diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Before the Year of the Bus ends, it's time to do something else to celebrate. Not vintage buses, because they peaked on Sunday with a service of RTs on route 11 through London. Not painted miniature buses, because they're already all over town waiting for you to find them. Not WW1 buses, although TfL's Battle Bus will be appearing this weekend in the Lord Mayor's Show. No, I'm talking about another pointless feature on this blog which involves me riding lots of buses and then telling you all about them. Don't say you're not excited.

I've done square numbered buses, cube numbered buses and prime numbered buses. I've done buses around the edge of London and buses across the middle. I've even done buses along the North Circular, as if that were something exciting. So to round off 2014 I thought I'd ride alphabetical buses. That's not buses like the 77A, 8B and 130C, because TfL deliberately eradicated suffixed route numbers in 2006. Instead that's buses with a single-letter prefix, routes like the P4 or the R68, of which there are dozens.

Below is a map showing where these lettered buses run. I've made the size of the letter proportional to the number of bus routes so, for example, there are tons of 'W' buses to the north of London but there's only one 'G' to the south.

But why are they arranged like this? How come there are so many of some letters and not others, how come some parts of the capital have lots of lettered buses and others have none, and how come some letters appear more than once on the map? The answer's complex, but has its roots almost fifty years ago in London Transport's Bus Reshaping Plan, a pioneering project to streamline the system.

Part of the plan was to introduce one-man-operated single deckers on several routes, cutting out the conductor to save some money, removing most of the seats and speeding things up by charging flat fares. The rest of the plan involved remodelling London's bus network from an interleaved web of routes to a "hub and spoke" model. Passengers wishing to travel across town would first catch a single decker from home to a local interchange, then take a speedier double decker to another hub, then catch another single decker out to their intended destination. These shorter routes would have been very heavily alphabetical, indeed the original 1966 planning document suggested the following...

Proposed route renumbering from original 1966 Bus Reshaping plan
 A (Waltham Abbey) A1-A10 G (Golders Green) G1-G10 P (Peckham) P1-P10
(Putney) P11-P20
(Poplar) P31-P40
 B (Bromley) B1-B10
(Barking) B11-B20
(Brixton) B21-B30
 H (Harrow) H1-H10
(Hackney) H11-H20
(Highgate) H21-H30
(Harlesden) H31-H40
(Hounslow) H41-H50
 R (Romford) R1-R10
(Richmond) R11-R20
 C (Croydon) C1-C10
(Camden) C11-C20
(Camberwell) C21-C30
 K (Kingston) K1-K10 S (Shepherd's Bush) S1-S10
(Stratford) S11-S20
(Sutton) S21-S30
(Streatham) S31-S40
 E (Ealing) E1-E10
(Enfield) E11-E20
(Edgware) E21-E30
(Eltham) E31-E40
(Edmonton) E41-E50
 L (Ilford) L1-L10
(Lewisham) L11-L20
 U (Uxbridge) U1-U10
 F (Walthamstow) F1-F10 M (Morden) M1-M10 W (Wood Green) W1-W10
(Woolwich) W11-W20
(Wembley) W21-W30

Perhaps thankfully this idealised classification was never fully realised, but in 1968 an initial trial kicked off in two suburbs beginning with W. Walthamstow got the W21 circular, an elongated trip up to Chingford Mount and back. Meanwhile Wood Green gained routes W1 to W6, with the W5 and W6 being special Saturday services for shoppers, and the other buses clogging up the streets in such great numbers that they had to be scaled back. Neither 'W' scheme prove terribly reliable, or indeed popular, but the savings generated by moving from two-man to one-man operation meant that project rollout continued. Next in line in 1969 were Ealing (E), Peckham (P), Harrow (H) and Morden (M), of which all but the latter have at least partly survived. Croydon (C) and Stratford (S) followed on a limited basis in 1971, while a more successful remodelling followed later in Bexley (B), Docklands (D), Hounslow (H), Orpington (R) and Uxbridge (U).

You can read more about the Reshaping Plan and lettered routes over at the Red-RF website, along with more general details of bus route numbering. There's considerably more detail about lettered routes at the mighty Eplates website, divided up into A-C, D-M, P-T and U-W. For route-by-route histories try the London Bus Routes website, or of course there's always Wikipedia.

Here's how the full list of lettered London bus routes looks today.

 A (Airport) A10 N (Night) N1 ... N551 (and 51 others)
B (Bexley) B11 B12 B13 B14 B15 B16 P (Peckham) P4 P5 P12 P13
C (Central) C1 C10 (Camden) C2
(Chelsea) C3 (Cricklewood) C11
R (Orpington) R1 R2 R3 R4 R5 R6 R7 R8 R9 R10 R11
(Richmond) R68 R70
D (Docklands) D3 D6 D7 D8RV(River) RV1
E (Ealing) E1 E2 E3 E5 E6 E7 E8 E9 E10 E11 S (Sutton) S1 S3 S4
EL (East London) EL1 EL2 T (Tramlink) T31 T32 T33
G (St George's Hospital) G1 U (Uxbridge) U1 U2 U3 U4 U5 U7 U9 U10
H (Hampstead) H2 H3
(Harrow) H9 H10 H11 H12 H13 H14 H17 H18 H19
(Hounslow) H20 H22 H25 H26 H28 H32 H37 H91 H98
 W (Wood Green) W3 W4 W5 W6 W7 W8 W9 W10
(Walthamstow) W11 W12 W13 W14 W15 W16 W19
K (Kingston) K1 K2 K3 K4 K5 X (Express) X26 X68

So what I'm planning to do is ride an A-Z of London buses. That's complicated by there not being a Z, or a Y, so in fact I'll be riding an A-X, and even that'll have eight further letters missing. I'm not going to ride every single prefixed bus, just one starting with each letter (The Ladies Who Bus did the whole lot, if you're a completist). And I'm doing it in alphabetical order, which means an A bus first, then a B, then a C and so on. My A has to be the A10, but then comes the element of choice in this project as I have to pick from one of the six Bs. You may have some suggestions for which to take, especially from the longer lists like H, R or W. And don't worry, I won't be writing about buses and nothing else - a couple of journeys a week should see me safely through to the end of the year. And yes, like I said, I am still single.

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