You are in the Special Features section - London Classic Bus Hire

London Classic Bus Hire





London Classic Bus Hire - specialise in the old fashioned London Routemasters - an iconic symbol of the best of London

Here Digger talks to Jason at London Classic Bus Hire. Jason always had a passion for vintage buses, dabbled with them throughout his youth in one form or another and this eventually, probably inevitably, turned into a business.

Today London Classic Bus Hire has a fleet of buses and coaches offering all manner of services, tours and packages and is in demand for corporate events, weddings, parties and film and TV work.





Digger: Hello Jason.
Jason: Hello Digger.

Digger: How are you?
Jason: Not bad. Not bad.

Digger: Are you having a nice relaxing Sunday?
Jason: Nice and quiet.

Digger: I was watching the Social Network DVD last night and now I'm racking my brains how to come up with an Internet idea that will make me a billionaire. The guy who started up Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg was a nerd. Now he's a rich nerd.
Jason: He was, wasn't he?

Digger: But he also seemed to stitch up a few people on the way up according to the film and I didn't understand why he would do that. There was one friend of his and co-founder who had 30% of the company and ended-up only owning .03% because of some small print he didn't read in some contacts. I don't know why he was excluded like that. There were also two other guys who (allegedly) came up with the same idea at the same time and invited Zuckerberg to work with them and then Zuckerberg went off on his own. He's worth billions now and they only got 'a few million'!
Jason: How about that! He gazumped them all.

Digger: Isn't it strange watching something that's historical on film when it's only a few years ago that people hadn't heard of Facebook?
Jason: Very weird. Makes you realise how quickly things are changing.

Digger: Jason, please tell us a little bit about your background and the background to the London Classic Bus Hire business.
Jason: I got into running buses quite by accident.

Digger: What were you into before?
Jason: I used to sell a few cars. The bus thing came about because when I was at school I had this fascination with the look and design of buses. Where I lived, in Gravesend in Kent, we used to go to school on Maidstone and District buses, which in those days were run by the National Bus Company.

Digger: We had Eastern National where I was in Essex at the time.
Jason: Yes, and I always thought they looked really good in the livery.

Digger: They did. They had a look about them.
Jason: When these buses used to take us to school it was public service buses.

Digger: Were you smoking on top? I know I was as a school kid, unfortunately!
Jason: My chums were on the back seat smoking, but because of my love of buses I used to stop them writing graffiti on the bus. I wasn't cool.

Digger: Oh I see!
Jason: "Don't do that, it's not a good thing to do. It's silly and immature" I'd say!

Digger: (Laughs) As they held you down and beat you up?
Jason: Yes.

Digger: There's a theory about when people are twelve years old and whatever they're doing then is what they want to do when they're grown up.
Jason: Yes, well I was very into buses at that age so it's true in my case. I always wanted to drive a bus. With some of the drivers, because the gearboxes were semi-automatic, I used to stand there and talk to the drivers and then go out in the evenings riding around on them. They used to let me change the gears!

Digger: This was in the days of On The Buses on telly?
Jason: Yes. Great TV and great movies too. And those were great days. I used to photograph the buses and they used to come out really good. I thought "Wow!" When some of the buses were due for a paint job, they'd get a bit tatty and be sent away to be painted up at Postley Works in Maidstone and these made them look brand new again. I used to get my camera out and I couldn't believe how good they looked again.

Digger: Did they replace the upholstery as well?
Jason: Yes, inside and out. It was brilliant. Then I used to travel all around Kent on the buses, down to Hastings and places like that.

Digger: Were there any other like-minded people around?
Jason: There were, but none of my friends were really interested in them like myself. And I was out there on my own doing my own thing really. I went to bus rallies. My first one was with one of the drivers who used to take me to school and it's really strange because years later he came to work for me and drives for me. He was know as "Prangit" because he always used to prang all the buses. His real name was Pritchett. 

Digger: I suppose it's a bit like Trigger's broom, isn't it? Nothing's going to be original on these buses because everything's replaced every once in a while?
Jason: That's right. So I went with this driver because I knew he was an enthusiast as well and this was back in 1978 or 1980 and the first one we went to was at Southend. He picked me up and I knew he was a really serious bus fanatic when he picked me up in a Sherpa van but in the back he had all bus seats in there! And so they were good days.

