A bus and a coin

John Edgley, aircraft designer and engineer, recently described the UK to me as a “museum culture”, where old technology and culture are prized over the new. Nothing typifies this to me more than the Routemaster bus and the two pence coin. The routemaster (pronounced root-master) is the iconic old bus that you see in so many movies set in Britain. To many both in and out of the UK they are as much the face of London as the red phone box, and attempts to take them out of service have been met from so many quarters that they have been kept on way past their retirement age. The reality is that the very characteristics that make them so prized as a tourist icon make them a lousy bus. Sure they are picturesque but they are loud, cramped, stuffy, you can’t see out downstairs which causes motion sickness, and the open back that you can jump on and off so romantically is also extremely dangerous when your clothes snag and you are unromantically dragged 20 feet until your clothes rip and you promptly get hit by a taxi. Negotiating up the spiral staircase to the top level while the thing is moving guarantees a bashed knee or elbow, and there’s no space up there anyway. Let’s face it, as a piece of public transportation they suck, yet if you try to argue that you’ll have an mob on your hands.
The two-pence coin of Mary Poppins “feed the birds, tuppence a bag” fame is another example of a throwback. Back when one pence could actually buy something having a coin between 1 pence and 5 pence made perfect sense. The US had a 2 cent piece in the mid-late 1800s but discontinued it long ago as there wasn’t much demand. The British 2 pence piece however didn’t come into circulation until 1971! Brought in when the British system changed from the shilling system to the decimal system, so it was outdated from its very inception. They cost far more to produce than their actual value so they cost the taxpayer money and are big and chunky so they take up a disproportionate amount of space for the amount they are worth. Vending machines won’t take them for the most part either. They are a useless drain on the system and should be withdrawn from circulation, and they aren’t even historic, yet people act as if it’s part of the national character.
People in Britain are fairly resistant and distrustful of change, and rather than admit they just don’t like the idea of getting rid of old things they make up all sorts of excuses. I’ve had people give me the lame statement that getting rid of the routemaster and the two pence coin would impact tourism! Britain is a fantastic country steeped in history and culture and rightly has a tremendous draw to tourists, they won’t stop coming because of a bus and a coin. The routemaster and the two-pence coin are both outdated and make life more expensive for both locals and tourists alike, let’s get rid of them.

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