Friday 11th October 2019
TfL’s next round of reductions to bus routes servIng central London begins tomorrow. This one is much less extensive than in June, involving changes to just a handful of routes, most significant of which is the complete withdrawal of route 48 between London Bridge and Walthamstow Central station.
Introduced as part of the big ‘reshaping’ change in September 1968, route 48 replaced parts of long standing routes 35 and 38A in the shake up to coincide with the opening of the Victoria Line. Now, just over fifty years later, route 48’s time is up and the nineteen buses it takes to run its ten minute frequency (12 minutely on Sundays) will be saved from the schedule; except it’s not a complete saving as there’ll be compensatory increases in vehicles needed for a short extension of route 388 from Liverpool Street down to London Bridge and, at the northern end, route 55 gets extended from Leyton Green up to Walthamstow Central while route 26 which parallels the 48 between Liverpool Street and South Hackney goes from every ten minutes to every seven-and-a-half minutes throughout its route between Waterloo and Hackney Wick.
I took a ride on route 48 yesterday for one last nostalgic time to see what the implications of all these short extensions and alternative parallel running might be.
Notices letting everyone know about the 48’s demise are stuck to the bus shelters in London Bridge and all reference to the 48 has been removed from the bus stop flag and timetable case. The notices explain the options of catching a newly extended 388 as far as Hackney, but as that routes uses Bethnal Green Road instead of Hackney Road between Shoreditch and Cambridge Heath, the suggestion is to hop off a 388 (or 149) and on to a 26 at Bishopgate (late correction on the notice by the look of it too!).
Route 55 is the main alternative for the 48 once you hit the junction of Old Street and Shoreditch High Street as it parallels the 48 all the way to Leyton and as mentioned above will now continue on to Walthamstow Central.
Whereas the 55 runs every 7-8 minutes, the 388 is only every 12 minutes so passengers heading into and out of London Bridge face a reduction of one bus per hour compared to now, and ironically on my off-peak journey yesterday morning, that was the busiest part of the route as we took passengers towards Monument, Fenchurch Street, Liverpool Street and Shoreditch.
I noticed the bus stop route number tile removal contractors had already been along the route taking any reference to the 48 down and shuffling all the other tiles neatly along and up so the blank appears in the bottom right, but as always they left a few random bus stops untouched which I’m sure they do deliberately just to create anomalies and wind people like me up.
There were already two New Routemaster buses screened for route 48 laying over at London Bridge when I arrived at about 10:20 yesterday morning and my bus pulled forward to the bus stop after another five minutes with twelve of us getting on board for the 10:27 departure.
I bagged the upstairs nearside front seat, with the offside seat already occupied by someone even more fanatical than me who was obviously going to miss the 48 so much he was videoing the whole journey for prosperity on his mobile phone through the front upper deck window; so that made at least two of us, as well as the driver, making the full journey through to Walthamstow Central.
The first stop at the southern end of London Bridge saw us pick up about another ten passengers making for around twenty or so on board. Heading north along Gracechurch Street towards Liverpool Street station and Shoreditch at a sedate pace it was soon evident we were going to have ample time in the schedule to complete our journey.
We passed Liverpool Street at 10:39 arriving at Shoreditch Church at 10:44 which turned out to be six minutes ahead of our scheduled 10:50 departure. But it’s all about headway in London rather than strict adherence to a scheduled timetable, so we pressed on with no word from the controller to check our timings. We probably now only had about ten or a dozen on board as we continued north along Shoreditch High Street before turning east on to Hackney Road where we joined parallel route 55 (as well as the 26 which had been with us since before Liverpool Street) and pass close to Hoxton Station on the Overground East London line to Highbury & Islington.
Hackney Road brings us to Cambridge Heath station where our trajectory changes from heading east to due north again as we parallel another Overground line towards Enfield, Cheshunt and Chingford.
A bus on route 55 overtakes as we stop to pick up a passenger and I was expecting we’d shadow each other for the rest of the journey except when we arrive at Hackney Town Hall at 11:00 the inevitable “the driver has been instructed to wait at this bus stop for a short time to help even out the service” announcement comes over the PA.
‘A short time’ turns out to be four minutes and as we reach Hackney Central Station a minute further on at 11:05 I notice we’re still four minutes ahead of the scheduled departure time of 11:09.
Another bus on route 55 passes us as we round the Clapton Pond roundabout to head east again at 11:13 (scheduled time 11:18) keeping our sedate pace along the Lea Bridge Road and with around a dozen on board losing ones and twos here and there and gaining ones or twos who eschew the 55 in preference to us instead.
As we get closer to Leyton’s Bakers Arms more passengers catch us in preference to the 55 just in front as they obviously want to travel all the way to Walthamstow.
Our total load doesn’t increase very much and we pull into Walthamstow Central Station at 11:33 with sixteen passengers alighting including my offside front seat videoing buddy who’s captured the whole 66 minute journey and may even have uploaded to YouTube by now.
Our scheduled arrival was 11:45 so we made it to the Walthamstow terminus twelve minutes early and as a 48 was just leaving back towards London Bridge, my bus went to join two others on the allotted layover stand with a departure back south for my bus not until 12:01 making for a rather generous 28 minute layover!
At Walthamstow there were more posters explaining the 48 would soon be a route of the past giving details of alternatives (including the 26 and 388 which go nowhere near Walthamstow of course) and a new 55 timetable panel was already in situ, but no mention on the bus stop flag – presumably another contractor does that.
I’d also spotted at London Bridge the spider map hadn’t been updated but the ‘where to catch your bus’ panel had….… whereas at Walthamstow Central, bizzarely, the opposite was the case with a new spider map (minus the 48) but a yet to be updated ‘where to catch your bus’ panel.
Perhaps a different team look after central London to the suburbs, and yet another team do spider maps to the ‘where to catch your bus’ panels team. That would explain it.
From tomorrow the surplus New Routemaster buses from the 48 will start appearing on the 19 between Battersea Bridge and Finsbury Park as part of a mixed vehicle type allocation, which should confuse passengers about which door to board.
Aside from the 10 which bit the dust almost a year ago, the 48 is the next lowest route number to be lost from TfL’s non existent bus map but in reality, based on today’s experience, it isn’t going to be missed that much, provided the 388, 26 and 55 can do the business, which it looks as though they can.
It’s certainly a luxurious way of running buses having five of a route’s nineteen vehicle allocation standing idle at the termini at any one time together with sixteen minutes slack in the off peak running time; but that’s the unpredictable nature of traffic and the way contractual incentives in a franchised regime work in London for you.
I used to run a bus company but in retirement am a full time passenger travelling all over Britain enjoying its splendid scenic delights by bus and train. Currently social distancing at home.