The idea of putting double-deckers on to the streets of Paris goes back to the 1980s.
It was the brainchild of a mathematician who was at that time living in England and working as a consultant for a large industrial group.
Abdallah El-Azm, who is now the CEO of Les Cars Rouges, had been living in London for twenty-six years. London and Paris, unlike most other European cities, had no local bye-laws that restricted the height of buses, and yet Paris had no double-deckers.
Mr El-Azm realised that Paris was therefore a potential market for double-decker tourism. At the beginning of the 90s, two companies shared about 80% of the market.
Their prices were quite high and they offered only "fixed" excursions ? the places visited, routes and timetables were fixed in advance; each bus merely transported one particular group of passengers. Paris was already top of the list of world tourist destinations and conference centres and, on average, about 400 tourist buses passed through the city each day ? rising to as many as 2,000 a day in high season.Although tourists favoured this means of transport more and more, the buses were becoming a real problem for Parisians because of the pollution and traffic problems they caused.
Les Cars Rouges brought a new concept. Theirs would be a regular bus line, operating every day of the year. Tickets - bought on the spot from the driver, with no need to book in advance ? would be valid for two days, and enabling passengers to get on or off at each stop. Passengers would have complete freedom as to where and how they did their sightseeing along the route Furthermore, the red double-deckers would use the bus lanes and not need to use parking spaces.
The idea seemed excellent, but the problem was where to acquire the double-decker buses. Abdallah El-Azm wanted second-hand vehicles, but there were none in France. London buses had the steering wheel on the ?wrong? side, and few other European cities had opted for this type of bus. In the end, the first buses were bought from Austria ? from the Viennese city authorities.
Les Cars Rouges were then authorised by the organisation overseeing Paris public transport to start up a regular bus service. This was a first ? up to then the RATP (the Parisian Transport Company) had had a monopoly in this field. So it was that, on 27th July 1991, Les Cars Rouges began a bus service with four diesel buses running on LPG.
Each had about 60 seats and a sliding roof on the upper floor, and had been entirely refitted to conform to French safety standards: for example, there had to be two stairways as well as a certain distance between each row of seats? They ran at hour intervals and, by September 1991, were carrying a daily average of 120 passengers.
This result was good enough to encourage Mr El-Azm to expand, and now the buses (one-hundred seaters) run every quarter of an hour and the number of passengers is increasing each year.
After 10 years of uninterrupted growth, Les Cars Rouges is in a very healthy financial situation, and employs nearly 70 people.