Square Routes: Day 5 x 5 Bus 25: Ilford - Oxford Circus
Location: London east, inner
Length of journey: 10 miles, 90 minutes
The 25 is my local bus. It's the only bus that travels up the Mile End Road from Whitechapel to Stratford, and it goes straight past my front door. It is therefore a bus route I know far too much about. The 25 is also a bendy bus route. It's the only bendy bus in east London, and it's always packed, and we local residents hate it. I rode the 25 on its first day of bendiness about six months ago, wrote up my report of the horrors of bendy transformation here, and vowed that I'd never travel the complete route again. So it's that report from June which you'll find on my Square Routes page.
1) You have to buy your ticket before boarding: If you're well off you have a pre-paid Oystercard which makes boarding a bendy bus simple. If you're not well off (and let's remember that the 25 passes through Tower Hamlets, the poorest borough in the country) then you have to buy a ticket with cash before boarding. Transport for London have kindly provided a ticket machine at every bus stop along Route 25, but these are notoriously slow and unreliable. Sometimes the machine takes your money and doesn't dispense a ticket. Sometimes the machine won't even take your money, but the bus driver still won't let you pay on the bus so you're completely stuck. Many's the time I've seen unfortunate local residents still struggling to insert a one pound coin into the machine while the bus driver closes the doors and drives off. And when the cost of a ticket rises in January from £1 (one coin) to £1.20 (two coins), expect things to get worse.
2) You can get on board without paying: Actually that's not quite true. You'd never dream of getting on board without paying because you're an upstanding member of the community, but lots of people aren't. Other people get on board without paying. They just slip onto the bus through its middle or rear doors, smile at saving a quid and slip off again a few miles later. I saw herds of ticket inspectors on the route catching unticketed miscreants during the first week of bendy operation but I've not seen any since.
3) Bendy buses are too long: Bendy buses are 18 metres long, so they take up nearly twice as much road space as the double deckers they replaced. This means that traffic jams are getting longer. Longer buses are also far more likely to stop while blocking road junctions or pedestrian crossings, especially in heavy traffic. There are now two bendy bus routes down Oxford Street, a road which was always notorious for bus congestion, and it's evident that the congestion has got much worse since they were introduced. On the 25, for example, it's now usually quicker to hop off at Tottenham Court Road and walk the last half mile to Oxford Circus.
4) Bendy buses are relatively unmanoeuvrable: London's roads weren't designed for bus juggernauts, and the capital's streets are narrow, twisty and littered with obstructions. A bendy bus trying to change lanes can block the entire road, much to the annoyance of other road users. A bendy bus trying to turn a corner has to drive slowly and carefully, and can knock down street furniture and mow down the odd pedestrian in the process. It's like trying to sail an oil tanker down a narrow river. The western end of route 25 has been particularly affected, because here the bus has to take a five minute diversion down Regent Street and around Hanover Square just to avoid one impossible right turn to reach the last bus stop outside John Lewis.
5) The service on a bendy bus route is less frequent: Because bendy buses hold more people than the buses they replaced, Transport for London have bought less of them and are running them at more widely spaced intervals. TfL would argue that, overall, capacity has increased. I'd argue that I now have to wait longer for a bus. In fact I often have to wait an awful lot longer because these new buses travel bunched-up in convoys, usually with one nigh-empty bus trailing behind one packed-out service, but unable to manoeuvre past and overtake. Here's a photo showing four bendy buses nose to tail beside the Bow flyover, and I'll leave you to imagine the gap in the service that both preceded and followed this procession.
6) There aren't enough seats: Despite being nearly twice as long as the old double deckers, a bendy bus has a third less seats. Think of them more as tube carriages on wheels, with more space to stand and less places to sit. That's fine when there are less than 60 passengers on board because everyone still gets a seat. It's far less good when there are 'up to 140' passengers on board because that's really quite hellish, in the same way that travelling on the Central line in the rush hour is hellish.
7) It's no fun standing on a bendy bus: Unlike trains, London buses do not travel in fairly straight lines. They veer round roundabouts, swerve round corners and stop frequently (and rapidly) at traffic lights. This does not make for a pleasant travelling experience (unless you really enjoy rollercoaster rides, in which case it's a lot cheaper than a trip to Alton Towers). If you do end up standing then the hanging strap things are also really difficult to hang onto. They're not like those nice knobbly things that hang from the ceiling of tube trains, oh no. Instead you get to hang onto a grey plastic loop attached loosely around a high horizontal bar, and this rotates as the bus jerks about. Every time the bus swerves, you swerve. Every time the bus stops, you swing around. Hang onto one of these straps for any length of time and you'll probably do terrible things to your wrist as you jerk around like a demented puppet. I reckon these straps are a real design faux pas and should be replaced immediately.
8) It's really quite dangerous standing on a packed bendy bus: When a bendy bus gets crowded (and the 25 regularly does), tons of people end up standing squashed down the aisles and particularly in the two open spaces beside the middle and rear doors. This is especially dangerous should you end up standing just inside the doorway because the bus designers haven't provided anything suitable to hang onto. There are bars and straps further inside the bus, but you probably won't be able to reach those because other people will be hanging onto them or just standing in front of them and blocking them. All it then takes is one jolt or one fast corner and you're very likely to fall over, or at least smash into the five people attempting to stand next to you.
9) The view isn't very good: I miss the view along route 25 that I used to get from the top deck of the old double deckers. The view from a single decker just isn't the same, not least because a sizeable proportion of the seats face backwards. You'd never choose to view the Christmas lights down Oxford Street, for example, from a bendy bus.
10) Bendy buses are rubbish: They may still be red, but they're just not 'proper' London buses, are they? They're just rubbish.