My verdict on TfL’s bus cuts (Part 2)

Sunday 19th June 2022

Following yesterday’s blog here are some more thoughts on TfL’s proposed central London bus cuts based on my recent travels and observations on the ground.

First up let’s take a look at a couple more “over capacity” corridors into central London from the north.

Firstly Edgware Road which will see the removal of long standing route 16 (green) between Cricklewood and Victoria with the northern section covered by parallel route 332 (not shown on the map) and further south by a change to the terminal for partly parallel route 98 (yellow) south to Victoria instead of east to Holborn, which in turn is replaced to Holborn by route 6 (blue) instead of Aldwych, which in turn is replaced by route 23 (brown) to Aldwych instead of continuing along Kensington Road to Hammersmith where there’s no replacement as, like Edgware Road, losing the route there will “better match capacity to demand”.

Unpicking this, 1,612 daily trips (8%) on route 16 will now require a change of bus, but double this, 3,163 (13%) trips on route 98 will be similarly broken; as will 2,468 (14%) trips on route 6 and 2,496 (16%) trips on route 23, according to TfL.

It wasn’t that long ago (June 2017) that route 6 continued along Oxford Street to Oxford Circus as it will do again (and then went via Piccadilly Circus to Aldwych) and route 23 continued to Aldwych (via Oxford Street) until November 2018 so in some ways these changes put back some of what applied before previous changes.

Indeed the previous change to route 23 by routing it to Hammersmith instead of Aldwych was always a bizarre move creating a new link no-one needed and should never have happened. It was more about reducing the number of buses along Oxford Street than making logical links in the route network. One upside of this latest proposal is to get some sense back to the network in this part of London.

When I was taking some rides around last Saturday afternoon most buses on route 98 were being curtailed at Marble Arch rather than continuing to Holborn in any event, and many route 6 buses weren’t getting as far as Aldwych either, so passengers are already wise to “broken links” as TfL calls them (ie needing to change buses).

Secondly, over on the Hertford Road and Caledonian Road corridor the proposal is to withdraw route 349 (brown), change the southern terminus of route 279 (blueish) from Manor House to Stamford Hill; cut back the southern end of route 259 (yellowish) from King’s Cross to Holloway as well as extend its northern terminus from Edmonton Green to Ponders End; and a small cut back on route 254 (green) from Holloway to Finsbury Park.

Both the Hertford Road and Caledonian Road corridors are very busy with many passengers using buses and I do hope TfL has done its sums before taking out so many buses per hour. My observations at Seven Sisters last Saturday (where route 279 will divert to Stamford Hill instead of Manor House) indicate to me buses on route 259 are going to struggle to cope with demand towards Manor House without the help of the 279.

Route 259 currently runs at 6 buses per hour with route 279 running 8 buses per hour. In the new scenario route 259 will increase to 8 buses an hour, but that’s still a significant reduction from a combined 14 buses an hour. My albeit limited observations indicate it’s a reduction too far.

Route 349 was also very busy heading south to Stamford Hill.

The minor cut back on route 254 from Holloway to Finsbury Park is less of an issue as route 29 (and route 259) will do the heavy lifting, so to speak. South of Holloway to Kings Cross routes 17 and 91 (not shown on the map) will no doubt manage without the 259 but there’s going to be very busy buses on this corridor, that’s for sure.

While we’re in this neck of the words, in Finsbury Park, TfL are proposing to extend route 236 (brown) on to Archway….

….. to replace the to-be-withdrawn route 4 (light turquoise).

Although it’s a single deck operation my observations show this won’t cause a problem for capacity at this end of the route and probably makes sense.

At the southern end of route 4, the section of route to Blackfriars Station will be replaced by a diversion of route 56 (dark blue) to terminate there instead of Bart’s Hospiral.

Sending route 4 to Blackfriars was another recent change (June 2019) and didn’t make sense at that time as so few passengers can be found on the section of route beyond St Paul’s and Mansion House. I’d terminate route 56 at St Paul’s and forget Queen Victoria Street to Blackfriars, or leave it continuing the short distance to Bart’s.

