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This is why London buses are red

Posted by
Ben Scott
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It’s a question that may have forever plagued your mind. It’s also a question that you may never have cared about until now. Either way, you’re here reading so there’s some intrigue and suspense already built up.

London buses have always been red. At least, in our lifetime anyway. It’s a symbol of the UK capital akin to Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral or, more recently, the London Eye. As such, it has to be plastered across absolutely all tourist memorabilia - postcards, posters and even bedsheets. Just so you don't forget.

It wasn’t always this way. If you go back as far as 1907, when buses were pulled by horses and probably held far fewer numbers, bus colour depended on the company that owned them, with different businesses running different routes.

It was the London General Omnibus Company that first painted the town red, so to speak, by dousing their entire fleet in crimson, simply to stand out from the competition. That it did, with them quickly becoming the largest bus company and when London Transport formed in 1933, they too adopted the convention.

The shade of red exactly is Pantone 485 C, a colour you’ll recognise if you’ve ever eaten at McDonald’s or had a KitKat, for example. Buses nowadays aren’t entirely red though. If you’ve ever seen a London bus from above you’ll know the roof is painted white, reflecting sunlight and keeping heat down in the summer months days.

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That’s not to mention the sides or back being plastered with adverts, so the red is quickly shrinking. Let’s not forget the entire advert wraparounds that dramatically change the colour of the buses (a well known satellite TV company is currently running all white adverts on some buses, for example).

So learn when buses first became red for a probable pub quiz answer at some point in the future, but hold onto the holy red bus before it disappears entirely. Shake hands with a conductor or stop in the street and bow down to a bus as it chugs past.

Pay your respects to the almighty, all-red bus.