A London bus in Phoenix — really?
Vintage double-deckers from Real London Bus liven up the party
By David Hubbard
The big, red double-decker coaches rolling through the streets of metropolitan Phoenix, AZ, are authentic London buses belonging to the Real London Bus Company. This enterprise is the brainchild of Jonathan Pring, a self-described “bloke” born and raised in England as a dual national. He came to Arizona in 2008 to attend Arizona State University (ASU).
With seating for 70 passengers, the buses carry group charters of every sort. These include fraternity and sorority parties, weddings, business outings, birthday gatherings, corporate events and sightseeing tours in the greater Phoenix area.
Catering heavily to ASU students, the company of party buses routinely offer group pub crawls to and from local bars in Tempe and Scottsdale. Proprietors are generally appreciative of the service that brings in chartered groups, knowing they are in safe hands while traveling from one establishment to another.
Noting the emphasis that Americans place on customer service, Pring says he makes an extra effort to remain flexible to accommodate a varied range of customers and provide plenty of personal touches.
Pring says he and his business partner got their inspiration the same way many collegiate entrepreneurs do — hanging out in bars near campus.
From their vantage point, they observed in almost every case that the local bars were full of imbibing patrons with cars awaiting them in the parking lot. Assuming 90 percent of the partying crowd would have to try driving home at some point in the evening, they saw it becoming a numbers game as to who could avoid arrest.
A bus service for these revelers was an obvious solution. Their decision to purchase a vintage London double-decker for the job was more ingenious.
“I was keen on bringing an original concept to the Phoenix area,” says Pring. “Sitting in the pub one evening, the idea to ship a double-decker bus just sprang to mind. Back in my school days in England, I rode a red double-decker to school every morning.”
Pring says the idea was basically a no-brainer, as U.S. laws only allow the importation of new vehicles or those 25 years and older.
“A new model coach would cost upwards of $1 million,” he says. “An older model bus was my only choice.”
He says buying a vintage English double-decker is not as difficult as it may seem. The hassle is in shipping.
Pring and his business partner purchased the bus in London and drove it to Liverpool, where it shipped to Los Angeles by way of the Panama Canal. The total cost of the initial vehicle tipped out at approximately $30,000, which did not include extensive repairs once the bus arrived stateside.
It took eight months before Pring could put his first real London bus in service.
“The economy was nose diving and a summer in Arizona lay ahead,” he says. “It was like being kicked while we were down.”
The decision was to either launch in March of 2008 and gain exposure or wait until October to avoid the slow hot summer month. They opted for the March launch.
“Summer went as expected, but we survived,” says Pring. “We did well to just cover our costs, but at least we were promoting our brand.”
He says the first two years were extremely difficult, compounded by a series of mechanical disasters. All appears well in 2013. Today the Real London Bus fleet stands at five Leyland Titans and Olympians. The oldest bus is a 1977 model, the newest a 1985 model. Pring says that although he can cross-match some components such as belts, hoses, fluids and filters, operating these older vehicles with all-British components requires a very long and intricate supply chain. BR