Politics are different in England. Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, is a former journalist and a Conservative with libertarian tendencies, an outrageous head of hair, a big mouth — and a love of bicycles and all things green. I know, we don’t know his like in America. London’s previous mayor was a Socialist known as Red Ken.

boris johnsonBoris Johnson: He backs public transit (and even rides a bike to work). (Photo: Back Boris 2012)

His own biographer, Sonia Purnell, described Johnson as “overweight and goosey-fleshed.” She said he’s “the antithesis of an airbrushed pin-up,” resembling instead a “human laundry basket” who “has a habit of forgetting to shower." He’s popular, and was re-elected in 2012.

In his first term (2008-2012), Johnson earned the ire of environmentalists by scaling back London’s progressive congestion charge, but he also drew praise for introducing “Boris Bikes,” an early entry in the public rental schemes that have proved popular around the world. He’s an avid biker himself. He also brought in cable cars, and diesel-electric hybrid New Routemaster buses (adding seats but reducing weight) for the central city. On the downside, he raised transit fares.

bike planLondon's ambitious 20-mile bicycle corridor plan is backed by Boris. (Photo: Transport for London)

In his latest moves, Johnson has put forth 20 miles of new, isolated-from-traffic bike paths (part of a $1.4 billion scheme to boost cycling in the city), and he’s plugging in the double-decker bus fleet.

Nothing shouts “London!” more than a red double-decker bus. The electric ones, though, are appropriately green. The first one of these Chinese-made units will be delivered in October, and will run on Route 16 between Cricklewood in the city’s northwestern corner and Victoria Station. At a recent clean bus summit in London, 24 cities promised they'd put 40,000 low-pollution buses on the road by 2020.

A fleet of eight one-story electric buses have been on south London streets since 2013. Here's a look at those on video:

And like New York (which had plug-in taxis in 1899), the city has an electrification history. The London Electrobus company (which disappeared in 1909), had as its peak in 1907 a fleet of 20 transporters that could travel 40 miles on a charge. The electrobus was popular with riders, but a massive fraud did it in — not to mention the coming age of the gas-powered vehicle.

electric buses in 1907London Electrobus ran 20 of these evocative chariots from 1907 to 1909 before the whole thing collapsed in a giant fraud. (Photo: London Transport Museum)

The fully electric buses will improve on what Johnson calls “the throbbing, belching machines that emit their fumes like wounded war elephants.” (Remember, he’s a former Fleet Street scribe.) The buses will also improve on the emissions profile of Johnson’s hybrids, and comply with the ultra-low emission zone that the city is planning for 2020.

Neighboring Paris is also cleaning up transportation exhaust, with a plan to remove pre-2011 dirty diesels from city streets by 2020.

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Boris plugs in London's double-deckers
Despite his Conservative credentials, London Mayor Boris Johnson is backing a major scheme to clean up the city's transportation, starting with its iconic buses