Thursday 20th April 2023
One of my favourite quirky bus routes in London is the Richmond Park free minibus which has been running on Wednesdays between April and October for some years (aside from 2020 an 2021 due to Covid). This year’s operation began on 5th April and includes an extended route, an increase to three days a week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays), and a period of operation right through until 29th November.
I was delighted to hear the wonderful Malcolm Childs is still involved and drives the bus on some days even though he’s been telling me he needs to retire every year I’ve travelled on the route. I blogged about the great customer service Malcolm gives as well as a full background to route RP1 back in April 2019.
It was good to see there’s now a team of four Royal Parks’ volunteer drivers to support Malcolm not least with the expanded service and I had the pleasure of meeting Olwyn yesterday who drives about once a month.
I turned up in good time yesterday morning at the Danebury Avenue starting point in Roehampton for the first journey at 09:25 and soon spied another passenger wandering over to where Malcolm has arranged a very nice timetable display on a hedge outside a junior school indicating where the bus departs.
Another lady soon joined us and after exchanging pleasantries with them I soon gleaned that Jean and Linda are RP1 regulars as well as friend Joan who also soon arrived to join the pair. Jean is so dedicated she sometimes travels around the route more than once a week. and she’s got buses in her blood, telling me she was a ‘clippie’ in the late 1950s at London Transport’s Battersea bus garage on route 22 from Putney to Homerton in the days when RTWs were a new and innovative vehicle (due to their extra six inches width) and bell punch tickets were a thing leading to the name ‘clippie’ being derived.
The bus appeared on time at 09:25 and the four of us were soon on board. I’ve been around long enough to know when to defer to letting ‘senior’ regulars like Jean, Linda and Joan take their usual seats …
… which indeed they did in the front three nearside pairs of seats, one behind the other, on the 16 seat minibus.
The minibus is owned and supplied by Richmond & Kingston Accessible Transport (RaKAT) and whereas it used to operate other community services I’m told it’s now on permanent loan to the Royal Parks and kept in Richmond Park for the RP1.
The newly extended route around the Park takes an hour and 35 minutes so the number of circuits the bus does has been reduced from five to four (two in the morning and two in the afternoon).
New traffic restrictions in the Park …
… have seen fence type barriers erected but commendably the RP1 is exempt although this does entail some tight turns and squeeze-throughs for the bus.
One of these restrictions is at the gate to the Park at Sheen where Olwyn had to unlock a padlock to open the barrier…
… then close it again before continuing on to one of this year’s new route extensions outside the Park to serve Mortlake station and where one quirky London bus route meets another as the RP1 observes the bus stop (for the station) that’s only otherwise used by the two journeys a week route 969. At last that bus shelter might see some custom now.
The RP1 bus has to do a three point turn in the adjacent community centre car park, another tricky manoeuvre for the driver, before heading back into the Park and going through the unlocking padlock and opening and closing the barrier routine again. Now you can see why it takes an hour and 35 minutes to do a circuit.
The famous Isabella Plantation gets a look in twice on the circuit – once officially and timetabled – and once as an unscheduled addition as the journey time allowance between the Ham Common exit and Pembroke Lodge at 15 minutes is far too generous so Olwyn included an extra loop to the Plantation to lose a bit of time as it’s awkward to block the road outside the Lodge while waiting time.
We picked up another passenger in the village of Ham where the bus connects with route 371 – he was also on board to do a complete circuit around the Park …
… and two more at Pembroke Lodge going to the Isabella Plantation so all three would pass through the Danebury Avenue start point and on to the next journey.
When I’ve travelled in previous years it’s been a well used service especially once the rhododendrons are in full bloom in the Isabella Plantation as the RP1 is by far the best way of reaching it, unless you like a long walk or have a blue badge.
It’s also a lovely way to see the many deer in the Park.
There’s a colourful printed leaflet available this year giving details of the route and times…
… unique for a bus route in London – and the bus stops are all well marked together with a newly installed bench seat at many of them.
But Malcolm needs TfL’s help. I know there are blog readers at TfL so please contact Malcolm at firstname.lastname@example.org and ensure the out of date timetables displayed at your bus stops are updated so passengers are not left confused. And how about installing a timetable at that bus stop in Mortlake for them?
Come on TfL help a volunteer run bus route that’s doing a fantastic job at giving people access to one of London’s loveliest Parks.
Goodbye Red Arrows
While in London yesterday I took what will be my last rides on the about to be withdrawn routes 507 and 521 formerly famously branded as part of the once extensive Red Arrow network.
It’s very sad to see these two routes disappear with their distinctive single decks making them ideal for short journeying commuters arriving at Victoria, Waterloo and London Bridge.
Their replacements by diverting other routes operated by standard double decks just won’t appeal in the same way and I’m sure will lead to a further reduction in passengers.
I remember travelling on route 500, the first Red Arrow route back in 1966 soon after its introduction between Victoria, Oxford Street and Marble Arch, but the real Red Arrow revolution came 55 years ago in 1968 when a whole raft of routes began including the 507 (more or less unchanged in those 55 years) and the 501 which originally linked Aldgate with Waterloo but soon changed its eastern terminus to London Bridge (in 1970) before effectively being renumbered 521 and very similar to today’s route.
It’s somewhat ironic when the Mayor is toying with the idea of a ‘Superloop’ brand to raise the profile of orbital links in outer London he’s overseeing the demise of one of London Transport/TfL’s most successful brands in Red Arrow, albeit it hasn’t been used for some time now.
