lives as buses. I don't know all that much about them to be honest. [He did.] Eventually the bus pulled in at just past midnight, on time for the last haul. A few enthusiasts ran on quickly without paying in a final symbolic act of faredodging.
Some of us non-bottom-feeders actually bothered to pay. The journey on the bus started, continued and ended much like every bus journey. The sense of significance shared by the enthusiast passengers was subdued quite a lot when four dozen average punters got on at Shepherd's Bush, philistines who clearly had no idea that they were taking part in history. I tried to restore a sense of wonder to the trip by telling the girl sat next to me that this was the last bendy bus she would ever get, and that she should feel privileged. She accused me of lying and got off what I assume was several stops early.
Before we knew it we had arrived at our destination, Hayes By-Pass. It was just as lovely and remarkable as you'd imagine a place that has "by-pass" in its name would be.
We all knew that it was over. The bendy had sung its swan song (a harmony of the sucking sound those flappy things make and drunken chatter), taken its final bow and was ready to leave. We bid it farewell on its long journey to Malta, or possibly Gibraltar, before realising that we had to get home. We, ironically, had to wait for the first 207 headed in the opposite direction, which was of course a double decker.
On the return leg, several of the enthusiasts reminisced over a Thermos about various London bus route changes over the years. Others just sat back and smiled in satisfaction. We had witnessed history, and nobody could take it away from us – not even the two guys skinning up and loudly playing grime two seats behind us.
WORDS: JUDAS HARDWOOD
IMAGES: FRANCIS PALMER