Route 25 has run between Ilford and Oxford Circus for the last 25 years, and has connected these two locations since the 1950s. But tomorrow that long-standing connection is being broken, as the western terminus is permanently cut back from Oxford Circus to Holborn Circus.
It's a peculiar decision - in part rational, in part insane - and not especially well thought through. The curious purge of London's busiest bus route continues.
From Saturday 1 December 2018 route 25 is changing and will run from Ilford to Holborn Circus (City Thameslink Station).
Oxford Circus, Oxford Street, Tottenham Court Road station and Holborn station will no longer be served. Routes 8, 98 and 55 can be used as alternatives to continue your journey.
There will be no changes to the 25 night service but this will be re-numbered N25.
At the start of the year two enormous changes were scheduled for December 2018 - the opening of Crossrail and the pedestrianisation of Oxford Street. Had pedestrianisation gone ahead a cut to route 25 would have been forced, no questions asked, with Crossrail as useful mitigation. Indeed this particular cut to route 25 was part of a Crossrail-related consultation launched last year, alongside dozens of other routes, which has helped to bury public dissatisfaction. But even though neither of the enormous changes is taking place this December, the chop to route 25 is happening anyway.
This graphic from the current timetable at the route's new terminus hints at a big clue why. Traffic.
Route 25 is not a fast route. Its full 11 miles can take up to two and a quarter hours to complete, according to the timetable, with the last stretch towards Oxford Circus the slowest crawl. It wasn't quite as bad as 32 minutes when I tried it in midweek - my bus only took 28 - but traffic lights, traffic jams and building works all took their toll. By chopping off the last 1¾ miles of the journey TfL can save an hour of turnaround time, and thereby a lot of money. Today route 25 is operated by a fleet of 40 vehicles. From tomorrow it'll be just 32.
Another reason for cutting back is that the vehicles currently operating route 25 aren't compatible with the Ultra Low Emission Zone being introduced next April. Cleaner buses are on their way, but obviously it's cheaper to replace 32 buses than 40. Indeed three months ago route 25 was operated by 60 vehicles, so to be able to halve the fleet is a big financial win. But passengers won't be keen on terminating early at Holborn Circus, so why the hurry?
Here's TfL's consultation response giving the official reason why they're ploughing ahead regardless.
There has been a big decrease in demand on route 25 over the last five years, particularly at the western end of the route. Demand is expected to fall further once the Elizabeth line opens. Continuing to run the 25 via its current routeing cannot therefore be justified. Following the changes, passengers will be able to use route 8 to continue their journey into the West End.
The big decrease in demand at the western end of route 25 follows the halving of the route's frequency, which is hardly an external factor. If demand is supposed to fall further when Crossrail opens, making the cut a year in advance looks wilfully premature. And as for that excuse about being able to use route 8, well, that's where the impracticality of this change really kicks in, because route 8 doesn't go to Oxford Circus either.
To explain what's going on, it would be useful to see a map. Unfortunately TfL don't produce a Central London bus map any more, the final version now almost three years old, since when dozens of additional bus route changes have been made. So I've had a go at updating the relevant section myself. It may be unprofessional and it may not be 100% correct, but it is better than a cash-strapped organisation with tens of thousands of employees can't produce. (click to enlarge)
The 25's new terminus is on the right hand side of the map at City Thameslink. The withdrawn section, west towards Oxford Circus, is shown by red circles. And if you follow the path through, you'll see there isn't a single bus route which matches where the 25 used to go.
Three routes continue across Holborn Viaduct - the 8, 46 and 521. The 46 turns off at Chancery Lane, so isn't helpful. The 521 runs as far as Holborn station, particularly at peak times, but not at weekends. So you want the 8, the 8's the way to go, at least as far as Tottenham Court Road. But then you have to change again, onto one of Oxford Street's four remaining bus routes, to get to Oxford Circus. These two changes add two extra waits to your journey, which could be fifteen minutes if you're unlucky, and may also add an extra fare. There is no simple alternative once the 25 is gone.
Here's the illustrative map provided on the TfL website to explain to passengers what's going on.
I don't think this map is as helpful as it could be. It combines the current situation, the future situation and the night-time situation, so is a complex amalgamation of three different states. Showing the deleted section of the 25 in grey is confusing. Including the unchanged overnight version of the route is confusing too, and those Night Tube owls are a wholly unnecessary flourish. So here's my simplified version.
Let's use this to run through how a bus passenger from Ilford is supposed to get to Oxford Circus from tomorrow.
First you ride the 25 into central London as before. Somewhere between Bank and City Thameslink you switch onto route 8. There are four possible stops at which to change over - Poultry, Bread Street, St Paul's Station and City Thameslink. TfL's map seems to recommend changing at City Thameslink via a 50m walk, which would be stupid when a walk is unnecessary. Separate instructions on the TfL website instead suggest changing at St Paul's station, where both routes serve the same stop, and that's much more sensible advice. Do that.
Once you're aboard the 8 it'll take you to Holborn station and on to Tottenham Court Road. But, and here's the really senseless thing, there isn't a single bus stop where you can change onto the final route to Oxford Circus. Every possible option - and I've tried them - requires a walk of at least two minutes. Here's how.
» Change at Holborn station (bus stop K): Requires a two minute walk up Procter Street to Red Lion Square (stop J), the first stop on route 98.
» Change at High Holborn (bus stop Q): Requires a two minute walk to New Oxford Street (bus stop R), the second stop on route 98.
» Change at St Giles High Street (the last stop on route 8): Requires a 2½ minute walk towards Tottenham Court Road station (bus stop X) on New Oxford Street, which is served by routes 55, 73, 98 and 390.
The last walk is the longest, but also offers a choice of four further routes rather than just one. The last option is also TfL's preferred recommendation. But all of the connections involve crossing roads, none is straightforward, and all are worse than the status quo.
Another serious issue is that by the time you reach this point, your Hopper fare may have run out. Today you can get from the heart of Newham to Oxford Circus for £1.50. Tomorrow your 60 minutes is likely to be up before you reach Bank, as a quick check of the new timetable confirms. Even with the 70 minute window the Hopper actually provides, having to wait for a second bus increases the chance it'll have expired, and having to wait for a third bus almost guarantees it. There is a reason why so many East Enders ride the 25 and that's because it's cheap. The train fare from east of Stratford to zone 1 is £2.80 off-peak and over £3 at peak times, too much for many weekly budgets to sustain.
By contrast, travelling east from Oxford Circus once the 25 is withdrawn is considerably easier.
You catch the 98 from Oxford Circus. At Tottenham Court Road or Museum Street you change from the 98 onto the 8 at the same stop. Your Hopper fare cannot have expired. At Holborn Circus you change from the 8 onto the 25 at the same stop. Your Hopper fare cannot have expired. And then you carry on home for a total of £1.50. You will have wasted time waiting for two extra buses, but at least it won't have cost you any extra.
Buses on route 25 have often turned short at Holborn Circus, that's nothing new. But from tomorrow they all will, and passengers being turfed off earlier than they expected may not be happy. They may also be poorer. They may also choose not to make the journey because it'd cost too much, or be too much hassle with a pushchair or in a wheelchair. The 25's withdrawal isn't about making passengers' lives easier, it's about saving TfL money... and an obsession with removing buses from Oxford Street.
London's busiest bus route, today the only link from the heart of the City to the heart of the West End, will tomorrow be terminating two miles from Oxford Circus - nowhere useful - without a decent alternative connection to take its place. What were they thinking?