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Farewell to a London icon

It was in 1970 that leaders of London Transport declared: "By the end of the decade every bus will be operated by one man." It was expected to spell the end for conductors who looked after passengers.

But the Routemaster bus, confounded that prediction by remaining in service for a further 35 years, due in no small part to the popularity of those whose jobs were under threat. The last Routemaster, a No 159, made its final journey on a conventional route on December 9, 2005.

The open-platform, hop-on, hop-off double- decker had been a familiar feature in London since it came into service in 1954. Today, the only ones left run on two heritage routes in the city centre.

Its demise set a challenge for the union learning reps, who had to help redundant workers find new jobs. At Tottenham garage, courses were set up to help the 125 staff who needed retraining: the Routemaster ceased to operate on the No 73 route in September 2004. They went on to support conductors on the Nos 38 and 159 routes, when the last Routemasters finished late last year.

The College of North East London created a bespoke course based on letter and CV writing, interview practice and presentation skills, designed to help conductors find new work. They were also trained in job search and internet skills so they could use computers to find work.

Maurice Cullum, union convener at Arriva's nine north London garages, says some conductors were retrained as drivers or inspectors, but many were made redundant.

"Some of them going to the learning centre were using computers for the first time," he says. "We had people with no skills suddenly typing their first letters. It was good to see, and some of them have come back to the centre to continue their learning. On the strength of what they were shown, some even bought their own computers."

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