Its easy to cut the frequency of a London bus route because almost nobody notices.
Cut the frequency of a tube or rail service and passengers yell. Cut an entire bus route, or trim one back, and a long public consultation is required. But for TfL to run less frequent buses than they used to, that's easy. All they have to do is publish their intention in a fortnightly online document hardly anyone looks at, and suddenly one day fewer buses run.
Here's a list of all the buses whose weekday daytime frequencies have been cut since June last year. In most cases the cut is about one bus an hour. If the cut is two buses an hour, the route number is in bold. If the cut is three or more, the route number is in bold and underlined.
To save you counting, that's 83 different London bus routes whose frequencies have been cut since this time last year. Of the 543 daytime TfL bus routes, that's 15%. One in every six London bus routes now runs less often during the day than it used to. It's just as well nobody's noticed.
The most common cuts are from "every 8 minutes" to "every 10 minutes", and from "every 10 minutes" to "every 12 minutes". They're the kinds of cut it's hard to spot. People don't look at timetables any more, they focus on when the next bus will arrive, so it's easy not to twig that average waiting time has increased.
The biggest cut was on the RV1, the tourist-friendly bus which shuttles from Covent Garden to the Tower. Its frequency was halved in February, dropping from every 10 minutes to every 20, essentially no longer a turn-up-and-go service. That chop may have made the media, even if TfL held firm, but cuts on other routes have remained far below the radar.
In total, that's approximately 100 buses every hour which used to run this time last year, but no longer do. Over the course of a day that's well over 1000 buses removed, which adds up to a useful saving for a budget-strapped transport authority. TfL are trying to cut their annual bus mileage from 486 million km last year to 471 million km in 2018/19, so this'll help.
Most of these service cuts are "to match demand". If fewer people are using buses, it makes sense not to run them as often. Cut the service from, say, 6 buses an hour to 5, and everyone still travels, just squeezed onto slightly fewer vehicles. But there's also a potential vicious circle here. If buses arrive less frequently, or are packed out when they arrive, passengers may choose to divert to other means of transport, or not travel at all... and the service may be cut again.
Indeed this seems to be what's happened on two routes cut last year, and scheduled to be cut again this month. Route 31, which runs between White City and Camden Town, was cut last July from "every 6 minutes" to "every 7½ minutes". In two weeks time it's going down to "every 10 minutes", which'll be a total loss of 4 buses an hour. Likewise route 24, which runs between Hampstead and Pimlico, was cut last November from "every 7½ minutes" to "every 8 minutes", and will reduce to "every 10 minutes" by the end of the month. Either passenger numbers have fallen further, or TfL have cunningly concealed a large cut by introducing it in two smaller stages.
For balance, I should list all the buses whose weekday daytime frequency has increased in the last year. Here they are.
The 390 is a special case, because it was rerouted last June to make up for a curtailment of route 73 at Oxford Circus. The only genuine increase is for route H14, an outer London connection between Hatch End and Northwick Park Hospital. That's 83 reductions in daytime services over the last year and one, maybe two, increases. The direction of travel is very much clear.
Bus frequencies are also being cut back at weekends.
Here's a list of all the buses whose Sunday frequencies have been cut since June last year.
Sundays are an easy time to cut buses, because it's not a working day, and people are accustomed to waiting a bit longer. Trim a service from 6 buses an hour to 5, or from 5 to 4, and leisure-focused passengers probably won't complain.
And then there's overnight.
Here's a list of all the buses whose Friday and Saturday night frequencies have been cut since June last year. Again, bold signifies a cut of two buses an hour, and underlining means three or more.
Weekend nightbus cuts have been particularly savage, as you can see from the amount of bold and underlining in that list. 45 routes have been affected altogether, that's a third of the overnight total. In particular, of the 50 N-something routes, which only run overnight, almost 60% have suffered weekend cuts.
24 nightbus routes have had two buses an hour removed, and eight routes have lost more than that. Route 25 has lost five buses an hour overnight. But the most savage chop was on the N29, where buses used to run every 3½ minutes between Trafalgar Square and Wood Green, and now run every 10. That's 10 buses an hour deleted.
Route 14 is another victim of two consecutive cuts, in July from "every 10 minutes" to "every 12 minutes", then in January down to "every 20 minutes". Meanwhile, compared to this time last year, an extra twenty nightbus routes now only run twice an hour. If you're a solo traveller at 3am, on a route with a newly-infrequent service, an Uber may appeal far more than a 30 minute wait.
There is a good reason why TfL are now running 500 fewer buses overnight on Fridays and Saturdays, and that's the Night Tube. This connects central London to all sorts of far flung outposts previously reliant on nightbuses, so there's little need for duplication. But the Night Tube can't always manage the last mile home, plus it's a more expensive way to travel, so shift workers are more likely to be getting a raw deal than occasional clubbers.
In summary, I've counted 83 bus routes whose weekday daytime frequencies have been cut over the last year, 26 bus routes trimmed on Sundays, and 45 nightbus routes culled on Friday and Saturday nights. Altogether, over 130 different London bus routes are affected.
The bus network is always kept under review to match demand, indeed there are bold plans to reshape the network after Crossrail arrives. There's no point TfL running buses if hardly anybody's aboard, and far better to be trimming buses than withdrawing routes altogether. But in a budget-strapped fare-frozen city, cutting bus frequencies remains the easiest way to cut provision and save money without anybody noticing.