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 speed theatrical trailer-numbers on roofs of buses-untapped cities-cities 101Runaway bus scene from the 1994 movie Speed. What are those numbers for? (Screenshot from Speed trailer, 20th Century Fox)

In the movie Speed (1994), Keanu Reaves parades through Los Angeles on a public bus rigged with a bomb. In the ensuing police chase, the bus’ rooftop decal showed the numbers 2525, making it easy for helicopter crews to track from above and inform ground police forces. This is one important, albeit uncommon, use for the rooftop numbers on the buses. Away from the silver screen, the numbers are a much more practical necessity for the everyday transit worker. Still, not all buses carry the numbers on top. Here we’ve tried to get to the bottom (or top?) of this.

Buses aren’t the only vehicles to have these aerial roof markings for this purpose. Many delivery trucks, taxis, and even police cars carry markings to identify them from above.

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For the most part, there aren’t many high speed bus chases these days in NYC or other big cities. As we found out in our previous post about where a city’s “wheels” go at night, city buses are packed cozy and tight in bus depots when not in use. From an overhead vantage point, for example a depot building, a bus driver can easily discern which vehicle to use, and the best way to access it. The numbers are used for transit workers to keep them all in some type of order when parked in the depot.

But wait, check out that rogue bus in the above photo that is unmarked! This time, we’re stumped. We couldn’t seem to find an explanation for the number-less buses. Feel free to get in contact with us if you’ve got an educated guess!

Until next time, learn more about how a city works by perusing all the interesting topics in our Cities 101 column. Get in touch with the author @uptownvoice.

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