TfL’s Superloop and a bus finally arrives after a five year wait.

Wednesday 29th March 2023

An unscheduled Wednesday Blog Special

Mayor Sadiq Khan was out headline grabbing yesterday launching his idea for a Superloop network of limited stop express style bus routes encircling outer London.

The vision is for an Overground-come-M25 bus network and is being promoted now to stymie criticism the Mayor isn’t doing enough to counter the introduction of the expanded ULEZ which will cover almost all London’s roads from the end of August. My London Bus Cuts Tracker page highlights the reality of week by week cuts to frequencies not only to central London bus routes but those in outer London which is hardly encouraging people to switch to the bus.

Superloop is therefore a very welcome change of policy and at last looks as though TfL is attempting to meet what I’m sure is an untapped demand for quicker bus journey times around outer London.

On first sight I very much like the idea. However, it’s absolutely essential it goes hand in hand with an extension of bus priority measures to ensure express buses really can pass unencumbered through congested junctions without prolonged red times on traffic lights. This will mean tough political choices have to be made and difficult discussions with the Borough Councils, some of which still don’t really get what buses can do.

Superloop is an aspiration rather than a definitive plan. Much of the western side is already in place with routes X26 and X140 linking Croydon and the south west and Harrow and the north west respectively with Heathrow Airport.

The first part of the plan is to increase the frequency of the X26 to every 15 minutes which will be much welcomed. This will be followed by the first of the new routes onward from Harrow round to North Finchley via Hendon.

The eastern half of Superloop is less defined and will be subject to consultation – hopefully not taking five years though (see below). Route 34 already links most of the northern red segment round to Walthamstow, so expect an X34 as part of that proposal using the North Circular Road (which can get horrendously congested approaching Bowes Road) while the 123 links Walthamstow with Ilford. South of the Thames Bexleyheath and Bromley has the 269 and the 119 links Bromley round to Croydon. The section from Ilford down to the Royal Docks might be more tricky to achieve.

All these routes have potential for growth if the complimentary express versions are properly marketed and branded. It was good to see TfL has moved on from its previous derisory branding efforts, eg those child like stickers applied on the 607 (the route from Uxbridge to White City shown on the route diagram above) and to coincide with yesterday’s launch TfL showed how the modified livery will look.

The other two straight line routes shown on the above diagram, the X68 and the proposed X239, aren’t part of the loop and in my view would be better left off (along with the 607) so as not to distract from the orbital concept, albeit there’s a gap between Royal Docks and Bexleyheath anyway.

Even more encouraging was to read in TfL’s press release yesterday “the new (Superloop) branding will also feature on maps, timetables and other pieces of customer information”. Yes, you read that right, “maps”. However I’m not getting my hopes up as it probably just means adding the logo to relevant stations on the Tube map.

One other thing that’ll come to the fore with this proposal is the flat £1.75 fare for the longer sections of route just won’t be financially sustainable. Already it must mean the X26 is a complete financial disaster – £1.75 from Croydon to Heathrow for an almost two hour journey is far too cheap – and doubling the frequency will only make the route’s financial loss worsen. It’s a nettle that’ll need grasping by a Mayor at some point in the future.

This is all being funded by the one off £6 million the Mayor found down the back of the balance sheet last year to stave off most of those draconian central London bus cuts he proposed. What happens when that money runs out?

But for now, the concept of Superloop is warmly welcome, and I look forward to a ride around the complete circuit but sadly I think I’ll be waiting quite some time if TfL’s usual consultation timeline is pursued. And talking of that…..

Five year wait for a bus that’s finally turned up

Readers may recall I wrote about Wandsworth Riverside Quarter’s phantom bus stops a couple of years ago back in April 2021. TfL’s bus stop contractor had installed two bus stops in Osiers Road, Wandsworth ready for a proposed rerouting of route 485 to terminate in the new and expanding Wandsworth Riverside Quarter.

Flashback: April 2021

This came after a consultation three years earlier in March 2018 when TfL proposed diverting the 485 on tis way from Hammersmith to Wandsworth to run via Upper Richmond Road rather than Putney Bridge Road, serve Wandsworth town centre and then terminate in the new Quarter (marked in blue on the map below).

TfL’s original proposal as consulted on in March 2018

It turned out the bus stop placements were unusually somewhat premature as after I’d blogged about it they mysteriously disappeared again as there were matters TfL needed to sort out like how buses would turn right from Upper Richmond Road into Putney Bridge Road on the return journey to Hammersmith Bridge.

