Beginning of the end for the bus that became a symbol of London

In the shivering small hours of yesterday morning, outside a bleak Victorian bus garage in an unfashionable part of south London, last rites were said for one of the greatest design icons of the 20th century. It was aged 51.

In the shivering small hours of yesterday morning, outside a bleak Victorian bus garage in an unfashionable part of south London, last rites were said for one of the greatest design icons of the 20th century. It was aged 51.

The final day of the Routemaster on the No 36 route from Queens Park to New Cross via Park Lane and Paddington marked the beginning of what will be a protracted funeral for the world famous open-platform buses, as much an international symbol of London as Buckingham Palace and Tower Bridge.

This autumn is expected to see the end of the road for both the Routemaster and that famous British character, the bus conductor, because Mayor Ken Livingstone wants the capital's 7,000-strong bus fleet to be fully accessible in advance of new European disability laws. Although many of the cuddly and curvaceous buses, designed specially for the capital in the early 1950s, are still serviceable, huge inroads have been made into the numbers of the last survivors by the widely reviled articulated "bendy" buses.

After the crowd of enthusiasts and nostalgic Londoners outside New Cross Gate garage dispersed after seeing in RM9 on the 1.04am arrival from Queens Park, only five routes and 170 Routemasters remain. Baffled tourists have been left wondering why it is no longer possible to see a Routemaster outside, say, the Bank of England or St Paul's. But if you hurry along, you will still be able to ride on a No 159 past the Houses of Parliament.

In response to a barrage of protest, Mayor Livingstone has hinted that Routemasters may survive on a single "heritage" route, but this has so far failed to materialise. But you could always buy your own, with plenty of secondhand examples on the market. One dealer, the Ensign Bus Company of Essex, has sold 150 in the past four months and is planning to sell 400 by the autumn.

The cheapest can be had for £2,000, while a decent runner will cost £10,000. Andrew Lloyd Webber bought one as a present for fellow impresario Cameron Mackintosh - though you may need to be a millionaire to have a garage big enough to keep it in.

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