Friday 12th November 2021
Tomorrow sees TfL’s route 414 cut back from its current terminus at Maida Hill (that’s close to Maida Vale in the Edgware Road area) meaning it will only run from its unchanged southern terminus at Putney Bridge station via Fulham, South Kensington and Knightsbridge as far north as Marble Arch.
It currently takes 22 buses to run the route’s 7-8 minute frequency with an end to end journey time of around 65-70 minutes. From tomorrow that’ll reduce to about 45-50 minutes and I reckon at least four, if not five buses will be squeezed out of the schedule as a cost saving. Update 13th November: six buses have been saved.
That should save a handy annual sum significantly north of half a million pounds with almost certainly no impact on revenue; so not bad when your finances are in intensive care and there’s currently no certainty how much Government support will be available beyond the next four weeks – the current subsidy support deal with the DfT/Treasury ends on 11th December.
The 414 reduction comes on top of continuing relentless frequency cuts across London’s bus network taking out sizeable numbers of buses pretty much every week over the last two snd a half months. Just under 40 bus routes have been cut back during this time.
For example tomorrow, in addition to route 414, the latest cuts will see route 13 (North Finchley to Victoria) ‘downsized’ in frequency from every 6 minutes to every 8-9 minutes, with peak hour reductions also to routes 63 (Honor Oak to Kings Cross) and 168 (Hampstead Heath to Old Kent Road) which come after 6th November when routes 40 and 188 were reduced; which came after 30th October when route A10 was reduced; which came after 23rd October when routes 19, 42, 68, 88, 133 and 148 were reduced; which came after 9th October when routes 17 and 245 were reduced; which came after 2nd October when route 38 was reduced; which came after 25th September when route 277 was reduced; which came after 18th September when routes 22, 436 and D7 were reduced; which came after 11th September when routes 11, 29 and 59 were reduced; which came after 4th September when routes 49, 253 and 254 were reduced; which came after 28th August when routes 2, 7, 9, 16, 27, 30, 43, 113, 148, 507, 521 and N9 were reduced together with routes 113 and 159 withdrawn from Oxford Street which I wrote about at the time. Interestingly none of the foregoing frequency cuts were subject to the usual “London-style” consultation bureaucracy as buses per hour reductions don’t count when it comes to asking the public and stakeholders what they think; you could change a route from every 5 minutes to hourly and seemingly not need to consult.
Tomorrow’s change to route 414 is an interesting example of the rise and fall of London’s bus network over the last couple of decades which proponents of franchising in Manchester and other conurbations would do well to take note of.
Introduced nineteen years ago in November 2002, three months before the pioneering congestion charge was introduced, in an era when the bus network was going through peak expansion with impressively growing passenger numbers as Ken Livingstone brought in many pro-bus measures during his Mayoral tenures between 2000 and 2008.
The route effectively duplicated its parent route 14 from Putney Bridge and Fulham as far as Hyde Park Corner from where, rather than continue to Piccadilly Circus and beyond as the 14 does, the newcomer struck out northwards along Park Lane to Marble Arch and along Edgware Road to Maida Vale. It was rerouted slightly and extended a bit further to Maida Hill in January 2005 and has continued unchanged ever since.
The rationale behind the route was to provide new connections between Fulham and South Kensington through to the Marble Arch and Edgware Road areas as well as providing additional capacity on the busy section of route 14.
North of Marble Arch buses have duplicated frequent route 6 running between Aldwych and Willesden and it’s this unneeded duplication which is now being withdrawn. Fewer passengers simply no longer justify the combined 15 buses an hour between the 6 and 414 on this section of route, if they ever did. But whereas in the early 2000s with consistent growth in passenger numbers it was easy to justify expanding the bus network, now it’s the complete opposite with cost savings needing to be banked.
Anywhere outside of London facing such a precarious financial position, would have seen such a change implemented expeditiously ages ago but this being London, and it being a change to a route’s terminus rather than a frequency reduction (even though it is a frequency reduction), means the full consultation caboodle has to be thrown at it.
This includes a full equalities impact assessment including analysing the route change’s impact according to each of age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, marriage/civil partnership, pregnancy/maternity, race, religion/belief, sexual orientation and other (eg low incomes/homeless/refugees). The result is a full on 30 page analysis into all these implications.
I wouldn’t say it’s just ‘going through the motions’ but the first bullet point of the consequent assessment under each but the first category ‘age’ in that list, is repeated as: “data on bus usage by individuals who share this protected characteristic is not currently available at any meaningful level”.
Which to me means, it’s a polite way of saying ‘this is all completely meaningless’.
