diamond geezer

 Monday, May 21, 2018

(This is the 7500th post on diamond geezer)

Since the start of the year, I have ridden on every London bus route.
Not many people have done that.

It seemed like a reasonably sane thing to do. I do have a fair bit of spare time, and a Travelcard, and this has been an excellent time filler, especially on dull, grey days. It's also been a great way to see all over London, from Ruislip to Biggin Hill and from Chingford to Chessington, and to keep my mental picture of the capital up to date.My initial plan was to complete the challenge across a full year. That's approximately 10 buses a week, which seemed very doable. But in the end I managed rather more than that, because once you're in Uxbridge you might as well do everything, which is how I managed to finish the task in 20 weeks flat.Tube and rail challenges are much more common, ticking off all the stations on a network in a set amount of time. Bus challenges are less popular, and less glamorous, plus you can't visit all the bus stops, there are far too many, and even riding every route end to end would take an absolute age.
I'm by no means the first to complete the task. Several Men Who Like Buses have ridden (and photographed) them all. The Ladies Who Bus rode all of every route and blogged about it. The All The Buses crew managed to ride them all in a single 24 hour period, although there were five of them, and they shared the list out.If you really went for it, and had absolutely nothing else to do, I suspect it's possible to ride all the bus routes in London in a week. It definitely isn't possible in a day, because London's simply too enormous, and one or two of the bus routes are wilfully infrequent and/or peripheral. No, I didn't blog about it. Imagine how tedious it would have been if I'd written about every one of my rides. But I did report back on four of the routes, namely the H13 and the 603, plus the last buses I ticked off, the 507 and 521. I left those two until the end because they were easy.

I should clarify what I mean by "every London bus route". My list included all bus routes operated by TfL, with the exception of school and nightbus services. I didn't want to be bundling on with the kids, nor did I want to be traipsing over to Ealing at midnight to grab the N83. I also didn't include buses that cross the London boundary but aren't operated by TfL, mobility buses like the 969, or temporary routes like the 508 which operates only when Crossrail works intrude.

But that still left a heck of a lot of buses to ride. To be precise, it left 543 buses, a number I checked with the All The Buses team to make sure I wasn't missing any out. These 543 buses included 442 numbered routes, from 1 up to 607, and 101 lettered routes, from A10 to X68. I've ridden on every single one of these at some point over the last twenty weeks, swiping in and riding at least one stop.

According to my rules, just one stop was enough to claim I'd ridden a route. I did sometimes feel a bit self-conscious dinging the bell to get off at the next stop, but if another passenger had dinged first I didn't feel so embarrassed. The best buses for riding one stop are the New Routemasters, because you can slip out the back door, and the worst are the small single deckers which only have one door so you have to walk out past the driver who's only just let you on.My Oyster history has been a good way of checking I have indeed ridden the lot. On only two occasions was the Oyster reader on the bus not working, which is a 99.6% success rate, which is pretty good going given how flaky the technology has sometimes been. Checking my Oyster history confirms that I only rode 47 bus routes more than once, mostly those near home, and I rode 496 bus routes once only. Some I may never ride again.

As for tactics, I started out in the first week of January by wiping out every route from 1 to 30, just so I'd know I'd done them all. No, I didn't do them in order, because that would have been unnecessarily awkward. After that I ticked off central and northeast London first, which took a couple of months, then moved on to the northwest quadrant, then the southwest and finally the southeast. I wasn't absolutely rigid about that, but basically I worked round London anti-clockwise from home, because it helps to be methodical.

I found the printed London bus maps absolutely invaluable. Even though TfL stopped updating them two years ago, they're still a excellent guide to what runs where, and only occasionally was I completely thrown (hang on, where's this 483 suddenly sprung from?) (hmmm, what the hell have they done to the 110?). I don't think I could have managed the challenge if these five bus maps didn't exist. If you are the TfL manager who scrapped them, for reasons of cost or because you think you know best, what a miserable bastard you are.One reason for doing the challenge now is that numerous potential bus changes are due at the end of the year aligned to the introduction of Crossrail. My five printed bus maps won't be as accurate or as useful once those come in, so 2018 seemed like a now or never moment. But I expect I'll still pop out and and ride all the new routes if and when they appear, which should be eminently doable, and then I'll continue to be able to claim I've ridden all the buses.
If you ever decide to do this challenge for yourself, you'll quickly discover you don't have to go absolutely everywhere to complete it. Ticking off every single bus in central London, for example, also ticks off a fair few that stretch out into the suburbs. By doing Heathrow, Hayes and Uxbridge I never bothered with West Drayton, nor did I ever need to go to Sidcup. But there are some places you simply can't avoid, like Barnet, Romford and Kingston, thanks to local routes which don't head anywhere else.The most annoying bus routes to tick off, it turns out, are the far flung and the infrequent. I shake a fist at the hourly 467 from Hook to Epsom, I bemoan the outlying 428 from Erith to Bluewater, and I curse the occasional 375 to Havering-atte-Bower. The hardest to catch are the R5 and R10 in Orpington, which run every two and a half hours in opposite directions, but by riding one into Orpington station and the other straight back out, I managed to grab both with speed and ease.

I won't bore you with all the details.

The most buses I rode in one day was 32, round Merton and Sutton.On my 10 busiest days, I rode over half of London's buses.My first bus was the 1, my second the 488, and my last the 521.Strategically, try to focus on hubs and high streets, not outlying roads.
A typical heavy day involved wiping out one or two boroughs.On my 20 busiest days, I rode 85% of London's buses.Obviously I rode the heritage Routemaster when I did the 15.Thank you Citymapper, thank you, your app saved me hours.

One thing you soon spot, if you ride enough buses, is how excellent the vast majority of London's bus drivers are. They pause to let elderly passengers reach the stop and climb on board, they halt at red lights rather than speeding up and whizzing through, and they drop off Hail and Ride passengers as close to their homes as they can manage. And OK, so the occasional driver on the 33 may decide not to stop in Twickenham because the bus stop's full and they're in a hurry, leaving a man by the roadside waving his crutches in abject fury, but they were very much the exception.

Never underestimate the importance of buses in shifting pushchairs around the capital.Spider maps at bus stops are dead useful. I cursed every time I found one of the new non-geographic diagrams.Don't a lot of London buses go to hospitals? I seem to have gone to loads of them.People in the outer suburbs really appreciate being able to pick up a Metro on the bus.
Never underestimate the importance of buses in keeping the elderly independent.When changing buses, it's not always easy to locate the nearest bus stop on another route. It can be a long hike.Thanking the driver on leaving the bus is still impressively commonplace in the outer suburbs.Filling the front luggage space with a box of Metros isn't great for those with heavy shopping.
Somewhere around 3pm, buses stop being the preserve of mums and the retired, and become full of schoolkids.Sometimes, if you accidentally go one stop too far, it's a heck of a long walk back.The driver of the 399, on his last day, had brought a box of biscuits for all his regular passengers to share.When three buses turn up at the same stop at the same time, it's not always easy to catch the back one.

But I think the main thing I've taken away with me, after my extended safari, is how wonderfully frequent London's buses are. Most of them run five or more times an hour, so the next one's rarely more than ten minutes away, so not much of a wait. Even the every-20-minuters weren't too much of a trial, and only when the gap reached 30 minutes or an hour did I have to start making extra special effort to be in the right place at the right time. We Londoners are blessed with an absolutely wonderful turn-up-and-go bus service, covering the breadth of the capital, and riding all the buses in Manchester or Dorset would have been a much more arduous task.

Since the start of the year, I have ridden on every London bus route.
Not many people have done that.
But I don't necessarily recommend it.

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