Wednesday 17th April 2019
One of London’s best bus routes started up again today for the summer season.
Route RP1 runs on Wednesdays from 17th April until the end of October. It runs outside the TfL regime and is completely free to ride thanks to the generous sponsorship of two anonymous (and wealthy) local residents who’ve stepped in to provide continued funding after the three year Lottery grant, that had been funding the route, ran out at the end of last year’s operation.
And there’s a brand new bus for this year’s operation. Provided by RAKAT (Richmond and Kingston Accessible Transport) it’s a smart and comfortable 16 seater Mercedes with room for wheelchairs and is used on their community and welfare transport work on other days.
The RP1 route comprises a full clockwise circuit around the ten mile internal perimeter road in Richmond Park with bus stops by each entrance/exit including two brief excursions to serve bus stops just outside the Park at Ham Village and Common and Roehampton’s Danebury Avenue. The route also includes a short diversion to Penn Ponds inside the Park as well as the accessible entrance to the Isabella Plantation with its magnificent collection of rhododendrons. There’s also a stop at Pembroke Lodge.
It takes just over an hour to do the full circuit. It’s the best hour’s bus ride you’ll ever have in London. I’ve travelled the route at least once each year for a few years now and always thoroughly enjoy the experience. Not least because Malcolm the regular driver makes it so special.
Malcolm has been involved in the Royal Parks’ educational trust for many years making sure youngsters get to know all about the amazing features and history of the Park. He’s in his element out and about on Wednesdays driving the bus and providing a fascinating running commentary during the journey not only about the many interesting features you pass by including the famous deer and wildlife but also many historical anecdotes and facts. For example the magnificent tree pictured below is the oldest (circa 800-900 years) in the Park.
Every year Malcolm tells me he’s going to retire, but every year to my and other regular passengers delight he’s back for another season, as he was today and on top form too.
Whether it be putting out promotional ‘A frames’ at bus stops in Ham ….
…. making sure timetables are in place at bus stops all round the circuit ….
….. or delivering supplies of the timetable leaflet to any location that will take them.
Malcolm also displays remarkable patience with everyone boarding and alighting including those needing a helping hand and being besieged by families wanting to take a ride into the Park for a school holiday picnic as happened on the second journey this morning.
It was also hugely impressive to see TfL come up trumps and inserted this year’s RP1 timetable in the cases at stops in Ham Village and Ham Common so connections with routes 371 and 65 can be promoted.
Malcolm was visibly chuffed to see his hard work supported by TfL as was I.
I took a ride on route 430 from right outside Putney station to its terminus in Danebury Avenue from where it’s a short walk to where the RP1 stops on the western side of the ‘cycle only’ barrier which prevents through traffic.
There’s a wonderful timetable display here; probably London’s best.
Malcolm appeared a few minutes before the first journey’s scheduled departure time of 0940 and another regular passenger (who’d come for the full circuit) and I boarded. We were soon chatting away with Malcolm and were joined by another passenger as we got underway on the circuit picking up two more at Ham Common just outside the Park.
Without access to a car and if you don’t cycle (hundreds do cycle around the Park for pleasure) it’s a long old walk to see the delights the Park has to offer so the RP1 is a real godsend.
We dropped one passenger off at the Isabella Plantation and another at Pembroke Lodge where we picked up a family of four who were travelling round to Robin Hood gate as well as another passenger boarding for the circuit.
We were lucky to see many of the Park’s deer population today basking in the sunshine including a group of red deer crossing in front of us near Sheen Gate.
Back at journey’s end at Danebury Avenue the regular passenger and I alighted and left Malcolm to deal with those families off for a picnic.
I can’t recommend a ride on the RP1 highly enough. Malcolm is training up another driver to stand in for him on some weeks as well as ensuring he can have a well earned summer holiday this year, but if you do get to ride with Malcolm you’re in for a treat.
