I used to think that London's most unnecessary bus station was at Dagenham Dock. A three-lane interchange in the middle of almost-nowhere, served by only one bus, paid for with more than £3m of public money. But no, as of Saturday there's a far more convincing candidate. Ten different bus routes pass by Dalston Junction, but only one of these makes use of the newly-opened Dalston Junction bus station. And all this for nearer £63m of public money. Uneconomic, unnecessary and unforgivable.
The railway cutting into what used to be DalstonJunction had lain derelict for quarter of a century before the Overground came along. We can reuse that, TfL thought, and sketched out a new urban railway arriving in the town centre at basement level. Everything was planned, agreed and funded when someone suddenly came up with a fresh idea. What Dalston really needed, they argued, was a central bus station. A turnaround where new bus services could terminate, and an interchange where passengers could connect with the new Overground. And there was one obvious place to locate it, which was on a concrete slab built across the top of the railway line. Plans for "The Slab" gathered pace, and gathered costs, so a parallel series of highrise residential blocks was added to recoup some of the money spent. These aren't yet complete, but the seven-bay bus station over the railway is now up and running. A most important public transport interchange, planners had claimed. Alas it hasn't quite turned out like that.
Dalston Junction reopened to the travelling public last year, but the southern entrance into the bus station remained sealed off until a couple of weeks ago. Even then there were no buses to catch. A series of metal barriers blocked the roadway, restricting passage to a single pedestrian thoroughfare. Only on Saturday were they pulled aside to allow the first bus services to roll out onto the Kingsland Road [photo]. Dalston's Oxfam shop had to be knocked down to create this gap in the high street - potentially two lanes wide, but for some reason only a single exit lane has been built. Instead inbound buses have to approach via a turn into Forest Road, some considerable distance to the south. Picture the layout as a long thin one-way bus station situated parallel to the main road. Umpteen London suburbs are home to something similar. But none are quite so useless as this.
The original plan was for all local bus services to sidle into the new interchange as they passed by. Not the four east/west services, because they'd face too lengthy a detour having to turn off at the main traffic lights. But five other services which run along Kingsland Road would definitely pass through. Except, as it turned out, this routeing wouldn't be efficient for buses running south. With the bus station being one-way, they'd have to run straight past the exit and enter at the far end, heading round in a big loop which would pass along the same 100yd stretch of road twice. It was later decided that passengers simply wouldn't stand for the delay, so this diversion hasn't happened. Buses running north would have found it easier to nip in, but TfL now seem to have decided that even this isn't practical. Today dozens of 67s, 76s, 149s, 242s and 243s pass Dalston's new bus station every hour, but not one single vehicle drives inside.
So the new bus station has been dedicated to terminating services only. And there's only one of those, the 488. You can't catch anything else here, only the runty single decker to Shacklewell, Clapton and Bow. Five buses an hour, that's all this £63m bus station can muster. And that's five departures - there are zero arrivals. All inbound 488s turf passengers off early because there's no provision for a bus stop at the entrance, which allows drivers to run into the bus station empty, park up on the stand and rest awhile. They have a wide choice of places to park too. Seven bus stands are marked out on the concrete, complete with 'safe' yellow walkways for any drivers keen to nip off to the restroom and make themselves a cup of tea. Seven bus stands of which generally only one will be occupied, by a single passenger-less 488 [photo]. Two pedestrian walkways pass to either side, safely barriered-off to prevent any would-be passenger from straying out in front of an every-twelve-minutes bus. They had such high hopes for this interchange on the drawing board, but the reality is a bleak, deserted, vehicle-free strip of concrete.
It was never planned this way. Part of the mess is down to Crossrail 2, which might one day pass this way, and the need to safeguard the ground for future tunnelling. But the real blame must be down to the deluded optimist who gave the go ahead for the bus station in the first place, without ever realising how impractical its one-way layout would be to use. Instead businesses were demolished, housing schemes repurposed and £63m of public money spent... and all for five buses an hour, outgoing only. Dalston Junction has, surely, London's most unnecessary bus station. May nobody ever waste future millions on somewhere worse.