You only have to watch a few buses on route 4 trundling past St Paul’s heading towards Blackfriars with just a couple of passengers on board to know this section of route is a waste of time. However TfL reckon 17% of route 4’s passengers (3,173 daily trips) will be impacted but my guess is most of those are at the Archway to Finsbury Park end of the route where a change from the newly extended 236 to a 19 will be needed.

North of St Paul’s route 56 will probably cope with the passengers left behind between there and the Angel following the withdrawal of route 4 and route 19 (not shown on the map) can cope between Angel and Finsbury Park, so a farewell to route 4 does make sense.

The map also shows a cut back of route 476 (puce) from its Kings Cross terminus right back to Newington Green. It wasn’t that long ago it continued to Euston. Another cut back that makes sense if you don’t mind 1,298 (8%) daily trips being broken.

Over in north east London there’s a proposal to withdraw route 242 (which I still think of as Chingford to South Mimms) and replace it with a diversion to the northern end of route 135 to replace like for like to Homerton Hospital from Aldgate (but missing out its current link to Liverpool Street) and it will be every 12 minutes instead of every 10 minutes as currently applies on the 242.

I have my doubts about this cut back and am concerned to see TfL state 2,839 (23%) of passengers will be impacted by “broken links” on route 135. That’s a high percentage. When I’ve travelled on route 242 it’s always been a busy bus, so I hope route 135 will be able to cope. I have some doubts.

Route 135 is also up for a change at the other end of its route as we’ll see now.

Heading over to Docklands we have the withdrawal of route D7 (lilac) and a hard to fathom change of routes for the 135 (green) and 277 (orange) as well as a cut back to route D3 (brown) with part replacement by an extended route 100 (lime).

These changes will probably just serve to confuse everyone rather than cause any capacity issues. It took me a few contemplative hours looking at the above map to try and work out exactly what route is going where. I’m still not sure I’ve understood it, but looking at the map (further above) explaining the change to route 242, it helpfully shows route 135 is actually being simplified on its route to Crossharbour, so that’s clear, while ….

…. route 277 will end up at Poplar (All Saints) rather than Crossharbour having circumnavigated the Isle.

Route D3 will no longer wander all the way to Bethnal Green and instead becomes a local route from Leamouth to Crossharbour I noticed a gap on the brown dotted line on the map between Limehouse and Wapping with no proposed replacement bus so took a ride on that section of route to see what the impact will be.

TfL list nine stops (four in one direction and five in the other) in its Equality Impact Assessment that’ll no longer be served and state 300 daily trips will be affected as well as listing the alternative nearby bus stops on other routes.

However, it’s not clear to me whether route 100 will maintain its existing wiggle and one-way loops around the Wapping and Shadwell area (as shown in the above map) once it gets extended to Bethnal Green to replace the D3 which will impact how far those 300 daily trip makers have to walk to reach an alternative bus stop. In some cases it could be quite a distance depending on the direction of travel.

On the journey I made from Canary Wharf to Wapping only one passenger was on the bus on the section of route which will be withdrawn west of Westferry, so I don’t think it’s going to be seriously missed.

However there is a local campaign to “Save the D3 Bus Service” being spearheaded by Tower Hamlets Liberal Democrats.

They’ve set up a petition to save Wapping from being isolated “from the rest of the borough in terms of public transport”. Good luck with that one. The ‘hopper fare’ will always be the official answer – along with a longer walk to the bus stop in this case.

Moving back to south London, another route to bite the dust is route 45 which runs from Clapham Park in south London to Elephant & Castle.

As shown on the map above, the southern end of the route will be covered by a small diversion of route 59 from its current Streatham Hill terminus to nearby Clapham Park.

From Brixton (marked Lambeth), the map doesn’t show any replacements. That’s because route 35 parallels route 45 and TfL reckon can take up the slack, with which I concur from brief observations. In recent decades route 45 went as far as Kings Cross (it used to go even further north to Archway and Hampstead Heath at one time) but succumbed to a cut back in the June 2019 package of changes. This is what happens if you continue cutting back routes. They eventually disappear.

