As of today, every number up to 217 is the number of a London bus route.
But as of tomorrow, bus route 13 is being scrapped. And this means London will only have a bus route for every number up to 81.
Let me try to explain the magic trick that's been pulled.
The number 13 bus has been running from Golders Green to Aldwych since 1970 (and from Golders Green to central London since 1952). It runs via Finchley Road and Baker Street, before nipping down Oxford Street, then Regent Street, then round Trafalgar Square and up the Strand. It's been doing this for years. Tomorrow it won't be doing this any more.
When TfL first proposed scrapping route 13, in March 2015, there was uproar. Localresidents got angry, local politicians kicked up a stink, petitions were raised, and over 3000 consultation responses were received. You can't scrap a much loved bus route, they said, we love our 13 and we use it a lot. [consultation 2015]
Stop panicking, said TfL, we know what we're doing. Bus route 82 already runs along the majority of this route, indeed all the way from Golders Green to Baker Street, so you can catch that instead. What's more the 82 starts in North Finchley, which is better, and it goes to Victoria, which is still in the West End, so what's the problem? Having said that, we do recognise that this change is contentious, so we won't scrap route 13 after all, we'll go away and have a think.
So TfL went away for about a year, and had a think, and last July they came back with a cunning plan. [consultation 2016]
What we're going to do, they said, is extend the starting point for route 13 back to North Finchley, and divert it to Victoria at the southern end. This way we haven't scrapped a much loved bus route, we've made it better. And then we're going to scrap route 82 instead.
There was again a furore, though not quite such a large one. Localresidents were angry, local MPs complained, and one politician gathered a petition with 1870 signatures. We see what you've done, they said. You're planning to rename the 82 bus the ‘13’, and then remove the 13 bus route by stealth. It's exactly the same plan as before, but with the numbers swapped.
Ha, said TfL when the consultation closed. Only 32% of you supported or partially supported our proposal to extend route 13 to North Finchley and re-route the service from Aldwych to Victoria. And only 26% of you supported or partially supported our proposal to withdraw route 82. But we're going to do it anyway.
TfL said their proposals "were made in light of a significant and sustained change in passenger demand, and were designed to better match demand to capacity." They said their proposals "were designed to help ensure our financial resources were being used in the best way possible." And they said their proposals "took into consideration recent improved services on the Tube and London Overground, the forthcoming introduction of the Elizabeth line and the introduction of the one-hour “Hopper” bus fare, which has proved incredibly popular."
Basically TfL said they can't go running empty buses where they're not needed, there isn't the money. Also they said they'd reinvest the money in other bus services in outer London that are well used. But mainly they said it's now free to change buses, thanks to the “Hopper”, so even if you have to change buses it won't cost you extra. Expect to hear a lot more of these three arguments over the years to come.
And the end result is that the number 13 bus route is being scrapped, but the number 13 route number isn't. What's called bus route 82 today will be bus route 13 tomorrow.
TfL aren't admitting that this is what they've done, they're playing the game of pretending that route 13 has been extended at one end and diverted at the other. If you go to the Bus service changes webpage - a recent innovation - you'll see they still claim that...
I should point out that TfL will be increasing the frequency of route 13/82 from once every eight minutes to once every six minutes, so the total number of buses hasn't plummeted and it should still be possible to get on board at peak times. I should also point out that there will also be tweaks to routes 113, 139 and 189, which I haven't gone on about here. But the overall effect is a cut in peak frequencies on Finchley Road from 27 buses an hour to 22, whilst maintaining the illusion that the number 13 bus still exists.
I took a ride on the doomed number 13 bus earlier this week. I saw no information on any bus stops about the change, save in the bus shelter at Golders Green where the bus currently starts. The electronic displays inside the bus gave regular reminders to check tfl.gov.uk/buschanges, but didn't tell anyone without a smartphone what the upcoming changes actually were. The Men Who Change The Tiles had been out early - too early - removing 82s from numerous bus stops and replacing them with shiny new 24-hour 13s. And I had a nice ride, to start with at least.
All the way to Baker Street the journey on the 13 bus was fairly smooth. Even Oxford Street was fine (it's worth pointing out that one of the reasons the 13 is being scrapped is to ease congestion here). But Regent Street was a nightmare, a snail's pace jam of red buses, and most of these I noted were pretty much empty. Indeed when we finally reached the Strand, I observed that three consecutive number 13 buses going the other way had no passengers on them at all. This is another reason why the West End end of the number 13's route is being scrapped - there are far too many buses in central London moving too slowly with too few people on board.
The number 13 bus was doomed in this modern cost-cutting climate because it did nothing unique. North of Selfridges it was shadowed perfectly by the 82, and east of Selfridges it was shadowed perfectly by the 6, the 23 and the 139. Why run a bus that merely copies others, especially now changing buses is free?
That's why the number 13 bus route is being scrapped tomorrow. And devious scheming is why the number 82 dies instead.