Digger: How did you make the transfer from cars to buses in business terms?
Jason: I was selling cars that had been stolen and then found by the authorities in good condition, but after the insurance company had already settled with the owners of the stolen car. Then, one day, I was going down the A13 and I saw this green bus and I noticed a number at the top of it. I remembered that the Maidstone and District buses used to have fleet numbers on top so that they could be identified from on high. This was about 1998 on the flyover. And so I turned round. And it was one the buses that used to take us to school. All the drivers loved this particular bus because it was the fastest bus in the garage and everyone used to talk about it. They always wished they'd get that one for their route. So it was quite affectionately known by them all and by me. And years later I became a driver at the depot, when I turned 21, and it was still the favourite. I used to drive it as much as I could. Times moved on and so did I to do other things. But that day I saw it in this second hand bus dealer's place and he turned out to be a good friend of mine. I saw it and said "I've got to have that bus, that's the bus I used to go to school on. " They were going to scrap it because the gears had gone. So I brought it back to life and my old friend who sold me it said "You know what? If you get an O licence you can operate that bus as a service. So I did and then I bought a few ex-London Routemaster buses. It's been quite fun in the process, Digger.

Digger: What packages do you offer Jason?
Jason: We do coach travel using ex-National Express coaches for trips to the Science Museum for schoolkids and things like that. And we do the old-fashioned buses for corporate events, all in their original London colours.

Digger: How many vintage buses have you got?
Jason: I've got four of the Routemasters and the rest are made up of school buses, coaches and a few public service buses which we operate in and out of Bluewater.

Digger: Proper scheduled services?
Jason: Proper scheduled services. So we do a bit of everything.

Digger: Corporates, parties, weddings. Are you doing much TV work?
Jason: Plenty of that, yes. I drove the bus in Shaun of the Dead. Boris Johnson and the Prime Minister - that was my bus for their campaign. I've lost count of the TV work we've done, really, but you'll often see our buses in the background on nostalgic and period productions.

Digger: What sort of feedback have you had from clients?
Jason: With the old vintage Routemaster buses we get people coming back again and again for the corporate hire. They love it really and we do a lot of weddings and get quite recommended by friends and family.

Digger: So what happens? They get married, come out of the church and then are whisked away in the bus?
Jason: Well, mostly they lay the bus on for their guests - you get a few people having the bus to themselves.

Digger: Are they allowed to eat and drink on the bus?
Jason: Yes, champagne and so on are fine so long as it's plastic flutes and glasses.

Digger: Do you remember The Avengers Jason?
Jason: Yes I do.

Digger: You'll remember when Mother was in charge in the final series and we'd see him arrive for a rendezvous in a customised bus? They'd hail the bus and go upstairs and all the seats were gone and it was like a room.
Jason: Yes. I haven't seen that one for years. I'll have to dig that out. I love all that stuff.

Digger: It's in our blood, really, isn't it Jason? We're retro by nature.
Jason: Yes, I like watching The Saint on TV.

Digger: The colour ones?
Jason: Yes.

Digger: If you watch the series you'll notice that the streets they used were all very similar whether it was Brussels or Buenos Aires. It was all the back lot at Elstree.
Jason: It was always that grey little street set!

Digger: Sometimes the cars weren't even driving on the European side of the road!

Jason: Wonderful TV!
Digger: How are you managing to keep these classic buses on the road?
Jason: The older ones, like the Routemasters, are pretty good because they don't go out a lot compared to the other stuff which are out all of the time. A lot of your money goes on maintenance and it takes up a lot of your expenses.

Digger: Do you know how many Routemasters there are left in the country now?
Jason: There's quite a few but when they got rid of them from London a few years ago my friend, who I bought the Maidstone bus from, was the main contractor for them all. And he had the idea that 80% of them would go abroad - that's quite a lot. I'm kind of glad about it in a way because it means that it stops every Tom, Dick and Harry from setting up for weddings.

