Old London double-decker added to Victoria's tourist bus fleet

Gray Line Sightseeing Victoria is leaning heavily on the past to ensure a healthy bottom line for the future.

The company, a division of Wilson’s Transportation, has added what is believed to be the oldest bus in the country to its fleet of double-decker tour buses.

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Routemaster 113, built in 1959 and used in the streets of London, England is the eighth double decker in the Wilson’s fleet. But this bus has an appeal all its own, said driver John Roberts.

“People are very fond of it, all ages,” said Roberts. “The young ones associate it with Harry Potter as it’s [similar to] the design of the bus in the films, and older people recall riding these in London.”

The first Routemasters were built in 1954 by Associated Equipment Company which went into mass production of them in 1958. Production continued until 1968 and the buses were used heavily in London until they were withdrawn from service in 2005.

Roberts, 73, recalls the days of jumping onto the open rear platform on one of the 2,876 Routemasters built between 1956 and 1968.

“As far as we know this is the oldest one in Canada,” said Roberts who is clearly proud of what he calls an iconic vehicle. It can carry 64 passengers — 34 on its open upper deck — and was designed by the same people who designed the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft in the Second World War.

“You can tell — it’s full of curves, it looks like an aircraft. But it’s strange as the bus was only doing 30 miles per hour max in London, why make it aerodynamic?”

The bus is being used for Gray Line’s hop-on-hop-off narrated sightseeing tours.

John Varga, the company’s sightseeing manager, said the addition of the bus last month corresponded with a jump in ridership.

“We are very pleased with this one. We can’t keep people off them,” he said. “It really attracts people, it’s been amazing — more than all of them.”

Varga said staging the buses in front of the Fairmont Empress Hotel and changing marketing to emphasize the vintage nature of the buses has been key to strong numbers so far this year.

“The appeal is these old English double-deckers,” he said. “We are past projections. It has been a consistent summer and these things have been running consistently full.”

According to data compiled by Chemistry Consulting, Victoria’s tourism numbers reflect Gray Line’s positive experience so far this year.

Through the first six months of the year, hotel occupancy is up just over one per cent and revenue per available room is up $4.88 to $76.72 compared with the same period last year.

Airport traffic was also up over the same period with a 5.5 per cent increase in the number of passengers through the gates at Victoria International Airport.

Ferry vehicle traffic was down slightly, but passenger traffic was up 0.36 per cent.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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