diamond geezer

 Saturday, September 02, 2017

It's hard to slim down a bus network without people noticing.

TfL can't shorten a route or cancel one completely without a public consultation. But what they can do to a bus route, with utterly minimal fuss, is reduce its frequency.

They even have a phrase for it.

"To better match how often buses run with demand"

Cut the number of journeys that a bus makes and plenty of money can be saved. Fewer vehicles are required to run the service, fewer people need to be employed to drive the buses, and cheaper contracts with bus companies can be agreed. Even cutting just one bus an hour removes almost 10000 journeys a year, and that's a sizeable economy.

Today's a particularly good example of TfL cutting back bus services by stealth. Nine buses are having their frequencies cut, including two that go past my front door, which is why I have a particular interest. This table shows today's changes to normal daytime frequencies (or weekend frequencies for nightbuses).

RouteFrequency yesterdayFrequency todayCut in frequency
29every 5 minsevery 6 mins2 buses an hour
205every 7-8 minsevery 8 mins1 bus every 2 hours
269every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
488every 12 minsevery 15 mins1 bus an hour
H14every 8-9 minsevery 7-8 minsgain 1 bus an hour
N8every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour
N29every 3-4 minsevery 8 mins8 buses an hour
N91every 15 minsevery 30 mins2 buses an hour
N98every 10 minsevery 15 mins2 buses an hour
N207every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour

There are of course several good reasons for reducing bus frequencies, particularly if fewer passengers are using them. Greater congestion in central London slows traffic to a crawl and deters people from boarding buses. That may well be why routes 29 and 205 have been cut back. Better train services, for example the introduction of the Night Tube, divert passengers away from slower modes of transport. That may well explain the cull of nightbuses. It's clearly pointless maintaining high frequencies merely to transport empty seats around the capital, so cutting back makes sense, and the consequent financial savings are a happy by-product.

But that cut to the 488 looks a little more suspect. The 488's been running every 12 minutes since it began in 2008, on a minor route from Bromley-by-Bow to Clapton and then on to Dalston. Now suddenly it's dropping back to every 15 minutes, one less bus every hour, for no readily obvious reason. This only increases the average waiting time by 90 seconds, so most passengers won't even notice, but either the bus has been running too often for the last nine years or this is a cost saving.

It's not all bad news. Route H14 is increasing in frequency by one bus an hour, this out in the suburbs of Harrow, providing valuable additional outer London capacity. But the overall direction of change is frequency contraction.

For example this happened last month...

RouteFrequency beforeFrequency afterCut in frequency
5every 6-7 minsevery 7-8 mins1 bus an hour
N15every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour
N41every 20 minsevery 30 mins1 bus an hour

...and this happened in July...

RouteFrequency beforeFrequency afterCut in frequency
14every 6-7 minsevery 8 mins1½ buses an hour
22every 7-8 minsevery 8 mins1 bus every 2 hrs
31every 6 minsevery 7-8 mins2 buses an hour
63every 5-6 minsevery 7-8 mins3 buses an hour
74every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
253every 5-6 minsevery 6 mins1 bus an hour
384every 15 minsevery 20 mins1 bus an hour
C1every 10-11 minsevery 12 mins1 bus every 2 hrs
C11every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour

...and this happened in June.

RouteFrequency beforeFrequency afterCut in frequency
48every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
176every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
390every 8 minsevery 6 mins gain 2½ buses an hour
E3every 6 minsevery 7-8 mins2 buses an hour
N73every 12 minsevery 15 mins1 bus an hour

Route 390 is a special case because it's been extended to Victoria, and the additional journeys are replacing other buses diverted elsewhere. But overall the relentless underlying theme is "fewer buses", with 25 bus frequencies reduced over the past three months and only two increased.

Obviously it pays to provide a bus service which matches public demand, otherwise TfL are simply throwing public money away. If more people are travelling by train or tube or app-taxi, then running less frequent buses is surely fine. Most passengers won't even spot there aren't as many, so you could argue where's the harm?

However this isn't only about reduced demand, this is about cutting back and spending less. With money tight it must be better to cut frequencies than actual routes, so that a comprehensive bus network can be maintained across the capital. But it does feel as if a tipping point has been reached, and perhaps passed, with an increasing population now being served by fewer buses.

Meanwhile this is what's being cut back later in September...

RouteFrequency beforeFrequency afterCut in frequency
11every 7-8 minsevery 10 mins2 buses an hour
47every 10 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
156every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
210every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
222every 8 minsevery 10 mins1½ buses an hour
345every 7-8 minsevery 8-9 mins1 bus an hour
391every 10-11 minsevery 12 mins1 bus an hour
N5every 10 minsevery 30 mins4 buses an hour
N16every 20 minsevery 30 mins1 bus an hour
N20every 10 minsevery 30 mins4 buses an hour

How many more buses will be stolen away before the general public notices?

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