Open top buses in the United Kingdom

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Open top buses are used in the United Kingdom for sightseeing and seasonal summer services.


A 1921 AEC S-type Bus open top bus of London General

The first open top buses in the United Kingdom were regular double deck buses, but these were later replaced by buses with enclosed top decks.[clarification needed]

One of the first operators to provide open top buses for its seaside routes was Brighton, Hove & District in 1936.[1] While most operators rebuilt old vehicles for such services, Maidstone & District Motor Services purchased six new Leyland Tiran TD5s with open top bodies built by Weymann in 1939.[2] World War II saw an end to leisure services for a while, for example it was 1949 before open top services resumed at Southend-on-Sea.[3] As new buses became available for regular services more companies introduced new open top services using old buses with their roofs cut off, such as at the Bristol Omnibus Company at Weston-super-Mare in 1950[4] and Devon General at Torquay in 1955.[5]

Longer-established routes were by now using convertible buses. These were buses that had detachable roofs so they could be operated as open top during the summer but as conventional buses at other times. By 1951 Brighton was operating ten permanent open top buses and eight convertibles.[1] At Torquay nine Leyland Atlanteans with convertible Metro-Cammell bodies were placed into service in 1961. These were named after historic seafarers and known as 'Sea Dogs'.[6] Weston-super-Mare received four Bristol FSs with convetible Eastern Coach Works (ECW) bodies in 1961.[4]

The National Bus Company ordered a new generation of convertibles for most of its seaside fleets in 1978. These were Bristol VRTs with ECW bodies. Unlike older buses they did not need a conductor as the driver could collect fares and issue tickets. They were initially allocated to Devon General, Western National, Southdown and Hants & Dorset, although they were later spread across a larger number of operators. Bristol Omnibus kept its older crew-operated buses at Weston-super-Mare until 1982. Various second-hand buses had their roofs removed to replace them in 1982 but two years later six new Leyland Olympians with convertible Charles H. Roe bodywork were purchased as replacements.[6]

It was nearly twenty years before further open top buses came into production in the United Kingdom. In 1998 six Volvo B10Ms bodied by East Lancashire Coachbuilders for a city tour in Paris, France,[7] but new vehicles for British operators soon followed. These included Lothian Buses who received four permanent open top Alexander ALX300 bodies on Dennis Trident chassis in 2000[8] and Yellow Buses in Bournemouth who purchased three Volvo B7TLs with convertible East Lancashire Coachbuilders bodies.[9]

City tours started to become popular during the 1970s. London Transport purchased seven convertible Daimler Fleetlines from Bournemouth in October 1977 which were placed on a London sightseeing tour.[10] While some city tours were operated just a couple of times each day by one vehicle, the more popular cities saw intense competition, especially after bus services were deregulated in 1986. Badgerline in Bath was carrying up to 150,000 passengers annually[6] but rival tours have been operated by the Bath Bus Company since 1997[11] and Ryan’s Coaches 'City Tour' and Regency Tours offered further competition.[12]


In January 1986 London Transport revamped its sightseeing division and launched the Original London Transport Sightseeing Tour brand, to operate a fleet of 50 modified open and closed topped AEC Routemaster buses, on sightseeing tours of London.[13] In May 1992 London Coaches was privatised in a management buyout.[14] In December 1997, it was sold to Arriva and renamed The Original Tour.[15]

The other major London operators are The Big Bus Company that commenced in June 1991 and Golden Tours that commenced in 2012.


Stage carriage services[edit]

Cornwall route 300 bus at St Ives bus station which overlooks the beaches and harbour

Stage carriage services are operated to a published timetable. The operator's standard ticketing arrangements apply, including the use of day or season tickets if appropriate. Some of the services listed here also have some of the characteristics of the open top tours listed below, such as circular routes or publicity that describes the route for tourists. They would not normally carry guides or have recorded commentaries.

Some of the routes listed operate all year round, but not necessarily with open top buses. Some services have a mixture of open and closed buses. Many of the routes only operate during the warmer months of the year.