Two years further on it now transpires that tricky right turn has proved too much as TfL now say “after a period of discussion with Wandsworth council, an engineering solution cannot been found at this point”.

Instead, what is probably a better solution anyway has been found, and that’s to keep the route of the 485 as now along Putney Bridge Road but loop into Wandsworth Riverside Quarter in both directions on its way past to serve the Osiers Road stops.

So five years after that initial consultation Riverside residents must be overjoyed they can finally leave their flats and catch a bus from a conveniently located bus stop or two. The wonders of a stymied regulated bus structure.

I couldn’t resist a site visit to check out how the new arrangements, introduced last weekend, were working so popped over to Wandsworth yesterday afternoon.

As the bus I was on turned into Osiers Road I should have guessed the sight that would greet me….

… yes, a couple of dolly stops in the exact positions those phantom stops had been erected (and taken away again) two years ago. Residents of Wandsworth Riverside Quarter must be puzzled having been tempted with proper bus stops and no buses and two years later have a bus route but no proper bus stops.

Parking enforcement was pretty poor too with one of the stops blocked by a parked car causing a mum and her daughter to struggle off the bus. A bus stop road marking might help.

The third stop further around the loop was inevitably also a dolly stop.

You’d think after five years of planning buses to encircle this small loop (or let’s be generous and say two years on from those phantom bus stops) TfL could have got its act together to ensure its contractors had bus stops and timetables installed ready for this week’s launch.

Let’s hope Superloop has a more organised start.

Roger French

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS

32 thoughts on “TfL’s Superloop and a bus finally arrives after a five year wait.

Add yours

  1. The timing of these proposals makes me suspicious given the growing opposition to ULEZ in outer London but nonetheless I agree that is is good to see TfL finally market a bus product.

    At first glance it reminds me of part of the Green Line network that ran up to the 80s as Bexleyheath to Heathrow was served by the 726 and the short lived 735 linked Hounslow, Heathrow , Harrow and Brent X to Wood Green. Traffic congestion killed that route off.

    Moving on 40 years congestion is much worse, bus priority is patchy or non-existent and the contractual regime rewards operators for running a slow service.

    So as Roger says if these services are to succeed they need to be fast, frequent and I would agree should charge a higher fare. £2 would seem good value and could still be subject to the same bus capping limit.

    I agree that 5 years is too long to wait. The X26 can be enhanced now but give the operator a bit of leeway to run a faster service to attract passengers and put Countdown at every stop on the route.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. So with his ULEZ expansion opposed, Sadiq rushes out a sketch off the back of an envelope with none of the new routes for probably a year or more, no proper plan etc and why two routes for the s/eastern quarter? BX to Croydon should only be one.. x25 anyone? And how about an all day both ways x68 and/or x109?? Don’t place your bets on this EVER getting completed once he forces in his ULEZ in and everyone quietly forgets about it….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Congestion will make most of these a non starter
      Many already exist as normal bus services. You have the 34 from Walthamstow to Barnet

      The Greenline service went due to traffic congestion simply making them non viable


      1. Traffic congestion played a part but there was more to it than that. Most passengers at the time of the demise used a travelcard and they weren’t valid on Green Line. People knew they charged more than bus fares and often didn’t venture on board. The very fact that they were coaches often made people feel they were not public services. I fact many ordinary passengers might not have been able to distinguish between them and other white-based coaches.

        (If you think about a route like the 735 or 715 before it) which essentially paralleled the 29 from Enfield to Victoria, offering a faster journey time, it should have been rammed, like the 607 variant of the 207 is today.


  3. Most of it seems existing routes converted to Super loop
    The big problem is these routes suffer from massive traffic congestion so will be very unreliable

    What would have been really useful would have been a circular rail line broadly around the M25. A lot of old lines did exist which could have been joined up but the track beds were never protected
    The other problem is it sits on the boundary between London and the Home counties

    It would be an interesting exercise to access the viability of it and the costs, ECC was looking at a light railway link between Harlow and Watford I think. It would be a lot more useful than HS2 or even Crossrail 2. It would also alleviate the need to travel into congested Central London as it could link up most of the rail lines coming into London


    1. The problem is, enormous costs as with all rail based projects, and relatively low patronage potential. Car based trips may run along corridors but they have very dispersed origins and destinations.

      Trams could have more potential, Paris now has an orbital route which is very busy, though that technology is also far too expensive and the distances would be longer and the population density much less in outer London

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Generally I think TfL has gone far too far down the ‘one size fits all’ approach to bus route planning. There are some benefits of the London model but this isn’t one of them! And, in a very politicised world, with one of the Mayor’s major powers specifically over setting fares, how would you easily sell differential pricing ?

