diamond geezer

 Monday, November 16, 2015

As you may know, every London bus stop has its own identifying number. That's a five-digit code posted on a panel beneath the roundel, which you can send by text message to receive up-to-the-minute next bus information by return. This system was almost cutting edge in 2011, before virtually everyone had a smartphone, but has been outclassed since by the advance of transport-friendly apps. Passengers almost never stand at bus stops and send text messages to '87287' these days, especially when they get charged 12p for the privilege. But as many as nineteen thousand London bus stops still have their own SMS code, and TfL's bus database lists the lot.

You'd expect the lowest five-digit SMS code to be ten thousand and something, but no, none of them start with a 1. None start with a 2 or 3 either, with the lowest individual code launching partway through the forty thousands. London's lowest bus stop code is 47001, then 47002, but then 47004 because these codes irregularly skip numbers. The fifty thousands are very popular, then the whole of the sixty thousands are omitted, then the seventy thousands terminate at 77999. Only one London bus stop has a code beginning with an 8, that's 87898, which (for some reason) you'll find at Briant Street on the New Cross Road. There's then a leap to the ninety thousands, with fewer than half a dozen SMS codes scattered above ninety-five thousand. Meanwhile there's seemingly no geographical rationale here either. Bus stop 50000 is in Wandsworth, for example, but 50001 is in Lambeth, 50002 is in Hounslow and 50003 is in Barking and Dagenham. Or to look at this the other way round, wherever there's a cluster of bus stops in the same place then their numbers are invariably wildly different. The five bus stops at Canada Water bus station, for example, are numbered 48366, 50307, 54675, 58185 and 77739.

Before your eyes glaze over, let's visit the lowest and highest numbers in the list.

The London bus stop with the lowest SMS code: [47001]: East Street
[routes served: 12, 40, 68, 176, 468] [bus stop letter: F] [borough: Southwark] [postcode: SE17 2DJ] [map]

Seemingly randomly, the lowest numbered London bus stop is in Walworth Road, a couple of stops beyond Elephant and Castle. There seems to be no reason to begin here, the stop has no qualities that would place it at the top of any list. Walworth's high street is about as average as any London high street gets - there's a Boots and an M&S nearby, but also a Poundland and a Chicken Cottage. This particular stop is named after East Street, the pedestrianised street market round the corner where the stalls sell handbags, watch straps and seafood, plus yesterday the particular bargain of remnant baseball caps for £2. Stooping ladies drag baskets across the street in gaps between the traffic, while folk born beyond these shores carry home enough for a meal in a blue plastic bag. There's still something of the late 20th century about this place, in a good way, with gentrification as yet held back to the demolished Heygate up the road. I'd swap these shops for the so-called delights of Roman Road back home in Bow any day.

The London bus stop with the highest SMS code: [98505]: Victoria Station
[route served: 24] [bus stop letter: U] [borough: Westminster] [postcode: SW1V 1AA] [map]

Equally randomly, the highest numbered London bus stop is outside Victoria station. Nor immediately out front in the bus station, amongst the maelstrom of roadworks, but over to the east on Vauxhall Bridge Road. Two well known theatres lie across the road, with Wicked playing behind the the austere wall of the Apollo, and Billy Elliot at the rather more ornate Palace. This particular bus stop sits beneath a brick cliff of mansion blocks, immediately outside a Carphone Warehouse and an Internet Cafe - so very Victoria. There's also something about the stop that looks temporary - the roundel and timetables are affixed to a lamppost rather than a proper pole - which might explain why the SMS code is top of the shop. It's also top of the shop by some considerable distance, the second place bus stop (in Cheam) being 98360 and the third (at Canning Town station) being 97500. It's numerical madness - there appears to be absolutely no pattern to these SMS codes whatsoever. Unless, that is, you know better.

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