ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

After more than 50 years of service, it's the end of an era for a British icon. The red double-decker Routemaster buses with their open platform in the back made their last scheduled journey through London today. Although a few of the buses will still ferry tourists around the city, thousands of Londoners lined the streets to say goodbye. NPR's Deborah Amos reports.

DEBORAH AMOS reporting:

London's Route 159 was a retirement party for the red double-decker Routemaster, a symbol of this city, and what a party it was, with live television coverage, passengers along the way hopping on and off the back of the platform one last time. A group of dignitaries rode the last bus, scheduled to depart at 12:10. It was late--but of course.

Unidentified Woman #1: Yeah, any news of our last 159 yet?

AMOS: Carol Weeder(ph), who works for London Transport, was one of the mothers along the route.

Ms. CAROL WEEDER (London Transport): The last one is--should be due here in 10 minutes, and that will be your very, very last one. Very sad. (Laughs) I remember them when I was a kid. (Laughs)

(Soundbite of bus; cheering)

AMOS: Passenger Michael Skorrer(ph) wanted to be sure his son remembered.

Mr. MICHAEL SKORRER (Passenger): We thought we'd have a quick go in the last--almost the last of the open-back bus in London. It's really a historical moment when it goes.

AMOS: Father and son posed for pictures.

Mr. SKORRER: All right. We're jumping off here. Enjoy the rest of your journey.

AMOS: See, that's what Londoners will miss, jumping off, jumping on, a sense of freedom for generations of passengers. It was a rite of passage to navigate the running leap as the bus slowed down, then fishing in your pocket for the fare, handing it over to the conductor.

Are you the last one?

Mr. STEPHEN POUND (Member of Parliament): No, no, this is not the last one. The last one is just right behind.

AMOS: Stephen Pound, now a member of Parliament, once worked as a conductor, a job, he says, that made him a mobile social worker.

Mr. POUND: You sat there and you'd go--you spotted the runaways; you'd help the people with their shopping. You helped them on and off with the babies. I even used to light cigarettes for people on the upper deck in those days. Oh, oh, long-distant days.

AMOS: Concerns for safety doomed the Routemaster, replaced by more modern transport with safety features like a closing door. The new design has wheelchair access. The Routemaster was unpopular with the disabled, although Stephen Pound said they managed when he rode the route.

Mr. POUND: I mean, there was a guy with one leg who used to get my bus every morning at 6:22 at Southbury Road, and he used to--well, I was going to say he `hopped on'; that sounds a bit cruel, but he did, actually. It was no trouble at all.

AMOS: Trouble enough to phase out the open-platformed bus. The roving conductor has been replaced, too. Now passengers have to buy tickets before getting on. For Pound, it is the end of an era.

Mr. POUND: I've just hopped off. This could be the last time in my life that I will hop off a Routemaster, something I've been doing since about the age of five. Maybe it's a better world. Maybe it's a safer world. But I don't know, for me it's a sadder world. Sorry.

(Soundbite of crowd noise; kissing)

AMOS: One passenger even kissed the pole on the back platform one last time before he hopped off. Others simply said goodbye.

Unidentified Man: Goodbye. I'm very sorry to see you go. Another part of England disappearing.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yes.

Unidentified Woman #3: Yes.

AMOS: Deborah Amos, NPR News, London.

(Soundbite of bus)

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