And finally we come to the much loved route 24 and its proposed withdrawal. Readers may recall I blogged about a recent journey from Pimlico to Hampstead Heath on the eve of TfL’s announcement about its demise. But, of course, it’s only the route number which will disappear, and who knows, that might live on if some judicious renumbering takes place.

As the map shows there’s another game of bus route musical chairs taking place with the Hampstead Heath to Westminster section of route 24 (brown) replaced by a diverted route 88 (puce) while route 205 is diverted from its western terminus at Paddington (not shown) to instead head north to Parliament Hill Fields replacing part of route 88 while route 214 (purple) replaces another part of route 88 by Regents Park as well as route 24 to Pimlico instead of heading eastwards to Moorgate.

My problem with this proposal is it’s a lot of messing around if the objective (as in the title of the map) is to reduce capacity on Euston Road – ie withdrawing route 205 between St Pancras and Paddington.

It’s also noteworthy this seems to be the proposal with the most broken links. Here’s the table from TfL’s Equality Impact Assessment…

…. just look at that figure for route 205. Over a quarter of this busy route’s passengers will have to change buses. This is just crazy. It’s a similar number inconvenienced by the proposed withdrawal of route 12 highlighted in Part 1.

And sending single deck buses (route 214) on a replacement route between Trafalgar Square and Pimlico makes no sense at all.

If TfL reckon there’s excess capacity on Euston Road then simply curtail route 205 at King’s Cross and don’t mess around with routes 24, 88 and 214. Leave well alone. Except, as can be seen from the significant impact of changing route 205, it makes no sense to destroy another popular east-west route (like route 31 in Part 1).

And that concludes my assessment of the changes TfL are proposing – for daytime routes. I regret I’m not motivated to look at night routes so am passing on that. As you can see there’s some sensible reductions proposed but there are also some that need binning, as I’ve explained, particularly routes 12, 24, 31 and 205 (and 88/214) which should be left untouched.

Throughout this analysis I’ve referred to TfL’s references to “broken links” being the number of daily trips which will involve a change of bus if these proposals go ahead. If you add all these up they’re getting on for 100,000. That’s an awful lot of journeys being disrupted every day.

This all comes just three months after TfL published its “bold vision for buses” in its hyped up Bus Action Plan which I commented on in March. I’m not sure these proposals fit in with that “bold vision” which promised a “modern bus network to attract more customers and help the capital become net zero by 2030”. That Action Plan set a target of increasing passenger journeys by 50% on London’s buses by 2041. These proposals aren’t an encouraging start towards that ambitious target.

As I commented in my blogpost about routes 11 and 24, it’s regrettable these changes have come forward at such a scale but it’s inevitable while the policy is (a) to hold London’s flat fare as low as £1.65 as well as the hopper fare, (b) the marketing to stimulate and encourage bus travel is pretty much non existent, (c) information provision is somewhere between woeful and dire; while on the costs side, (d) journeys are timed at a snail’s pace and (e) there’s far too much layover time at termini meaning buses spend too little time actually earning money (c.f. my Earls Court Tesco route C3 experience).

If I were advising Louise Cheesman, TfL’s Director of Bus, I’d recommend tackling those five issues first, before heading down the proposed spiral of decline that these cuts will inevitably take London’s buses. One thing is certain, these cuts may take a few hundred buses out (including many expensive New Routemasters (remind me who was the Mayor who foisted them on to TfL?), may reduce mileage by around 8% (I’m guessing) and reduce the number of drivers required by a few hundred too, but they’ll also definitely mean proportionately even fewer passengers travelling by bus in London (they always do) ….. necessitating more cuts.

