Wednesday 1st June 2022
A blog post extra.
TfL’s much anticipated six week consultation about its “central London’s bus review” began today. It’s going to take that long to work out what’s planned if you rely on TfL’s website.
There’s no simple guide to tell you route by route what’s happening. It’s pretty much left to you to do your own comparisons between “current” and “proposed” maps to work out what’s changed in four quadrants – north, east, south and west. Which isn’t easy. There is a listing of “Neighbourhood proposals in detail” but these are for key corridors (eg Baker Street, Caledonian Road etc) rather than a quick look to see what’s happening to some of the 16 routes to be withdrawn. It baffles me why there couldn’t be a simple route listing of every route that’s changing and explaining what’s happening.
My predicted changes yesterday to cover for routes 11 and 24 disappearing turned out to be wide of the mark with TfL’s team obviously having a more extensive crayon colouring set then I had available. They seem to have gone for the ‘how can we involve as many routes as possible’ in the shake up rather than minimising knock on effects. Whereas route 11, for example is covered by a newly diverted 26 (at Aldwych) to Victoria instead of Waterloo, and from Westminster passengers can catch a newly diverted and extended 507 to Fulham (albeit single deck operated, presumably), other routes to be withdrawn involve more routes having to change roads traversed or destinations served.
The upshot is, as anticipated, there’s hardly any roads left unserved by the route withdrawals but many ‘common route corridors’ have significant frequency reductions and some routes have a complete character change such as the 113 which has long taken passengers from Edgware and Mill Hill down Watford Way and Hendon Way to Marble Arch, will instead now dive off its old trajectory at Swiss Cottage and head for White City to replace the to be withdrawn route 31. Similarly route 189 which has long headed down from Brent Cross to Swiss Cottage will now wander over to Camden Town to cover for the eastern end of route 31 instead of continuing south to Marble Arch. With route 74 for the chop it means three frequent routes serving Baker Street axed but, it’s true there are enough other buses still in that street, it’s just that more passengers are going to face a change of bus.
And that’s the story of this “review” and is one of four issues I have with these changes.
Firstly, passengers don’t like changing buses. Sure, the hopper fare means there’s no price penalty, but its the added inconvenience and additional waiting time that deters passengers who’ve been used to through buses. There’s going to be an awful lot more bus hopping with these changes and it will deter some passengers, that’s for sure.
Secondly TfL have made the decision “a minimum 12-minute scheduled wait time between buses” is indicative of a “high frequency core bus network”. I beg to differ. I reckon it should be 10 minutes or better. 12 minutes is bordering on the ‘where is the bus?’ thought in passengers’ minds as they wait, and too much of that and it will deter some passengers, that’s for sure.
Thirdly, making so many changes to bus numbers serving roads risks confusing and putting passengers off travelling, especially axing long established familiar numbers. This is all the more so when TfL have given up on producing maps and explanatory information for passengers with many bus stops and shelters devoid of anything useful. As has been covered in previous blogs ad nauseam as well as on other commentators’ websites the provision of bus information in London is an absolute disgrace. Staff at TfL are kidding themselves if they think they can communicate the scale of changes in this “review” effectively. Their track record indicates there’ll be widespread confusion which will deter some passengers, that’s for sure.
Fourthly, successful bus operators know to avoid keeping on making changes to the same bus routes at relatively frequent intervals. This further undermines passengers’ trust in using the network. Route 4, which is now up for withdrawal, was only altered itself in the last big “central London bus review” in June 2019 when it was diverted from Waterloo to Blackfriars. At that time it replaced route 388 which itself has seen changes every couple of years – terminating at Blackfriars in 2015, extended to Elephant & Castle in 2017 (replacing route 100), cut back to Liverpool Street in 2019 and then extended to London Bridge four months later that year. Now the 388 is going to be extended from London Bridge on to Peckham to replace part of route 78. Meanwhile route 100 which was changed to terminate at St Paul’s in the great 2019 switch around is on the move again being extended at its other end from Shadwell to Bethnal Green to replace route D3.
It’s not good to keep changing the same bus routes; it gives the impression planning staff don’t know what they’re doing. It also will deter some passengers, that’s for sure.
The upshot of all this is that this “central London bus review” won’t be the last as passengers will be driven away. The downward spiral of managed decline is now well underway in London. As I concluded in yesterday’s blog the £1.65 fare is simply unsustainable and TfL needs to think about attracting and encouraging passengers not confusing and deterring them, as these changes which will almost certainly be badly implemented, surely will.
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