Digger: I think in a way it might even help preserve them because if they go to warmer climates...
Jason: Yes.

Digger: I was talking to two of my clients the other day about vintage guitars and also vintage vinyl. They both said that although a lot of our heritage is leaving the country and going to eastern Europe they are not that concerned because these things have a habit of coming back home eventually. And because the world's so small these days, because of The Internet and global travel, things will move around.
Jason: They do and I don't like seeing these things on the scrap heap anyway which would be the alternative. The other day I saw a lorry with about ten phone boxes on it where they were taking them out and I thought "Why are they STILL taking these classic red phone boxes out that are so much a part of our history and landscape?" It's a big mistake.

Digger: These days they probably know how much they're worth and are trying to sell them at a huge profit.
Jason: Yes, I've seen sites selling them. One guy said he could sell me one for 500.

Digger: That could be turned into 3,000 if you wanted to renovate it.
Jason: The fully restored ones? That's right. But the problem with these telephone boxes is, and I wanted to put one in my garden, but to do that I needed to hire a crane in to lift it over the house.

Digger: I know. And they also have very deep footings because of the weight. You have to dig a big hole to put them or the old post boxes in.
Jason: Really? There's a lot of aggravation involved. They've ripped out the old phone boxes in Rochester, which is a pretty and very traditional town down here. I was very angry when I saw that. They've replaced them with modern-looking things and I thought "That really does go with the character of the High Street."

Digger: Hopefully they'll see the error of their ways.
Jason: These new phone boxes are horrible, aren't they?

Digger: They took them out in The City and the West End and then back-pedalled and replaced them with 'originals' again because the tourists expected to see them. Somebody makes these stupid decisions.
Jason: They replaced them with dark green ones that look like the originals but they're a much cheaper make and don't look so good.

Digger: I suppose everything has its day and you could say that even the original phone boxes are only eighty years old and a relatively recent introduction. Before that we didn't have them in our towns and villages and they weren't a part of the skyline.
Jason: But when these things disappear you realise how good they used to look and how traditional they were.

Digger: What do you enjoy most about what you are doing?
Jason: I like getting out and driving.

Digger: It's the big boy's toy, really?
Jason: Exactly, yes. The thing about it is if I do a school trip and take them up to London I can have a day in London and about four hours to myself walking around and looking at things and even going in the museums. They're all free these days. And it's really good, so I'd rather do that than be in the office any day to be honest.

Digger: How difficult is it driving a big bus in today's city traffic?
Jason: Not so bad if you go certain ways into London. Where we are you can go via Peckham and Camberwell to London or you can go down the Old Kent Road up to London. I always use the latter because there's a bus lane from New Cross which goes all the way upto Westminster.

Digger: And people do give you a bit of slack as well?
Jason: They do, but the bus lane really helps. On the other route there's no bus lanes so you're sitting in big traffic that way. I don't think the congestion charge has made any difference and it's all gone back to normal.

Digger: Of course it has. They're talking about changing the cost of lager from 25p a can to 1 and that won't stop people drinking either.
Jason: No, it won't. It makes you wonder what their real true motives for doing these things are because my friend was telling me that in Oxford they've done away with speed cameras. They originally said it was for safety but they're now saying they're doing away with them because they don't pay. Well, you make your mind up! Is it for safety? In which case it isn't expected to pay in the first place.

Digger: You're right. They call them safety cameras don't they?



Jason: You don't then take them away. They've been caught out.

Digger: Why do you think these classic buses are so strongly in people's minds and are so popular?
Jason: There was a big thing on TV about standing them down and that generated a lot of interest. People getting married wanted to use the buses rather than a coach and three - in other words it was a lot of free advertising and it obviously put the idea in a lot of people's heads. And you see a lot of these wedding buses going around London now and other people see them when they're driving around. If I'm out on a wedding run I always try to put our phone number up on the bus and I get calls from people asking for bus hire.

Digger: You notice the advertising working?
Jason: Oh yes.

Digger: So you put the contact number on the bus...
Jason: What I tend to do is put Wedding Special on the bus and still have my phone number seen somewhere else on the bus and then people call up and they obviously really like the thought of it.

