Double-decker bus brings British charm to Lexington

Tim Hart and Robin Atwell are toying with ideas for their recent acquisitions — two double-decker buses.

The British-made vehicles — a 1955 Bristol Lodekka and a 1958 open-top Leyland Park Royal — make up the fleet of Hart and Atwell's new business venture called Commonwealth Doubledeckers.

The refurbished red and cream-colored Lodekka has already been out and about on Lexington streets for over a month now, taking groups to destinations like The Dame and Lynagh's. The open-top bus might be out by late summer.

"The open-top — it's mechanically fine, but cosmetically it needs some work," Atwell said. The couple and their friends have done some of the refurbishing work on the vehicles.

Hart and Atwell charge $200 per hour to rent out one of their buses. They have four drivers and are looking for more. The couple plan for the buses to be used within a 30-mile radius of Lexington.

Hart and Atwell envision the Lodekka being used for winery and distillery tours, weddings, birthdays — for just about any type of gathering.

"We're hoping people will want to do horse farm tours," Atwell said, noting that the interior of the Lodekka is configured so that 30 people can ride very comfortably.

"What we're really excited about is bringing people downtown," Atwell added.

The couple are thinking about using the open-top bus as a stationary eatery, with tables set up on the top deck. They've been talking with a food vendor, as well as with a couple of bands about using the top deck as a stage.

"It's very expensive to carry the liability insurance on it," Atwell said, explaining why that vehicle might not be on the road as much as the other.

"I love people's expressions," Atwell said while riding along downtown Lexington streets on the top deck of the Lodekka last week. The vehicle drew a lot of stares; some people were even inspired to photograph it.

"It's really pretty at night, too. When it's lit up and drives past, it's absolutely luminous," she said.

The vehicle has a new motor and can do about 45 to 50 mph.

"It'll go 55 maybe down a hill," Hart said.

Driver Manwell Benton said he was a little nervous driving the Lodekka at first. But he's had a lot of experience driving buses for the local school system and University of Kentucky. He got used to right-side driving — the Lodekka, like other British vehicles, has the driver's seat on the right side — when he operated a side-loader garbage truck.

"The more people you have on it, the better it rides," he said, adding that he couldn't wait to drive the open-top bus.

Both buses have interesting histories.

The open-top was in a museum in Augusta, Ga.

The Lodekka, which the couple purchased in Portland, Ind., came from a minister who had used it to haul children, Atwell said.

"The entire upstairs had stuffed animals everywhere," she said.

In the 1970s, the vehicle was owned by a Michigan radio station.

"They actually did radio broadcasts from it," Atwell said.