After that ride I headed over to Hoxton in Islington for a ride on London’s other quirky minibus operated bus route; the long standing 812 which meanders around Islington’s residential roads providing links to the Angel, Clerkenwell and Old Street areas which compliment TfL’s traditional red bus routes.
Ironically although the route runs in Islington, it’s operated by HCT Group which has its origins as Hackney Community Transport based in the neighbouring Borough of Hackney but which has grown hugely over the last decade and now has transport interests in many areas of the country.
HCT is a social enterprise which reinvests profits from its contract operations (including a growing number of TfL bus routes in London) into non-profit community operations including the 812.
HCT’s London operations are now run by a company called CT Plus and the 812 has regular drivers employed by CT Plus who are very attentive to passenger needs and provide extra help as needed.
The service provides a circuitous route as can be seen by the green roads on Mike Harris’s excellent London bus map below. Concessionary (‘Freedom’) passes are valid and other passengers pay a nominal £1 flat fare per journey.
The timetable has recently changed with an earlier start at 0914 although this journey starts at Skinner Street’s Exmouth Market rather than the terminus at Hoxton where the first departure is a bit later at 0930. The first two round trips also now have an extended 66 minutes running time to cope with traffic delays but from 1050 the schedule settles down to a half hourly frequency with a fairly tight 57 minutes running time.
I arrived at Hoxton just before the 1220 scheduled departure this morning and the smart minibus was already waiting nearby the terminus at Bridport Place; the usual bus stand being blocked by a short turning route 21.
We headed off bang on time with one other passenger who mysteriously also travelled all the way around the circuit. Only one other passenger boarded, and she was obviously hugely grateful for not only the service but the extra help provided by our driver as she boarded with her wheelie walking aid.
Two buses are needed to run the service and London’s new ULEZ has meant CT Plus have redeployed minibuses from special needs transport work on to the 812 with a refreshed branding and livery.
The 14 seat (with room for wheelchairs) Volkswagen minibuses perform well in Islington’s stop-start traffic and provided a very comfortable ride.
If you’re in the Clerkenwell, Angel and Hoxton area and have a spare hour during Monday to Friday daytimes outside the peaks it’s worth giving the 812 a ride and see the result of a community transport initiative funded by profits from the big bus routes operated by CT Plus for TfL.
An interesting financial model for hard-to-fund routes of this kind.
My final foray on London’s non red bus routes was last week after my trip on the Tuesday only 969. Kingston University has been running its bespoke network of bus routes for some years and at the end of 2016 splashed out on a fleet of smart new Wright bodied hybrid buses. Actually it’s RATP-DEV who’ve invested in the buses as they operate the contract to provide the Uni routes alongside their London United bus company which runs an extensive number of contracted routes for TfL in this part of south west London.
The three routes KU1, KU2 and KU3 are free to use and aimed at students and staff at the University, but there’s nothing to stop any member of the public hopping aboard (“there is no need to show your University ID”) if the bus is going your way; which it might well do if you travel to and from Kingston town centre from the various University campus sites in Roehampton Vale, Kingston Hill and Penrhyn Road or near the University residential complexes at Seething Wells, Clayhill and Fairfield South.
The main inter-site route is the KU1 which runs every 15 minutes (12 minutes in the peaks) from Seething Wells via Kingston town centre to Roehampton. It diverts into the Kingston Hill campus along a magnificent tree lined access road, which is worth a ride just for the majestic splendour of the tallest trees I’ve ever seen on a bus route!
The half hourly KU2 is a circular route linking the Halls of Residence at Fairfield and Clayhill with the Penrhyn Road Campus and Surbiton Station, while KU3 is a Monday to Friday four journey per evening amalgam of the KU1 and KU2.
The buses are smart and very comfortable to travel in. Heart FM was playing on one ride I took. Unlike many bus routes the average age of passengers is probably around 20. I felt forty years younger after my travels so it was definitely worth a ride … but make sure you know the University’s term dates as there’s no service during holidays.