    It has always been painfully slow travelling down certain bus corridors, made worse by the introduction of segregated cycle corridors (not the right solution generally for London in my view). So Express buses have a lot of potential, but as mentioned it is essential that good bus priority measures are provided, and despite so much pro public transport hot air, that is often the stumbling block, not to mention the competition for space with some of those jolly segregated cycle lanes!

    On the proposed routes, seem reasonable enough, except why would you run a bus from Canary Wharf only to Grove Park and not to Bromley, which desperately needs better links to Docklands?


  5. Is there a local authority in the country that hasn’t rechristened an old/new/developing area with ‘Quarter’ in a vague attempt to sound ‘con-tinen-tal’

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I read about this news on social media yesterday and the first thought that sprang to mind was ” Green line 724/725″! this being the north and south London orbital routes that many of my generation will fondly remember when it was possible to go all the way from Gravesend to Romford using the two routes and changing coaches at Staines, however that was before the days of gridlocked traffic which was the culprit that was partly responsible for the disappearance of much of our beloved Green line Routes, and now “Superloop” in a sort of “pseudo retro” way seeks to recreate a modern incarnation which even includes a part of former Green line route 725 as today’s 726. I won’t hold my breath as I can’t see this happening as has been said in the blog it is financially questionable especially taking the £1.75 fare in to account.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. So good that Sadiq Khan has taken up the Express Bus idea. The Overground proved the concept of good peripheral services – many years ago. Certainly needs more and better bus priority measures, as you say – also big, clear ‘tube-style’ wayfinding signs at interchanges, and tram-style stop infrastructure. This really could be set up quite quickly – much quicker than building a rail route. I’d suggest that rather than incorporating versions of existing bus routes, there should be a new simple number system, easily recognised – like the Red Arrows, or Greenline Coaches. Perhaps the individual routes could overlap to make it easy to change to continue around the ‘super-loop’.

    And why not tube frequencies? – e.g. 8 per hour, so that keeping to a timetable would be less important than keeping up the frequency, and people could use the system with just the map, rather than having to check times. The parts of the OverGround which run only every 15 minutes (I assume because space is needed for freight trains) appear to be less well used than the sections with better frequencies.

    I await with interest future blogs about progress!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Yes good idea of tube like frequencies and also very like today’s high frequency Headway system where to be in an acceptable gap the driver follows tfl’s “Five bar” system which is used for routes of less than a Fifteen minute frequency


  9. Whatever the reasons for announcing it at this time, Superloop is a great idea, long overdue. The success of London Overground has shown that people want to get around inner London without going into the centre and Superloop could do the same for outer London, connecting suburban centres not directly linked by rail. I agree with others that success will depend on the way its implemented and new bus priority measures. I’m glad Superloop routes will have standard fares because it will help to attract new users. Fares can always be changed later.

    Comparisons with Green Line are unfair, that network was designed for another era, routes were far too long and low frequency so they became unreliable as traffic levels increased, parallel rail services were improved and staff shortages took hold.

    That said, I’m old enough to remember Speedbus proposals in the early 70s which came to nothing!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Whilst the 607, X68 and X140 are merely express versions of “normal” services, the X26 is unique for Greater London, being the express version of at least three services (407, 213, 285) and I can see no reason for the fare not to be upped to £2.50 at least. The rest of the less prosperous UK is delighted at the moment to be enjoying a £2 fare, so it can hardly be classed as “hardship”.

    Certainly agree that Bexleyheath-Croydon should be linked, although the 119, pleasant route that it is, is far from a direct link twixt Croydon and Bromley. An X119/X269 would need to be routed more like the former 725/6, although avoiding Shortlands low bridge if not to be single-deck, something that would ruffle feathers (already ruffled at the prospect of ULEZ!) in the leafier glades of Park Langley and West Wickham.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. And a car blocking the bus stop and on meaningless unenforced double yellow lines.How about a life ban from ever driving or owning a car again?