Digger: What sort of impact is The Internet having on the business?
Jason: It's ALL Internet now. To be honest, I don't even bother to advertise anywhere else. The business directory people come in and they think they can still charge like they did fifteen years ago. But I said to them that I monitor a lot of the calls I get and ask them where they got the number and every time it's through The Net. It's nothing to do with the old-fashioned business directories these days and the only people I suspect still use those are elderly people who don't know how to use computers.

Digger: And they might not be thinking about vintage buses anyway.
Jason: That's right. So I don't bother advertising offline anymore.

Digger: I tried a few offline things - sponsoring an event and ads in magazines, but I found the best way was online. Apart from a small ad in Private Eye which was very good value and which generated some business for me. I think the reason is that the demographic of that mag is right, people of a certain age with certain interests and also they will tend to read the whole magazine from cover to cover. I'd recommend it for an ad with a special offer for their readers.
Jason: I'll give it a go. Private Eye's very funny. I was watching a bit of Beyond The Fringe the other night. It was quite hilarious.

Digger: What sketch?
Jason: It was the one where he was hopping on one leg.

Digger: Oh yes, I know, Cook was auditioning Dudley Moore for the role of Tarzan and Dudley only has one leg. Peter Cook says to Dud "I've got nothing against your right leg. Unfortunately, neither have you." (Both laugh) Final question then Jason. What are your plans for the future?
Jason: I want it to really carry on like it is. It's manageable at the moment and that's how I'd like it to go forward. I'm quite happy doing what I'm doing as I am.

Digger: Well you sound very contented.
Jason: The early mornings get on my nerves sometimes. Tomorrow I'll be getting up at about six because one of our drivers has reported in sick.  I'm going on  a school bus route. I don't particularly like that but generally I'm very happy with the way the business is going and want it to continue at that level.

Digger: You're keeping your hand in. Isn't it good that you're doing what you like? And long may it continue. If it carries on like this you'll be more than happy
Jason: Yes, that's it in a nutshell Digger.

Digger: Like me, you're doing what you like to do and making a reasonable living from it.
Jason: And you're good at what you do as well.

Digger: Well, thank you. That's very kind....still, in the back of my mind I want to be an Internet billionaire. (Jason laughs) So let me know if you have any ideas and we can share the spoils!
Jason: There's opportunities out there still.

Digger: Yes. The thing is 99.9% of people won't have an idea or try an idea because they stay within the world they know and they don't bother. They'll do the lottery and hope. That means that there's a relatively small number of people who will try something new. That means that with the old adage of 90% perspiration, 10% inspiration then something might eventually work. It's got more chance than if you don't bother, that's for sure.
Jason: It's all about determination.

Digger: One day the light bulb will come on, I'll come up with that idea and I'll let you know. I'll put you in on a percentage! (Both laugh)
Jason: Thanks. I look forward to that.





London Classic Bus Hire


London Classic Bus Hire is a division of Redroute buses that specialise in the old fashioned London Routemasters.

The Routemaster will always be London's classic bus. Like a red phone box or a black cab, the red Routemaster bus is an iconic symbol of the best of London.

Our Routemaster buses are available for any length of time, from a quick trip from church to reception or an all night do.

Short or long journeys, for parties of two to seventy two! The maximum number of seated passengers is 72 per bus, should you have more people in your group why not order an open top bus as well.

Our Routemasters are ideal for any occasion including weddings, celebrations, TV and film hire, events, promotions and sightseeing tours.

London Classic Bus Hire Company
Granby Coach Works
Grove Road
Gravesend, Kent DA11 9AX

Freephone 0800 2346 842
Fax 01474 358475
Mob 07788901461





This page layout and content  is the intellectual property of and cannot be reproduced without express permission. 

We are not responsible for the content of external websites.

If we have inadvertently used any image on this web site which is in copyright and for which we, or our retailers on our behalf, do not have permission for use, please contact us so that we can rectify the situation immediately. Images in this article are, to the best of our knowledge, either in the public domain or copyrighted where indicated. 

Home Page | About | Contact | Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy