diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 11, 2019

This weekend bus routes 3, 4, 9, N9, 14, 35, 40, 45, 53, 59, 67, 76, 100, 134, 149, 171, 172, 205, N205, 242, 341, 343, 388, 468, 476 and RV1 are changing. It's quite the biggie.

The plan is to cut, extend, divert, tweak and erase bus routes to save millions of pounds, removing excess capacity across large parts of central London. Further details of the changes can be found here, assuming you have the patience to sieve through 1800 words and nine spider map leaflets, and the original consultation with all the background detail is here.

One consequence of these changes is that some very well known roads will no longer receive a bus service. Three of them are even prominent on the Monopoly board. I've been out to ride these streets while I still can, and to see how TfL is alerting passengers that from Saturday no buses will be turning up.

Road deleted: PALL MALL
Route diverted: 9 (Hammersmith - Aldwych)

Most of Saturday's changes are because too many buses run down a particular road. This change stands out because route 9's going to be diverted to along the bottom end of Regent Street and the top end of Piccadilly where there's already excess capacity. The reason? To reverse an earlier change that didn't work. After Pall Mall became a two-way street in 2011, TfL re-routed the 9 "to improve public transport accessibility to the surrounding areas of St James’s Park and The Mall which are currently distant from the bus network." But the new stops proved less popular than hoped, reducing the number of trips on route 9 by 2500 passengers a day, so now they're going to switch it back.

There are only two bus stops on the mothballed stretch, not so far from St James's Palace (should Princess Beatrice ever fancy a ride). Both stops have the standard yellow notice that's been slapped up willy-nilly at affected stops across the capital. There is no mention that the 9 (and N9) are being diverted and buses will never stop here again, only an exhortation to check a page on a website where you might unearth the eventual outcome. Printing a bespoke notice would have involved effort and expense, two things TfL's Yellow Brigade have evidently been keen to avoid. The Onboard Messaging Team have done better, with scrolling text that reads "Route 9 changes 15 June" and the occasional audio announcement, although I couldn't distinguish a single word above the Borismaster's thundering aircon.

Route diverted: 40 (currently Dulwich to Aldgate, will be Dulwich to Clerkenwell Green)

Our next imminently-unserved street is in the City, as route 40 is whisked away and diverted somewhere completely different. From Saturday neither route 45 nor route 388 will run between Elephant & Castle and Blackfriars Bridge, so the 40's being sent that way to mop up some of the slack and will terminate at Clerkenwell Green rather than Aldgate. This is a significant shift and will break 2500 trips a day. It will still be possible to get from Elephant & Castle to Monument on the 35 or to Aldgate on an extended 343 (this is all so complicated, what hope does the public have?), but Fenchurch Street entirely misses out and will be busless for the first time since services began. TfL like to call this "simplifying the network", because taking buses away always needs a positive spin.

Fenchurch Street currently has four bus stops, two near the foot of the Walkie Talkie and two near the mouth of the mainline station. The latter pair have posters pointing out that services are changing, but no such posters appear at the first pair, because not only are the Yellow Brigade lazy they are also inept. The eastbound stop by the station is also shrouded in scaffolding, its flag concealed behind a strip of panelling, so the developers have been forced to paste a photograph of the flag on the adjacent hoarding so that passengers know what services actually stop. Let's hope someone changes the photo at the weekend.

Once again boarding a bus and listening provides a better level of information than standing at a bus stop. "Route 40 will be changing from Saturday 15th June. It will no longer run between Elephant & Castle and Aldgate but instead will divert via Blackfriars Bridge and Farringdon to terminate at Clerkenwell Green" is the lengthy message passengers occasionally hear. Meanwhile anyone arriving by train from Southend can always walk an extra couple of hundred metres to catch a different bus, or head to Tower Hill for the tube, or stuff it let's get an Uber and why bother with public transport anyway?

Road deleted: FETTER LANE
Route diverted: 341 (Waterloo - Meridian Water)

Fetter Lane's a backwater on the western edge of the City, linking Holborn Circus to Fleet Street past Sainsbury's HQ and the historic bit of King's College. Technically it's New Fetter Lane at one end, through a canyon of redeveloped offices, and Fetter Lane proper further down. Route 341 would've followed Chancery Lane if it could, because that's more direct, but the road's too narrow so buses have long been forced to take this detour via Fetter Lane. In future they'll be going via Farringdon Road instead, "providing faster journey times" and "creating new links between Blackfriars and Islington".

This time there are three bus stops, and absolutely no yellow posters at all. One of the stops has a 341 timetable and a map but nothing else, and the other two only have the default undersheet that says "We apologise if the timetable you require is not displayed here at the present time". Nobody waiting in Fetter Lane this week has any reason to suspect that anything is afoot because the Yellow Brigade have given it a complete miss. Even the 341's onboard message is keener to point out that in future the 341 will "terminate at Waterloo station instead of County Hall", instead of the much more significant detour it'll be making along the way. But only 7% of passengers on route 341 will be affected, and the diversion's only a short walk away, so don't expect too many people to be greatly inconvenienced.

Area deleted: COVENT GARDEN
Route extinguished: RV1 (Covent Garden - Tower Gateway)

The only bus route to nudge into Covent Garden's Theatreland enclave is the RV1, the most famous casualty of the upcoming bus tweak. This tourist-focused route was introduced in 2002 and meanders close to the Thames between here and Tower Bridge. But long-term road works around London Bridge station made it less attractive, passenger numbers slumped, its frequency was unceremoniously halved last year and now it's being dumped altogether. As the on-board announcement confirms "Route RV1 will be no longer run after Friday 14th June", and that's just three days away. For a deeper analysis of the issues, here's a report I wrote when TfL first announced the route was destined for the scrapheap.

Both of the RV1 bus stops in Covent Garden have been visited by the Yellow Brigade, one in Russell Street where services terminate and the other in Catherine Street where they restart. Again it's the default 'Routes from this stop will be affected' notice, rather than any useful description relevant to local issues. So generic is the notice that it fails to recognise there is only one route from this stop, not 'routes', which makes the whole thing all the lazier. But seriously, Yellow Brigade, if you are going to scrap a bus route at least have the balls to print a poster explaining this to customers rather than concealing the change behind cheap weasel words.

Route extinguished: RV1 (Covent Garden - Tower Gateway)

The most significant loss to the bus network when the RV1 disappears will be the backstreets along the South Bank. Here, for this week only, the RV1 edges away from Waterloo towards the London Eye, then dawdles past the back of the Royal Festival Hall (and what used to be ITV's London Studios) on its way towards the Oxo Tower. These backroads aren't choked with traffic but one loose coach can slow things down and this was never a bus to take for its speed. Scrapping the RV1 should save £3.3m a year, TfL have argued, and alternative stops on Waterloo Bridge or on the parallel route 381 are only a short walk away.

Six RV1-only bus stops are to lose their service. The first eastbound stop has a shelter but no pole on which a yellow poster could be stuck, so none has appeared. The second and third eastbound stops are suitably arrayed. But westbound the route's a mess, with two out of three of the stops currently out of use due to different sets of roadworks. The shelter by the London Eye is inaccessible amid a building site, so is already irrelevant. And the shelter by the Oxo Tower displays not one but four interventions by the Yellow Brigade.

Firstly a yellow cover over the bus stop flag saying 'Bus stop not in use'. Secondly a yellow background on the bus stop panel saying 'Bus stop closed'. Thirdly the usual yellow poster saying 'Routes from this stop will be affected'. And fourthly a bespoke poster confirming 'Route RV1 unable to stop here' 'from 0700 Thursday 14 March 2019 to 1800 Tuesday 10 September 2019'. Anyone turning up on spec would assume that the RV1's disappearance is only temporary and it'll be back in three months time. Instead its scrappage was announced just nine days after the diversion started, but nobody from the Yellow Brigade has ever come back to confirm this stop's already closed for good.

So, my final count of doomed stops on doomed roads suggests a 50% success rate, as follows...
9: two stops, both with yellow posters
40: four stops, two with yellow posters
341: three stops, none with yellow posters
RV1: six stops, four with yellow posters (one ambiguous)
This weekend the tiles on hundreds of bus stops need to be changed, the timetables along 25 routes need replacing and innumerable spider maps need to be updated lest they show incorrect journeys. What are the chances that the Yellow Brigade will achieve a complete sweep?

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