If you want to let TfL know your views, the consultation is open until Tuesday 12th July and you can “have your say” here. Or email Haveyoursay@tfl.gov.uk or write to FREEPOST TFL HAVE YOUR SAY (CLBR). You can also let London Travelwatch have your views – by Friday 24th June – at bus.consultation@london travelwatch.org.uk

Finally, Mike Harris has kindly updated his Greater London Bus Map showing how central London’s bus network will look if all these proposals (along with the recent proposed changes to routes 1, 168, 188 and 21, 143, 263, 271) are implemented. Mike’s made this available free to download or view on his web site here and is well worth a look.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

23 thoughts on “My verdict on TfL’s bus cuts (Part 2)

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  1. The only one of these routes that I know well is the 205 having used it many times to connect from Kings Cross to Paddington (sometimes you just don’t want to use the tube, for example if I am listening to the cricket commentary so I need signal) and it almost always has every 2-seater taken on the upper deck for this section – seems crazy to mess with it, and to suggest there’s too much capacity. Perhaps the 27 could be rerouted from chalk farm to end at Liverpool Street or at a minimum kings cross to maintain this link if they are insistent on changing the 205

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  2. The changes to long established routes like the 24 and 214 do not make any sense. As for the 205 this effectively is a surface version of the Circle Line which is a good alternative to using the tube for those with luggage and as a replacement when engineering works take place. Rather than withdraw it why not brand it to encourage people to use it ? The withdrawal of the 242 is no great loss as it is being replaced by the 135 but it should keep its existing routeing via Liverpool Street and not the congested Commercial Street. After all isn’t there a new Elizabeth line station there that it could usefully connect with for onward connections ?

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      1. I disagree. Many of the stations on the sub-surface lines are not particularly accessible, and my ageing father has to be watched like a hawk on steps. Buses provide a step-free alternative.

        And as Martin Welborne says, it is important to retain easily understood alternatives for when the underground is closed, be it planned for engineering works or unplanned for signal and points failures.

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  3. When looking at the “broken links”, it would be interesting to know if TfL have any analysis of “restored links” – ie, if any of the places they are re-knitting the network will reduce the number of passengers needing to change because there are already a lot of passengers who currently have to change but will get a direct bus under the new proposals.

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  4. The 259, 279 & 349 changes seems to be illogical. It would make more sense to keep the 349 and axe the 259, & the 279 being extended through to Finsbury Park. Generally after Seven Sisters the passenger numbers drop of sharply
    The 149 also covers the section from Edmonton Green to Stamford Hill

    Possibly the Ponders End to Edmonton Green Section might need some more buses

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  5. I must declare an interest here . . . I used to work for Metroline, so I know the services up and down the Edgware Road very well. I don’t know the other areas of London, so will refrain from comment thereon. However . . .

    Am I the only person wondering if a frequency reduction on the routes along the Edgware Road, coupled with a decent attempt at interworking between routes on common sections, would be a better way forward??

    Current frequencies south from Cricklewood to Kilburn High Road are: Route 16 @ 6 BPH; Route 32 @ 8 BPH; Route 189 @ 8 BPH; Route 316 @ 8 BPH; Route 332 @ 6 BPH . . . that gives 36 BPH from Cricklewood to Kilburn High Road . . . add in Route 98 @ 8 BPH (replacing Routes 189 and 316 south from Kilburn on the Edgware Road) and we have 20 BPH currently from Kilburn to Maida Vale.

    I know that the frequency south from Cricklewood is designed as a feeder to the Jubilee Line at Kilburn, but 36 BPH?? A bus every 1.75 minutes or thereabouts?? It’s just not needed.

    Also, with Route 142 at 5 BPH north of Staples Corner plus Route 32, that’s 13 BPH up to Edgware . . . still too much. Reduce Route 32 to 5 BPH, and properly interwork with Route 142 . . . that’s 10 BPH (every 6 minutes), which looks much better. Extend Route 316 north to Neasden Tesco’s (and reduce to 5 BPH) and withdraw Route 332 altogether. Reduce both Route 16 and Route 189 to 5 BPH (so everything south of Cricklewood is at 5 BPH) . . . that’s (I hope!!) 20 BPH south of Cricklewood, and 13 BPH south of Kilburn until Route 6 joins in at Maida Vale, which goes back up to 21 BPH.

