Route 507: Victoria to Waterloo Location: Central London Length of journey: 2 miles, 25 minutes
A couple of central London buses are not like the others. They have numbers in the 500s, they exist to ferry commuters to and from major rail termini, and they vary wildly in frequency. One of the pair is the 507. It's part of what was once the Red Arrow network, launched in 1966, and rebranded as such in 2016. Only the finest cattle truck conditions for the civil service traveller.
You can tell the 507's important because it's been gifted one of the rare slots in the bus station in front of Victoria. Come during the peace of midday, or in the vacuum of the weekend, and you might wonder why. But at the height of the morning rush hour the buses are three deep, a queue waits politely, and the last step of the commute awaits.
I was expecting worse, but there are 'only' 25 of us standing by the time the bus swings out. Some are on their phones watching the next bit of their latest episode, while others simply stare straight ahead, having run out of Metro to read halfway across Surrey. We kick off down the Vauxhall Bridge Road, then bear off through Westminster's administrative backside. Nobody's especially interested in the first two stops, but Strutton Ground, near Channel 4's whopping deconstructed digit, proves rather more popular.
A dozen police motorcyclists go by, perhaps on their way to outride for a minister. Schoolchildren of all heights walk past bearing bags and rucksacks. Marsham Street is the chief disembarkation point for the Home Office and various other government departments, which leads me to believe I've probably been sharing the bus with a number of administrative assistants and civil service highfliers. One suited gentleman has brought his young daughter with him, their loud conversation culminating with an announcement from Sophie that she has "done a poo".
One joy of these new electric vehicles is the display screen hanging from the ceiling behind the driver, which announces the number of minutes to the next few stops and lists potential departures from Waterloo station. This would be particularly useful if anyone was about to commute home, which at 8.30 in the morning they are not, and if the jams ahead didn't mean that by the time we reach Waterloo all these trains will have left.
As the bus empties at Millbank someone shuffles into the seat behind me and sneezes three times, which doesn't worry me too much because it's hayfever time. I become more concerned when they proceed to sniffle, sneeze again, and generally make known that they have a column of thick catarrh bubbling in their throat. It would be impolite to turn round and complain, plus I might risk a direct hit, but I expect to spend the next few days living in fear of catching whatever my mucus-riddled nemesis might have got.
Our complement now somewhat depleted, we depart Westminster across panoramic Lambeth Bridge, then pick up our last fresh passengers outside Lambeth Palace. A steady stream of cyclists files through on the nearside, initially us overtaking them, but increasingly them overtaking us the closer to St Thomas's we get. The 507's a useful service for nursing staff as well as civil servants, it seems... but less good if you want to hang on to the final stop, because the traffic on York Road is grim.
With roadworks blocking the usual route, our driver pulls up at a unlabelled stop near the London Eye, where all but 4 passengers nip off. One of those fleeing is the phantom sneezer, who turns out to be a glum 11 year-old boy in a grey hoodie stuffing his face from a giant pack of pain aux chocolats. The rest of us should have got off too, because we now get to crawl towards the IMAX roundabout, trapped in our red box in full sight of where we want to be. It takes nigh on five minutes to circle back to the opposite side of the road and escape, a lesson the regular commuters probably learned yonks ago.