  12. Sounds promising, but these are only high level concept ideas, so the actual details will be eagerly awaited. I like the branding but to maximise the potential, there must be significant bus priorities. I was wondering if the consultation could be speeded up by having trial “pop up” bus lanes and then consulting on the results. That way nimby opposition can be balanced against actual usage and benefits rather than estimates. If there is a significant increase in passenger numbers then replace the standard double deckers with Belfast Glider or Birmingham Sprint style vehicles, and then you have BRT.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. The proposals say much about where Mayor Khan thinks the Greater London boundary is. I’m sure the residents of Chessington, Coulsdon, Biggin Hill and Orpington will be thrilled.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Prior to the 1982 Law Lords bus cuts it was actually possible to go ‘round London by Routemaster’ via the outer suburbs. Since then, OPO, route-shortening and congestion makes this effectively impossible by bus. Another forum noted that Romford to Stratford on the 86 was scheduled for just over half hour off peak at times. It’s now over an hour, plus the route no longer continues to Limehouse via Bow.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve commented elsewhere that like you say too, unless there is decent bus priority, easy to change to other routes on foot (some places are appalling with no signage and long routes and waits to cross roads), dealing robustly with antisocial and criminal behaviour, this will all be pointless.

    Also, it’s not a loop as there is a gap.

    And TfL say it will be in addition to existing, although some already exist. Which is it? it can’t be both.

    The dawdling along at 15 mph and waiting at stops when the road is clear is so frustrating.

    Have a look at Sydney’s B Line, it’s a high frequency limited stop from City to Northern Beaches, often busy and is heaps easier than what went before.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. A lack of cross-boundary routes is key to this problem. Local residents in North West Surrey have worries that improvements in bus services won’t be enough to generate the modal shift from car to public transport. While there are a number of buses terminating at Staines, Kingston and Epsom, they certainly aren’t much of a network that benefits both TFL and non-London residents.

    Moreover, some of the London routes you’ve been on, such as the 321, could definitely benefit from express bus services to link up into the Superloop network. I believe there were a few ideas for an express bus route down the Old Kent Road corridor for the Improving Your Buses idea from TFL, so why this hasn’t been combined with the Superloop is beyond me.


  16. I think “limited stop” is probably a more accurate description than “express bus”. Also, I imagine that initially the total quantity of buses on the road would remain the same with reduced frequencies on the parallel “all stops” routes.


  17. One curious thing about the Superloop proposal is the varying radial distances of the “loop” from central London. If (as has been conventional) you take Charing Cross as being your starting point the distances to the some of the points on the loop are:-

    Croydon 10.8 miles
    Northolt 13.2 miles
    Bexleyheath 12.9 miles
    North Finchley 9.1 miles
    Arnos Grove 8.9 miles
    Royal Docks 8.2 miles

    Doubtless Heathrow Airport has an influence on the western side, but the north / south differentials are harder to explain, with for example, Bexleyheath being nearly four miles further out than North Finchley. This may reflect the impact of Green Belt policies although this does not kick in at the northern side until after Barnet – three miles beyond North Finchley.

    Leaving aside the minor difficulty of getting from Royal Docks to Bexleyheath (which from the graphic one might infer are adjacent points on opposite sides of the river) having crossed on the Woolwich Ferry they are still more than four miles apart, which poses questions as to how “loopy” this proposal might be…


  18. Roger suggests leaving the existing spokes out of it. I agree and the proposed new ones too. You can already get from Grove Park to a range of stations in Docklands in about half-an-hour (ten minutes extra from Bromley North). There’s a train from Grove Park to Lewisham every 30 minutes (other trains skip Lewisham) and then a DLR train every 2 to 4 minutes. An express bus could never equal that. The new Silvertown tunnel is too far east which leaves the congested Blackwall tunnel. And the ‘express’ bus would stop many times before it got there. Surely a local bus to the nearest rail stop is the best option.


  19. London bus cuts are a direct result of our governments myopic approach to public transport. Bus frequency here in London is still levels of magnitude better than outside. That said the superloops do smack of a panic induced reaction to anti ULEZ hysteria. But there could be something in having more X routes not served by rail. I recently traveled on the x140 and it was timely and well used although ironically not on the last bit into the airport. But keep the flat fare and avoid garish branding.


  20. I do wonder if there is clarity about what problem this is solving. I can’t imagine many people say “I want to go in a loop round London” as opposed to “The bus doesn’t go fast enough/where I want to go”.

    It would possibly be more attractive to have a ‘premium’ network of limited stop buses (with priority measures) which fill identified gaps in the network rather than trying to make it fit into a neat loop.

    While the stability of Tfl routes is a good thing when compared to some private routes that might change every few months it’s noticeable that exploring new markets is almost unheard of in London. Many journeys in outer London are painfully slow because they either lack direct routes or those that exist wind their way round via every back street and supermarket on the way.


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