    If passenger numbers have fallen that much, then these frequencies look about right, and if properly interworked between common routes, then Joe Passenger will barely notice the difference!!

    I will make the point that TfL no longer expect timetables to be “interworked” over joint sections of routes . . . so routes with the same frequencies can be scheduled to operate together, maybe even with different running times!! If TfL bus route planners were to actually . . . well . . .plan their services . . . then substantial savings could be made without disrupting passengers travel patterns. Back in the day . . . I recall (in around 2002) doing just that, such that all the routes south from Cricklewood were “perfectly” interworked as part of a tender package.

    I’ll finally say that, back in 2018-2019, when the then head of the Underground added responsibility for Buses to his job . . . he brought across some LUL planners to replace the experienced bus planners (who had retired or left). I hosted the new planners for a day to explain how bus services should be planned, and the differences between Tube and Bus journeys . . . it seems that they didn’t listen!!

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    1. Looks to me as much like a hatred of historic links and established service numbers as a justifiable network review. Is it headed up by some marketing graduate who believes that any product which has lasted more than five years needs to replaced if it can’t be rebranded?

      Regarding Greenline727’s comment about planners, if TfL’s planning departments are anything like as toxic as railway colleagues say Network Rail’s are reputed to be, even the planners Greenline727 hosted will have left by now.

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  6. I’m surprised the 56 has survived, the southern end was never busy although it will cover more of the 4 under these proposals. Even in the boom years you could see half empty 56s in Essex Road while the 38s & 73s were bursting. Yet the 56 frequency was increased from every 10 minutes to every 6-7 in 2005. I was told the theory was that it provided extra peak capacity along Essex Road and passengers could change at Angel, but they didn’t. In the morning peak they still piled on to the busier routes along Essex Road which took them directly to where they wanted to go. They took a chance because a handful of passengers got off 38s & 73s at each stop, even though the numbers trying to get on were higher. Admittedly that was before the hopper fare but I’m not sure habits have changed much.

    My point is that people often choose where they live because there is a direct bus service to work, school, the tube etc. It isn’t just about the cost, many passengers don’t like changing, its a hassle and can be stressful, especially for those with mobility or mental health issues.

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  7. One thought on the choices of route numbers to keep or ditch – might it be related to which contract is finishing first, therefore committing TfL to less compensation to bus companies?

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  8. I think that we can say with certainty that these changes will mean a loss of passengers. The question is whether the loss would be greater if fares were raised e.g. to £2, given so many are entitled to free travel, so is this a better option? Once you start reducing routes, you are on a downward spiral. (And should under 16s have free travel on anything other than school journeys? That could also be a revenue raiser if they had to pay for all their social trips.)

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    1. In most of England concessionary passes are not valid on rail

      Has the Concessionary pass scheme become to generous. Should it be resticted to the poorest pensioners say those not paying income tax. I can see no reason as to why higher rate tax pensioners should get a free bus pass

      Should they go back to making an annual chrge for the passes bur excempting Non tax paying pensioners

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  9. You omit to mention in either of these posts one crucial thing – these cuts are not wanted by TfL, it’s a directive from central government (No. 10 and/or 11 via the DfT) with the intent of punishing Londoners for not voting Tory, punish the mayor for (a) not being Tory and (b) being better at his job than Boris; and level down London (because it’s cheaper and easier than levelling up the rest of the country)
    I strongly urge everyone to write to their MP, as I think that’s the only way the requirement to cripple the bus network will be dropped.

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    1. TfL has overspent its budget. It is down to TL to manage that be it cuts in services or higher fares or increased taxes or a mixture of all of them

      How much more are you prepared to pay ? TfL has already received over £4b of temporary support that’s more than the rest of England got. They got just £1.4B

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  10. Cutting bus running times through more use of bus priority would enable fewer buses to do the work. I remember one of the rationales behind the new Routemasters being that passengers could hop on and hop off between stops. Reaction in Europe was along the lines of “why are buses stopping BETWEEN stops!” Everything should be done to remove obstacles to buses forward progress. Anyone remember when the congestion charge first came in and bus speeds shot up as a result?