The consultation took place for six weeks last October and November. Over 162,000 emails were sent out to passengers known to travel on routes 6 and 414 and others on TfL’s general database as well as 103 stakeholders leading to responses from just two of those, London Travelwatch and Marble Arch BID, as well as 601 individual members of the public. And just to show the questionable value of such consultations, 84 per cent of respondents “thought the changes would make their journey longer” with concerns raised “with the frequency of route 6” and “additional time with changing buses and extra cost”.
But, notwithstanding these responses, the next steps were inevitable, and with no surprise at all were: “we have decided to go ahead with the proposals and curtail route 414 at Marble Arch”.
I took a few rides on the about-to-be-withdrawn section of route 414 on Wednesday and can absolutely confirm it’s a sensible reduction in bus service provision and should have happened months ago.
Buses on route 6 which will continue to run every 7-8 minutes north of Marble Arch have plenty of capacity to carry the small numbers travelling either within the duplicated section of route or making a ‘cross Marble Arch’ journey – less than five people per journey that I saw, and most of those had alighted or boarded within a couple of bus stops north of Marble Arch. In only one case did I see a passenger travel from west of Hyde Park Corner right through to Maida Hill.
Now route 6 operates via Piccadilly and Park Lane (rather than Regent Street and Oxford Street as it used to do until rerouted in 2017), changing from a 414 to a 6 to continue a northbound journey beyond Marble Arch, or vice versa southbound, can easily be done at one of the bus stops in Park Lane, and the hopper fare means no additional costs are incurred.
I was impressed to see timetable cases and bus stop flags along the affected stretch of route had already been updated with any reference to route 414 expunged and one of the usual yellow notices explaining the upcoming change on display.
I did wonder whether anyone will remember to go back and take down the out of date spider maps where displayed, but I hesitate to mention this, as I know TfL staff read this blog and might arrange for just that, as that’ll mean yet another map disappearing from TfL’s information provision since the policy continues to be: ‘leave us all in the dark’ bus map-wise in London.
There didn’t seem to be anything on display inside Abellio’s buses on the route about the change – sometimes I’ve noticed a scrolling message on the i-bus display when route changes are about to be introduced elsewhere.
And I wonder how long it will take to update all the bus stop displays south of Marble Arch to delete reference to “buses from this stop towards Maida Hill”.
TfL make the point staff involved in this project have been away on furlough thus delaying its implementation following the consultation closing a year ago. Such a delay didn’t seem out of the ordinary for TfL timescales to me – a year seems about ‘par for the course’.
The truncated 414 effectively duplicates the 14 over almost its entire route from tomorrow – the 14 extends a bit further south to Putney Heath to turn round, rather than Putney Bridge as used by the 414 – and continues to Piccadilly Circus and Russell Square from Hyde Park Corner rather than the 414’s use of Park Lane to terminate at Marble Arch. In the old days, the 414 would have been numbered 14A to make the association crystal clear.
Notwithstanding a new bus stand’s been established at the top end of Park Lane to accommodate terminating buses on route 414 at Marble Arch from tomorrow I suspect experience will soon show journeys carrying few passengers ‘round the corner’ north of Hyde Park Corner justifying a cut back to that point.
Especially as there’s the frequent route 74 which coincidentally also starts in Putney (but in the High Street at Go-Ahead’s bus garage) and is routed via Earls Court instead of Fulham to South Kensington but from there it continues via Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch to Baker Street.
Then there’s no reason why such truncated 414 journeys couldn’t take the number 14 other than TfL’s obsession that buses on every route must all go the full length with no short workings – except route 166 (in Banstead) and whenever traffic congestion means “the destination of this bus has changed” when you’re actually on board.
Taking it further I suspect it won’t be long before it could be shown fewer passenger.journeys through Fulham and South Kensington mean the frequency of those ‘short journeys’ between Putney Bridge and Hyde Park Corner aren’t all needed and the spiral of decline continues.
Intriguingly at the end of the 414 consultation feedback report, TfL commented on a suggestion made by a respondent to “withdraw route 414 altogether and increase route 14 instead”. The reply was: “we are considering a longer-term scheme that might do this or something similar. However, this requires further analysis”. Don’t expect anything any time soon then.
Finally, I should clarify I’m not suggesting TfL’s current programme of frequency reductions and route cut backs are not justified, I’ve no doubt they are, it’s just that ironically if the scale of what’s happening to London’s bus network was happening elsewhere there’d be calls for the mythical “London-style” standards of buses to be introduced to halt the decline as the answer. It’s not. Mayor Burnham please take note.