County Operator Route
Cornwall First South West 300300: PenzanceNewlynLand's EndSt JustSt IvesMarazion – Penzance[16] Penzance 38004 38006.jpg
Devon Stagecoach Devon 09595: Exmouth – Sandy Bay Exmouth Stagecoach 15328 J828HMC.jpg
Devon Dart Pleasure Craft 100100: PaigntonTotnes[17] Totnes Steamer Quay - Rail River Link 1 (UXV614S).jpg
Dorset Wilts & Dorset 05050 Purbeck Breezer: BournemouthPooleSwanage via Sandbanks chain ferry[18] Wilts & Dorset 1402 HF09 FVV 3.JPG
Dorset First Hampshire & Dorset 050501 WeymouthPortland Bill First Hampshire & Dorset bus 39971 (MOD 571P), 3 June 2010.jpg
East Sussex Brighton & Hove 07777: Brighton Pier – Devil's Dyke
78: Brighton Old Steine – Stanmer Park
79: Brighton Old Steine – Ditchling Beacon[19]
Brighton Queens Road - Brighton and Hove 618 (GX03STZ).JPG
Isle of Wight Southern Vectis Downs Breezer: RydeWootton railway station – The Downs – Ryde
Needles Breezer: YarmouthThe Needles
Sandown Bay Breezer: ShanklinSandown – Isle of Wight Zoo[20]
Southern Vectis half open top bus Island Breezers livery Volvo Olympian Northern Counties Palatine I in The Needles, Totland, Isle of Wight 21 March 2009.jpg
North Yorkshire East Yorkshire Motor Services 108108: Scarborough - Bowls Centre
109: Scarborough North Bay – Spa[21]
I'm going to Haven, Scarborough - - 807384.jpg
North Yorkshire Shorelineline Suncruisers 109109: Scarborough North Bay – South Bay[22] Shoreline Suncruisers bus (MOM 573P) 1976 Leyland Fleetline Park Royal, Scarborough, 20 August 2004.jpg
Somerset Crosville Motor Services 100100: Weston-super-Mare (Royal Sands) – Grand PierSand Bay[23] Weston-super-Mare Birkett Road - Crosville 500 (CRZ9319).jpg
Wales Arriva Buses Wales 0011: LlandudnoConwy Arriva Wales open top Bristol VR 3992 Llandudno.jpg
Wales First Cymru 0011: Swansea City CentreLimeslade Bay

Open top tour operators[edit]

City Sightseeing tour bus in Bath, Somerset, an Optare Visionaire with Volvo chassis operated by the Bath Bus Company (outside Bath Abbey, December 2010)

Nearly all major cities in the United Kingdom are served by tour bus services, most using open top buses. Other picturesque rural areas and monuments are also served by open top tours, such as Stonehenge and the New Forest.

Tour buses often charge a premium fare and carry either a tour guide or offer a recorded commentary. They are usually circular routes and generally offer a 'hop-on hop-off' ticket that allows multiple journeys during a specified period.

Companies who operate such tours include:

Private hire[edit]

An open top victory parade for Manchester City in May 2012
AEC Routemaster in promotional livery for Corona in July 2008

Open top buses are also often used in the UK for victory parades for sport teams, such as the Premier League champions, the England cricket team's victory in The Ashes.

Open top buses also see regular use as temporary viewing platforms at events such as the Epsom Derby or for promotional reasons. Private hire is sometimes employed for occasions such as weddings, using the large number of preserved vehicles in the UK.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Kraemer-Johnson, Glyn (2007). "Beside the seaside". Classic Bus (91): 24–31. 
  2. ^ Dryhurst, Michael (November 2000). "What were the UK's last permanent new open-toppers?". Buses. Ian Allan. 52 (548): 30. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  3. ^ Lidstone, John G. (August 1979). "Passengers Must Remain Seated". Buses. Ian Allan. 30 (293): 329–333. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  4. ^ a b Curtis, Martin S (August 1982). "The cream of the fleet". Buses. Ian Allan. 34 (329): 342–346. 
  5. ^ Morris, Colin (2006). Glory Days: Devon General. Hersham: Ian Allan Publishing. p. 65. ISBN 978-0-711031-28-9. 
  6. ^ a b c Curtis, Martin S. (1998). "Some Open-toppers I Have Known". In Brown, Stewart J. Buses Yearbook. Shepperton: Ian Allan. pp. 97–104. ISBN 0-7110-2527-4. 
  7. ^ "East Lancs builds open toppers". Buses. Ian Allan. 50 (516): 6. March 1998. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  8. ^ "Plaxton and Alexander merge to form TransBus International". Buses. Ian Allan. 52 (546): 6. September 2000. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  9. ^ Morris, Stephen (July 2002). "Yellow Buses: Just an old fashioned girl?". Buses. Ian Allan. 54 (568): 34–36. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  10. ^ Watts, G.W. (December 1977). "London Transport Vehicle News". Buses. Ian Allan. 28 (273): 518. 
  11. ^ Lidstone, John G. (August 1997). "Fleet News". Buses. Ian Allan. 49 (409): 40. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  12. ^ Blackman, Terry S. (March 1998). "Open-top Variety in Bath". Buses. Ian Allan. 50 (516): 32–33. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  13. ^ Blacker, Ken (2007). Routemaster Volume Two 1970-2005. Harrow Weald: Capital Transport. ISBN 978-185414-303-7. 
  14. ^ First sale Commercial Motor 21 May 1992
  15. ^ About The Original Tour
  16. ^ "Cornwall Explorer Service 300 Open Top Summer Service 22 April - 1 October 2011". First Devon and Cornwall. Retrieved 30 August 2011. 
  17. ^ "Buses". Dartmouth Steam Railway and River Boat Company. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  18. ^ "Our buses". Wilts and Dorset. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  19. ^ "Breeze up to the Downs!". Brighton & Hove. 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2011. 
  20. ^ "Tours Overview". Open Top Tours. Southern Vectis. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  21. ^ "Open Top Bus Services 108 & 109" (PDF). East Yorkshire Motor Services. 2011. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  22. ^ "Route 109". Shoreline Suncruisers. Retrieved 13 May 2011. 
  23. ^ "Crosville Motor Services News". Crosville Motor Services. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 

External links[edit]