I’ll miss both routes. It just won’t be the same to catch a 3 or a C10 instead of the 507 or a 59 or 133 instead of a 521 – and these replacements don’t provide a through route anyway although admittedly they do cover the needs of most passenger journeys, but as I found yesterday, not all.
Interestingly someone is garnering names for a petition to Save the 521, but alas it’s now too late.
Sadly the 59 with its double deck buses won’t be able to use the Strand Underpass with its twists and turns linking the north end of Waterloo Bridge with the southern end of Kingsway, helpfully bypassing the busy Aldwych junctions, and another piece of London’s bus history ends.
I’m still not clear what’s to become of Go-Ahead London’s Waterloo bus garage in the long term.
Despite the huge investment in making it the country’s first all electric bus garage I suspect it’s future lies in demolition and replacement by a couple of blocks of flats.
You’ve got until a week tomorrow (28th April) to enjoy one last ride on the 507 and 521 before their demise as well as other long standing central London routes before they are irretrievably altered at the Central London end – including the 3, 6, 11, 16, 26, 59 and 133.
But in better news you’ve got until 29th November to have a ‘must ride’ trip on the wonderful RP1.
Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThS
It is indeed sad to see the loss of the last vestiges of the Red Arrow network and ironically the withdrawal of more electric buses from the streets of London. Unfortunately those responsible for the planning of London’s bus network see it as a jigsaw puzzle and TfL is obsessed with standardisation. Yes demand has changed post COVID but it has been picking up particularly at weekends and early morning journeys are still busy with construction workers. We mustn’t forget that tourists love to travel on buses too. Rather than full withdrawal of those routes TfL should have considered a rebrand with proper marketing and cutting out some stops to speed them up – going back to the original Red Arrow concept. Abandoning the Aldwych underpass is an odd decision and TfL should be doing something about reinstating the bus lanes on Waterloo Bridge. I doubt if many passengers will use the new services or even know about them whilst TfL still refuses to produce a bus map (although it produces one for Santander bike stations). Rather than withdraw those routes they could have added to them but there seems little interest to do anything innovative in the organisation and of course the operators ‘just do as they’re told’. Unfortunately the decline in what was once a bus network the envy of the world continues
Thank you, again, for an informative blog.
I was at university in London in the 1960s and still remember travelling on the original Red Arrows, the Merlin single-deckers with their turnstiles you fed with a 6d piece [no travelcards then!]. Then, unless you were fortunate in getting one of the few seats, having to stand – indeed the bus was designed for standing passengers.
Where has time gone?
I too remember the Red Arrows in the 1960s – specifically the 508 which only operated for a few months in 1969 but provided a really useful link between Marylebone Station and Shaftesbury Avenue for my commute at that time.
The special Allen key that opens TfL timetable holders is quite easy to get hold of. I’ve had to resort to using it on occasion as TfL are pretty poor at updating other operators’ timetables.
I travelled on the RP1 in 2019, before I left London. It is a wonderful route, not just because of the incredible views but also because its social inclusion ethos means that everyone can enjoy the Park. We should be so grateful to the private individuals who fund it, not doubt anonymously.
Yes TfL, get your fingers out and update your stop timetables! Or give Malcolm an Allen Key and let him do it.
Route 214 will soon be moving into Waterloo Garage alongside the 153, so it’s future hopefully looks set to continue for some time.
IIRC on the 521 “Red Arrow” does indeed survive on the display, you just need to be looking at the right time.
Waterloo isn’t particularly near the 214 route so more dead mileage runs across Waterloo bridge to add to those on the 68, X68 etc. At least the site is secured for electric vehicles for now.
But no further away than the current Northumberland Park garage. Other than when needed for recharging, I suspect buses will not run in and out of the garage much, but drivers will travel on the Underground to take the buses over, like they do currently from Tottenham Hale. Have also heard that the 360 might be joining them at RA.
As a child I had a Dinky Toys (I think) Red Arrow AEC Merlin. It had a button on the offside roof cove that operated the doors.
Red Arrow seems an ideal name for reuse on an innovative BRT network with extensive priority and wide stop spacing.
Red Arrow is also the brand name of trentbarton’s prestige express route between Derby and Nottingham.
Ongoing financial support for buses
It looks as if there may be a small amount of ongoing funding after June
The indications re that the £2 fare cap will not continue
TH approach appears to be to roll up all the existing funding streams such as BSIP, Concessionary passes etc into a single funding stream. How much will be new money if it happens who knows
An announcement is expected in the next few weeks
As a long time Red Arrow user, albeit not daily, I think the decision to withdraw the 507 and 521 seems quite mad. The 507 and 521 are and were excellent and well used, especially the 507 for St Thomas’s. But then so is the withdrawal of the 26 ,11, etc. How will I get from Waterloo to St Pancras  or Liverpool St ? Why should I be forced to use the Underground? Or from the City when the 76 drops us in York Road miles away from Waterloo’s escalators and lift? We always take the 521 or 26 from St Pauls at present.
Interesting observations whilst working in central London the last two days, to note Commuters seemed to have returned in greater numbers than of late, and the 521 in particular was carrying some full loads.
Both routes suffered understandably heavy frequency reductions after partial normality returned, but I wonder if TfL have looked at passenger loading figures of late? Whilst no fan of crush-loaded single deckers, these two routes have covered a particular function and need, and as many of the passengers are from the SWR hinterland, TfL may get more flak than they anticipate.
Little Gem bus an operator in the North West have ceased trading