Now that Boris is back, we really can expect up to 600 Wrightbus NBfLs. I wonder how many will have rear platforms.
All double decks once came with open rear platforms. It was the norm. They were designed as “back loaders” to distinguish them from the voguish half-cab innovation that latterly moved the service door from the rear to immediately behind the front axle & engine. Progressively, rear loaders acquired platform doors. These were under the control of a conductor who would usually have to slide open or shut the early two-leaf examples. Later, four leaf powered doors appeared at the rear. Few can now remember the discomfort associated with a totally open platform in cold weather and this was a good reason for the fitment of platform doors.
But there was a better reason.
It was common to find a “wait until the bus stops” sign on the open platform. This warned passengers that jumping off a moving bus was hazardous. It didn’t really stop them. Hopping on or off away from stops was a fact of urban life, as the rear platform was not constantly supervised. Though in touch with the platform through his upper deck mirror, the conductor couldn’t always be “on the back” (unless he never took fares).
This evocative picture, from the Wilts & Dorset Facebook pages, is of an open platform back loading Bristol LD Lodekka, taken in 1975. More businesslike than beautiful, at least the LD was slightly raked when compared with its upright FL/FLF/FS Lodekka successors. The usual Hants & Dorset visor over the cab windscreen adds a little local individuality. H&D operated both FS and FL back loaders (with rear platform doors) and its very last crew operated bus of all was a FL
The Leyland Atlantean brought with it the possibility of a driver rather than a conductor controlled service door. Here was a design with a platform ahead of the front axle. Even though platform staff conducted early Atlanteans—they had to be were crewed—operators felt that the driver rather than conductor controlling the front door was a Good Thing.
Progress was not reliant on the conductor’s observation and there could no longer be the prospect of passengers jumping off willy-nilly. But even when the service door was under the full control of the driver, the warning sign migrated forwards with the door. It was still possible, though now rare, for the driver to take off with the doors open. Few people could now hop on and off and, safety wise, that really was a Good Thing.
Even before our current heavy health & safety culture, the early industry recognised that it was not particularly conducive to good health to leap from a moving vehicle. Hence the warning signs and, increasingly from the late 1950s, those rear platform doors. At the time of the publication of the 1974 Health & Safety Act, there were still some back loaders left in service, some without rear platform doors. But even in the era of driver-only buses, still the warning signage remained. There was still a concern.
So why, then, is London falling back in love with the open platform? Convenient in queues it may be but the wider industry had recognised the problems associated with it almost ever since the first motor bus and long before our current beneficial/detrimental* (*delete as appropriate) obsession with health & safety.
In London, people are going to have to relearn how to jump off a moving bus again. If you must, you’ll need to try to match your speed with the bus’. Though certainly not risk free, this involves a little trot when you reach the pavement but remember to do so in the direction of travel. Leaving a moving bus in the reverse direction is somewhat counter to the laws of physics and you could pay the price with a fall.
NBfL picture c/o the Derby Bus Depot