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    1. I would ban all non esstential traffic In Central London and that includes Cycles (With the exception of people who live in Central London)

      Where the roads have more than one lane , one lane is turned into a bus lane

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  11. And London buses still travel over cobbled streets (or are they merely tiled?) in certain parts! Wow! That is certainly levelling up, or perhaps down? Also note that whilst billed as “Central London” reductions, some actual reductions are way, way beyond the central area, although could well be justified.

    Of course there will be surplus buses whether they are “expensive” New Routemasters or not, so cannot see that is an issue as can be re-deployed anywhere else in the network. Staff reductions will very soon be swallowed up by shortages, but the main problem we all seem to agree upon is unnecessary passenger disturbance in some of these proposals.

    Many proposed changes however merely reflect reduced numbers travelling and nothing to do with the “wicked” Tory government and Mayor Khan’s inability to recruit TfL staff who actually know how to design and operate efficient bus schedules. Manchester’s ratepayers are soon going to be picking up the price of a politically motivated Mayor of similar persuasion.

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  12. Fascinating and detailed analysis Roger, with some good points raised btl.

    Part of me wonders whether the consultation is political points scoring. Thinning out frequencies would save money, keep existing links but leave criticism for local transport chiefs, notably the Mayor.

    Having a choice of two routes with different origins and destinations helps when there are abnormal traffic problems. It helps those who struggle to board and alight or walk any distance.

    A couple of other related thoughts. Firstly having to change buses is easier when you can see our of the rear window, which is not always the case. Secondly all the effort making buses “world leading” counts for little when there is no bus. Electric buses, hydrogen etc costs serious money that could be better directed within the industry. Similarly a lot of capacity is taken out making buses more inclusive, which we should do, but then costs mean services are being reduced hitting those with mobility issues the hardest.

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  13. As the post here show people have various view often based on routes they use.

    TfL have to cut costs or increase revenues or and or the GLA puts up taxes in London both. Whatever you do some people will be unhappy

    One untaped revenue stream is cyclists. Should they not be paying something towards cycling infrustucture ?

    So here is a challenge how would you deal with TfL’s £500B budget shortful ?

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    1. Well, how about transferring £0.5billn of support from outside London to the metropolis, which is the economic powerhouse of the country? There is plenty of poverty in London, so it’s levelling up!

      All that such bus support outside London and around the country, does for the most part is support people’s hobbies. Nice, if you can afford it. We can’t. Anyone in genuine difficulty can simply move to London. It’s what we’ve always done. Babies are spoonfed. The rest of us need to grow up.

      We have too many buses, often running nearly empty, around the country. Sorry children, but they aren’t toys.

      And, as an aside, cyclists pay taxes too (and aren’t travelling around spewing toxic fumes).

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      1. TfL have had from the Government £4B. The rest of the UK £1.4B. London population 9M Rest of England 45M

        Hardly fair

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  14. I am one who prefers buses to the underground, so surface links like the 59 and 205 seem necessary to me. In fact many people never use the tube.
    I cannot believe the 521 will not get its passengers back one day. These changes are all too soon after Covid.
    Thinning of frequency would be much better. The 4 from Highbury to St Pauls serves several schools and is full in the morning peak.
    Too many bus interchanges are not very close, eg around St Pauls, and the next route needs searching for because so many stops are not near enough to road junctions..
    I shall not be travelling much until proper maps come back as I shall be lost after decades of more-or-less certainty!

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  15. TfL’s temporary funding ran out today. There is an unconfired story in the Media that the goverenment have given TfL another 2 weeks of funding
    It appears the government are not happy that TfL is delivering on the cuts promised

    Passenger numbers are still about 20% down and that seems to be unlikely to change any time soon

    So it is back to watch this space again

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